Editor Ellen Datlow’s career has spanned almost thirty years. She spent 18 years as the fiction editor of Omni, 21 years co-editing Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror with Terri Windling, and has edited countless anthologies in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her work has garnered her the Shirley Jackson Award, two Bram Stoker Awards, two Hugo Awards, three Locus Awards, and eight World Fantasy Awards. And counting.
Check out this Q&A with one of the busiest editors working today – then stick around for the mailbag.
Over to Ellen…
Sparrow_hawk writes: “Why put together an anthology of stories inspired by the Poe classics?”
ED: I wish it was my own idea but an editor at Solaris came up with the idea a few years ago as a way to celebrate Poe’s Bicentennial this year.
“Did the editor notice a trend in stories inspired by Poe – was there a favorite story that seemed to inspire new authors to take it, give it a new spin and make it their own?”
ED: I tried to encourage the contributors to choose from some of the more obscure Poe works and kept track of what each writer was working on so that there wouldn’t be too much overlap. However, “Masque of the Red Death” is used more than once –to very good effect. That seems to have been the most popular story.
ThreePoet writes: “As you were putting together the anthology, were there certain author you knew would be a perfect fit for the material? Kim Newman for instance? Were there some authors who actually approached you and ended up surprising you with their submission?”
ED: For every original anthology, I try to think of writers who might have an interest in the theme and I approach those writers. Because of Kim’s immersion in film and love for the macabre in film and writing I shouldn’t have been surprised by his combining Poe with Roger Corman movies but I was–pleasantly. I think it’s a hilarious and wonderful take on Hollywood and its habit of making the same movie over and over again.
There was at least one complete surprise–Delia Sherman,–whose fantasy I often publish– was not a writer I’d think of as being interested in Poe. So when she approached me about writing a Poe story, I was surprised–and when she handed in her story–very pleased.
KellyK writes: “I was wondering if you can tell us what led you to become an editor and what is it about your work that you find most satisfying?”
ED: I’ve always been a reader and booklover. Working in a bookstore or editing fiction were the only two jobs I could think of that might satisfy my interests. I started out as the assistant to a Book rep in the New York office of Little, Brown & Co, from there worked at several mainstream publishers as an editorial assistant until I got to OMNI magazine (my first magazine job) where I was hired as Associate Fiction Editor.
Being the first person to read a terrific piece of fiction. And working with writers to make their fiction as good as it can be.
“You’ve worked in all three genres – science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Do you have a favorite? In the almost thirty years you’ve been editing, have there been any developments that either shocked or surprised you in any of the three genres. And, being a veteran of all these developments, what do you foresee for all three genres in the future?”
ED: I love what I’m working on at any given time. So if I’m working on a fantasy anthology I’m totally immersed in reading for that and love the stories I’m getting in. Same with sf or horror.
No shocks. Everything evolves. Disappointed perhaps in some of the crap published. Annoyed that everyone thinks they can be an editor, not realizing it’s a profession not a hobby and that to do it well is more than just saying “yes” or “no” to a submission but actually working with writers.
“And, finally, what advice would you give young writers looking to break into the short fiction field, especially in today’s dwindling market where many even established genre magazines are closing their doors?”
ED: The markets are in flux as they always are–it’s the responsibility of the writer to research those markets and submit to them. There are new magazines/webzines starting up all the time. I’m still receiving occasional submissions for SCIFICTION, which closed its doors 3 ½ years ago–this shows me that those writers are not serious about their craft or they’d be using reliable market reports.
But writers (new or not) need to remember that if the don’t submit their work it won’t be published. If you get one rejection, just submit that story again and again. But simultaneously go ahead and write another story and another–do not wait for one story to come back or be sold. Writing and submitting should be a regular, ongoing process.
TimC writes: “Great anthology. My question is similar to one that’s already been asked regarding how you put together this collection of stories – but, specifically, I’d like to know your connection to the different contributors. Did you have a pre-established working relation with all of them and, therefore, knew that they’d be up to the challenge or was it more of an open call? Were there any writers who you approached that weren’t able to make the deadline?”
