An Interview with multiple award winning editor Ellen Datlow
Posted November 14, 2014on:
I’ve been lucky enough to interview some pretty cool people over the years. But Ellen Datlow takes “pretty cool” to a whole new level. An editor of short fiction for nearly thirty years, Ellen holds four Hugo awards, ten World Fantasy awards, five Locus awards, three Bram Stoker awards, and I’ll stop there even though I could happily continue to list her achievements for the next hours or so. She’s co-edited twenty one Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror volumes, edited six Best Horror of the Year volumes (through Nightshade Books), and most recently was the editor for Lovecraft’s Monsters and The Cutting Room for Tachyon.
To say she is a rock star of the industry is quite the understatement.
Last weekend at the World Fantasy Convention, Ellen Datlow was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award, along with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.
I was first introduced to her work through one of many anthologies she co-edited with Terri Windling, Snow White, Blood Red, which has since become a beloved paperback on my bookshelf. That collection would become the first in a series of six, and many of them recently become available as e-books through Open Road Media. If you are interested in fairy tale retellings, dark fantasy, or the short fiction of acclaimed authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Charles deLint, Gene Wolfe, Storm Constantine and many others, this is an anthology series you should consider.
Ellen was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on her lifetime in the field and the joys and challenges of putting anthologies together. Let’s get to the interview!
LRR: I remember reading Snow White, Blood Red in the late 90s, it was a collection my soon-to-be husband and I bonded over. That was your first Fairy Tale anthology with Terri Windling, and it would become a series of six anthologies. When you start a new anthology, how do you know it will be a “one of”, such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells or a series, like the Fairy Tale or Best Horror of the Year volumes?
ED: That’s really lovely to hear!
One rarely knows in advance if an anthology will sell well enough for the publisher to offer a contract for a second, although for a year’s best one always hopes it will become a series as that’s its purpose. Snow White, Blood Red was intended to be a one-shot but it did well enough that our editor commissioned another (or two that time). I don’t think we ever got more than a two-book contract at a time for what became a six book series. It just ended up that way. And by the time the sixth came out the publisher had changed hands (possibly twice) and I was burned out on retold fairy tales — for a time.
LRR: You recently edited the Women Destroy Horror special edition of Lightspeed magazine, and you’re also a consulting fiction editor for Tor.com. How is editing a digital magazine different from editing a print anthology? Does print have any boundaries that digital allows you to surpass, or vice versa?
ED: I buy stories the same way for web as for print. The only difference is that with online venues there is no limit to the length of stories, other than cost. I was able to publish novellas at all the online venues I’ve worked: Omni Online, Event Horizon, SCFICTION, and now Tor.com.
LRR: When you are putting an anthology together, what are you looking for? (this is a pesky question I always ask editors!)
ED: That depends on the anthology but generally stories I love that work together, creating a whole stronger than the individual parts. For a theme anthology — whether reprint or original — I want to exploit the theme and expand upon it without undermining it. With an unthemed anthology, I want to showcase a variety of types of stories. But above all I look for stories that startle, provoke, and/or move me as a reader.
LRR: What anthologies have been the most enjoyable to work on? Which have been the most challenging?
ED: I’ve loved working on most of my anthologies. The most challenging have been The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Best Horror of the Year series. That’s because they require the most work, sifting through hundreds of stories annually to choose those I deem “the best”.
LRR: To create all these anthologies you must read an awful lot of short fiction. How many short stores would you say you read in a day? in a week?
ED: I do. Mostly because of The Best of the Year. For that annual, as I already mentioned above, I read hundreds of stories. And I also read at least one hundred stories for my reprint anthologies for Tachyon. But for original anthologies and for Tor.com I only read a fraction of that, all solicited.
So how many stories I’m reading at any given time is variable. One day I might read one or two new stories. Another day, I’ll skim 20 reprints –I don’t have to read the whole story to know if it’s something I want for a themed reprint anthology or for The Best of the Year. It always takes longer to read new stories, because I have to constantly consider whether the story is 1) good enough for whatever I’m working on and 2) does it need much editing or a rewrite by the author to make it good enough.
LRR: You’ve been involved with the Fantastic Fiction reading series at the KGB bar since 2000. Why are live reading events important for both writers and fans?
ED: It brings writers and readers together, something important for the creation of a community. It’s a showcase for writers and good publicity for their forthcoming books. It’s a fun social event that anyone can attend for free.
LRR: Thanks so much Ellen!
You can learn more about Ellen Datlow at her website, Ellendatlow.com. Click here for more information on her e-book anthologies at Open Road Media, and click here for more information on the Fantastic Fiction reading series at KGB in New York (to whet your appetite, upcoming readers include Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead Rajan Khanna and Steven Gould).