Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published on Saturday, 03 December 2011 00:01
Ellen Datlow Interview
Ellen Datlow is one of the top names in the world when it comes to editing. With almost three decades of work behind her, more than fifty anthologies to her name and a list of awards too long to name here, Datlow is one of the most important contributors to the horror and science fiction genres.
Just this year, Datlow has released six titles and there's work already scheduled for early 2012. The anthologies published this year include Teeth: Vampire Tales (HarperCollins, April 2011), which Datlow co-edited with Terri Windling, Best Horror of the Year 3 (Night Shade, June 2011), Supernatural Noir (Dark Horse, June 2011), Naked City New Tales of Urban Fantasy (St. Martin's Press, July 2011), Blood and Other Cravings (Tor, September 2011) and Snow White, Blood Red, (Fall River), which was also co-edited with Windling.
With such a prolific career and no sign of slowing down, we talked to Datlow about the current future state of horror and science fiction.
Gabino Iglesias: After so many years, so many great books and so many awards, what keeps you going at such a vertiginous pace?
Ellen Datlow: The pace is dependent on how many anthologies I'm working on at any given time. It looks like I was very productive in 2011 because I've had four original anthologies and one reprint anthology (Best Horror of the Year) out. But one of the originals was delayed by a year and the other three anthologies were being worked on over a period of a year or two.
The confusing part was trying to coordinate publicity for all four simultaneously when they were all out from different publishers.
But what keeps me interested is the joy of discovering and working with new writers and with more established writers with whom I've worked with over the years. I can't think of any job better than being the first person to read a favorite writer's work.
But also, since I've been freelancing since 2005 — to be honest — money. I need to edit enough anthologies to make a living from doing it.
GI: How do you decide who to work with?
ED: I'll approach writers whose work I admire and enjoy — often those I've worked with before, but new writers whose stories I've read while reading for my Best of the Year or writers who are recommended to me by people I trust.
Sometimes, my agent might suggest a writer from a different field to try. While I'm at least somewhat familiar with most of the adult writers in sf/f/h I'm less aware of who is writing young adult fiction — so when I (and Terri Windling) co-edit our YA anthologies, we try to use a mix of our "adult" writers but also writers in the young adult field who are recommended to us. But I also enjoy encouraging my adult writers to write for the young adult market and vice versa.
GI: Blood and other Cravings is unique in the sense that longing, family, love, luck and other things take the place of blood when we talk about craving. Also, the anthology seems to span across many genres and sub-genres. Do you think horror is moving in a more cerebral direction as a genre?
ED: Well these are actually two separate questions. Blood and Other Cravings is the third vampirism anthology I've edited. The first two were Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood, published in 1989 and 1991 respectively. (Both of these are now back in print as a double volume called A Whisper of Blood — in a handsome new hardcover edition published by Fall River Press). All three books intend to expand the notion of vampirism and showcase the variety of possibilities in the subgenre of vampire fiction. I've been publishing mixed-genre anthologies and magazines/webzines throughout my entire career as an editor. For an anthology, as long as the story itself stays on topic, I don't worry too much about its genre — although obviously if I'm editing a horror anthology I do want all the stories to disturb, create that unease and creepiness, or horrify the reader.
Generally, there has been a push-pull between the cerebral and the visceral in horror for decades. They're just different approaches to the same problem: how do you engage the reader, how do you scare the reader? By writing "quiet" horror that sneaks up on the reader or by throwing in the red stuff common in "body" horror? So no, I don't think that's changed or is changing. There are both kinds of stories in most of my anthologies, including Blood and Other Cravings.
GI: After editing more than fifty anthologies, what space do you think they occupy within the book market?
ED: I think anthologies are crucial to literature because the short story is crucial to literature, whatever the genre. Although they usually don't sell as well as novels, anthologies do sell. But how often do you see anthologies advertised the way novels are advertised? (Of course, only a few novels are given as much publisher promotion as they need). With better marketing, I believe more readers could be encouraged to read short stories.
GI: From classic vampire tales to alien sex, you have done it all: how do you pick a project to pursue?
ED: Sometimes another anthology editor will approach me with an idea, but mostly I'll have an idea for a theme that I think/hope will sell to a publisher. I'll then write up a proposal and try to get a few name writers to commit to the project and send the package to my agent for her opinion. If she thinks she can sell it, she'll probably ask me to tweak the proposal some more. Occasionally, I informally "sell" the anthology to a publisher and then my agent takes over. Sometimes, a deal is actually made, other times it isn't.
GI: Do you think e-books have changed the game? If so, how?
ED: I think e-books are definitely changing the publishing game. But I don't know if they'll change the way anthologies are edited or published.
It's now easier for individual stories to be taken out of an anthology to be published separately electronically (by Amazon, for example) but that would be between the individual author and the e-publisher. Anthology editors legally only have the right to publish a story as part of that anthology.
I've had my publishers ask to release a story from a forthcoming anthology as promotion for the book and I have mixed feelings about this. But before even considering it, we would need permission from the writer. My question is that if it's a big name writer, will the publication of that story for free (even for a limited time) hurt sales of the overall anthology or help them? Terri Windling and I — with the contributor's permission — allowed our publisher to "preview" a story by a newer writer on the publisher's website, making it quite clear it was a promotional giveaway.
It's also possible that e-publishers just starting up will believe that they can throw anything online and that it will sell. This is not the case, any more than it has been for desktop publishers. Although technology has made it easier, quicker, and cheaper to produce a physical or e-book, those books still need to be edited, copyedited, proofread, designed, and marketed.
GI: With so much stuff out there, what's your preferred method to get the word out about a new anthology?
ED: I believe that the publisher sending out review copies to respected sources inside and outside the genre is still the best way to get an anthology noticed. Setting up readings with several contributors at local bookstores or conventions can be useful. I used to do book signings but found that a reading combined with a book signing afterward works better. I try to get onto panels at conventions — when you introduce yourself you it's totally proper to mention your most recent book.
Social networking can be a useful tool as well as an enjoyable way to interact with friends and readers.
GI: We're seemingly witnessing an increase in the blurring of genre lines; where do you think science fiction and horror are going?
ED: No more than previously. There has always been sf/horror, from the publication of Shelley's Frankenstein and John W. Campbell's Who Goes There? (adapted into The Thing) to Harlan Ellison's classic story about a vicious sentient computer, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and Michael Marshall Smith's excellent novel Spares (about cloning), the precursor by several years to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. As technological advances continue to be made in various fields of science, those kinds of stories will continue to be written.
GI: What are you working on now?
ED: Terri and I are working on a Victorian fantasy anthology. And I'm working on The Best Horror of the Year, volume 4.
Thank you very much for sharing all that with us, Ellen!
You can keep track of available and upcoming titles edited by Ellen Datlow, as well as get your hands on some of them, by visiting her website: www.datlow.com. Also, Datlow can be found on Twitter @EllenDatlow.
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