ED: The only time I’ve ever done an open call original anthology is when Nick Mamatas, my co-editor on Haunted Legends (forthcoming from Tor) wanted to do so for a limited period and said he’d read the slush. So that’s what we did.
The only two writers in Poe who I’d never bought original stories from before are Kaaron Warren and John Langan. I’d been reading Kaaron’s stories for the past few years, picking one for YBFH and so asked her to write a Poe story. (she’s also in Haunted Legends). I loved John’s “Mr Gaunt” from a few years before and have been following his work since then.
The other contributors I’ve published in various places over the years. I asked a bunch of writers if they’d be interested–I usually ask about twice as many writers as I have slots for. I’ve just checked the stats for Poe, and of those who were asked but are not in the book: eleven said no because they either weren’t interested or didn’t have the time, six said yes but didn’t come through, four or five said yes but were too late (and didn’t writer the stories as far as I know), a few started stories but couldn’t nail them down and gave up, or said maybe but didn’t produce. Nine were rejected.
“What is it about horror that appeals to you? And, being so involved on the literary side of the genre, do you take any interest in its television and film versions? If yes, do you have any favorites?”
ED: I’ve loved horror my whole life but can’t really analyze why–it’s not the only type of fiction that has appealed to me over the years. When I was a kid I read Harold Robbins and Irving Stone and then later got into Herman Hesse, John Fowles, de Sade, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and a pretty eclectic bunch of books such as A Separate Peace by John Knowles, J.D. Salinger’s work, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr., Another Country by James Baldwin, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Those are just some of the books I loved (and some I still love).
I think I prefer literary horror to most movie or tv horror these days, although in the past I adored tv series like The Twilight Zone (original series), Thriller, One Step Beyond, and I recently watched and loved Carnivale, the HBO series and Dexter (I only watch tv shows on DVD).
When I was younger I loved horror movies and still like some a lot–but I was indiscriminate in watching horror movies on tv as a junior high student. I think Carrie the movie was better than the novel but I preferred the novel Ghost Story to the movie, so it totally depends. There are lots of horror and ghost movies I’ve very much enjoyed over the years. I’ve enjoyed Alien and Aliens, thought Carpenter’s The Thing excellent and really disturbing, Ringu (original and US remake), Audition, Battle Royale, and I’ve recently seen The Last Winter and Ginger Snaps on DVD and enjoyed them both (although there were things that annoyed me about The Last Winter).
“As an editor, have you ever had to turn down a story for any reason. And I’m not talking about submissions from first-time writers but established authors whose stories didn’t meet your standards? Also, have you ever refused to publish a horror story that felt was too graphic or offensive?”
ED: I often turn down stories. That’s part of the editor’s job. If you accept everything then you’re not an editor, you’re just ‘compiling.’ There are stories I didn’t publish because I felt they were wrong for the venue I was editing. Margo Lanagan wrote her story “The Goosle” for one project, but I thought it would work better for what I bought it for: The Del Rey Book of SF& F. It’s a pretty harrowing retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” and I did consider the reaction it might get when published. And in fact, one reviewer was so offended by the story that he cried out for the publisher to think hard about what they were allowing to be published. That reaction totally justified the inclusion of the story in the anthology, as far as I’m concerned!
GateMechanic writes: “You’ve had a long and successful career as an editor. If you could only choose one collection, which would be your favorite?”
ED: I’ve had a few favorite anthologies but that often changes over time. I can’t choose just one. Sorry.
“Was there ever a thematic anthology you weren’t able to get off the ground? If so, what was it and why?”
ED: Often. And some anthologies have taken years to sell. It’s impossible to know why one anthology idea sells and a different one doesn’t–it could be a question of timing or the right in-house editors aren’t in power when you’re trying to sell that anthology.
