Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview with Ellen Datlow

Photo by Gregory Frost
Ellen Datlow is the editor of several anthologies including The Best Horror of the Year, which has been published yearly since 1988. You can read more about Ellen at her website.

What drew you to the horror genre?

I’ve always loved horror—I was reading science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories as a child. My mom read me fairy tales (some of which are pretty horrific).

The reason I moved more into horror as an editor is that while working at OMNI magazine I didn’t feel I could edit science fiction anthologies because it would be a conflict of interest, so I drifted more into selling and editing horror anthologies.

What scares you?

Stories about loss of control and of bodily integrity.

Do more men submit horror stories to you than women?

My original anthologies are mostly invitation only so submissions are not an issue. But here is an example of the figures for my anthology Inferno, a non-themed horror anthology I edited a few years ago. This doesn’t count the writers I contacted who never responded (there were a few, male and female).

  • I asked 16 women, 9 didn’t produce, rejected 2, 1 I bought for a different antho and 3 I bought

  • I asked 42 men, 23 didn’t produce, rejected 3, 14 I bought

With the more recent Supernatural Noir (out this spring) the numbers were: (there were several “maybes” that didn’t come through but I’m not counting them)

  • I asked 19 women, 6 didn’t produce, rejected 4, 3 bought

  • I asked 38 men, 4 didn’t produce, rejected 4, 13 bought (two bought came in by other means)

But yeah I think overall (from reading for my Best Horror of the Year going on 24 years) that a LOT more men write horror stories than women. I’m not aware of every horror writer out there but I’m aware of most of them.

Why do you think there are fewer women writing horror than men?

The same reason there are fewer women reading horror than men. And for that I have no answer. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of female horror readers—there are. Just not as many as there are male.

Who are some women horror authors that you admire?

Gemma Files, Tia Travis, Elizabeth Bear, Elizabeth Hand, Melanie Tem, Pat Cadigan, Rachel Kendall, Kelly Link, Kaaron Warren, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tanith Lee, M. Rickert, Barbara Roden, Margo Lanagan, Nina Allan, Genevieve Valentine, Suzy McKee Charnas –many more but that’s a sampling.

What are your favourite horror novels?

Stephen King’s The Shining, Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now, The Face that Must Die by Ramsey Campbell, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, Dan Simmons’ The Terror, Also Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. Sarah Langan’s Audrey’s Door, Kaaron Warren’s Slights. I recently read Stephen Graham Jones’ It Came From Del Rio and liked it a lot.

I read very few horror novels. No time, with The Best Horror of the Year, I mostly read short stories.

Do you have any favourite short stories from your anthologies?

Always, but I’ll never tell. But here’s a hint: those that I reprint a lot.

What qualities do you look for in a short story when selecting one for an anthology?

I want to be enveloped in the story as I’m reading it. That means the characters, setting and atmosphere, voice, and tone all work to draw me in. Those four elements when they’re just right can create a brilliant, memorable story. They don’t necessarily have to be balanced. A character can be so intriguing that it overwhelms any other weaknesses the story may have (although this happens more in novels).

But –and this may seem obvious-- the most important thing is to have a story to tell. I read many many pieces of horror fiction that are merely a series of events or set-ups whose only intention is to 1) end up with scenes of graphic torture or slaughter or 2) lead to the twist ending. This is crappy storytelling.

Do you have any advice for authors hoping to be published in one of your anthologies?

If you publish in markets I regularly read for my Best of the Year, I’ll see your work. If I like it a lot, and you write the kind of stories I need for a specific theme anthology, I may ask you to contribute to one of my original anthologies. For The Best of the Year—you only have to write stories I consider brilliant.

How did you become an editor of anthologies?

I wanted to edit more than just the 3-6 stories I bought per month for OMNI. (I was fiction editor there for 17 years). A colleague came to me and said he might have a deal to produce several anthologies for a publishing house did I have some ideas for theme anthologies. I draw up a list of about 5 anthology ideas, using stories I had to turn down for OMNI for one reason or another as an example of what would be in the anthology. The deal never happened but the best of the ideas: vampirism stories and sf/sex stories became my first two major anthologies: Blood is Not Enough and Alien Sex. (I had edited reprint anthologies of stories from OMNI before that).  

Have you ever felt the desire to write your own fiction?

No never.

Do you own an e-reader? How do you think e-readers are changing the publishing industry? Do you plan on making your older anthologies available as e-books?

I have a Sony-e-reader. I only use it to read pdf files and ms for The Best Horror of the Year when I’m traveling. I think they’re encouraging readers to buy more books for travel—it’s easier than carrying several physical books around with you. It may be the novelty, but I doubt it.

It’s not up to me but I’d love to have all my old anthologies available as e-books.

What are you currently working on?

A YA anthology of dystopian fiction with Terri Windling –it’ll be out from Hyperion in 2012. I’m about to start reading for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four.

I’m hoping two or three new anthology projects will be sold in the next couple of months. But that’s it right now. I’ve got four original anthologies coming out this year: Teeth, a YA anthology of vampire stories (with Terri Windling) from HarperCollins in April, Supernatural Noir from Dark Horse this spring, Naked City, a BIG urban fantasy anthology –traditional emphatically not paranormal romance or anything close-will be out from St. Martin’s in July, and Blood and Other Cravings is a vampirism anthology coming out from Tor in the fall.

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Three is coming out in June.

Snow White, Blood Red, Terri Windling and my first retold fairy tale anthology that helped start the boom in the sub-genre, is being reissued by Barnes & Noble later this year, too.


Will Errickson said...

Great interview with a major editor in the field! Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Will ;-)