Pat Cadigan and I tried to sell Mothers From Hell but couldn’t get a taker. Terri Windling and I tried to sell Eastern Lands, a children’s anthology of retold fairy tales concentrating on fairy tale traditions of the east, to follow up on A Wolf at the Door and Swan Sister. No luck. But we did sell an anthology about fairy tale villains, which is just out: Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales (originally called The Cinderella Game and Other Villainous Tales) .
“And, finally, what’s next for you? What do you have in the works?”
ED: Lovecraft Unbound will be out in October from Dark Horse (cover and TOC on my lj)
Best Horror of the Year #1 will be out this fall from Night Shade
Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, a reprint anthology covering 1984-2005 will be out in 2010 from Tachyon
Digital Domains, which will take a selection of stories from the three online venues I worked on: OMNI online, Event Horizon, and SCIFICTION should be out in 2010 from
Naked City: New Tales of Urban Fantasy will be out in 2010 from St. Martin’s Press
Haunted Legends edited by me and Nick Mamatas will be out in 2010 from Tor
Big cat reprint anthology coming out in 2010 from Night Shade.
Anne-Marie Sloan writes: “Have they headed down to New Mexico yet??”
Answer: Nope. Not yet.
Major D. Davis write: “Oh and for the Atlantis movie release I think what I really meant was how long will you think post will be?”
Answer: Unable to say at this point. It’s all dependent on when the movie is shot and how VFX-heavy it is. In its present incarnation, the script boasts a lot of visual effects.
Deni B. writes: “Aggghhh, it’s almost 2:40 a.m. and Flannery is up and has been for hours.”
Answer: Hey, Deni, I’m sorry to hear about Flannery. I hope he’s comfortable and enjoying much lavish attention and love.
Daniel Willis writes: “Joe, I was hoping to send you a letter in regards to something.”
Answer: You can drop me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, keep in mind that I approve all of the comments so if you don’t want something made public, just says so in your post.
Thornyrose writes: “I’ve completely lost track at this point. Any chance of getting a summary of the episode titles?”
Answer: Remind me again when I’m back in the office.
Scary writes: “So when can we expect these lovely new pics of Michael?”
Answer: Whenever they get past the next, much slower round of approvals.
Scary also writes: “Any chance you could snap a few of Paul if you happen to meet up?”
Scary also writes: “ Ever thought of having Kerri as a guest blogger?”
Answer: I’ve floated the idea by her. She was not unreceptive to the possibility.
Scary also writes: “Any news on Chris Judge’s Q & A?”
Answer: Chris is notoriously next-to-impossible to get a hold of. Never mind getting him on the phone, you’ll be lucky if his phone’s mailbox isn’t full.
Drldeboer writes: “wait, when did Ashleigh start? already getting a week off??”
Answer: She had actually planned this getaway before she landed the position with us. Still, I’ll be sure she works twice as hard on the week she comes back.
Dasndanger writes: “I love Ashleigh. Does she know about your fear of heights, serial killers, the Canadian Revenue Service, clowns, ordering a lousy lunch, and – I suspect – infectious microorganisms? And does she, perchance, read this blog??”
Answer: I guess she does now. Thanks.
Dasndanger also writes: “2. Instead of memorizing songs, why don’t you use reverse psychology on Kerry. Find a musical YOU want to see, then tell her how much you hate it, and that it better not be the one she drags you to, and so on and so forth.”
Answer: Yeah, there’s only one slight problem with that plan of attack – finding a musical I WANT to see.
Shawna writes: “Actually, kidnappings are a huge business in Mexico. As I understand it, it’s more focused on between rival gang/mafia members, but there are still such a large number of foreigners who get kidnapped in hopes of large ransoms that I don’t think it’s really viable comic material.”
Answer: Really? Given the fact that’s been all-but Open Season on Canadian tourists there the past couple of years, I’m glad I resisted the urge to go with my initial blog entry title “My Mom and Dad Went to Mexico And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt…And The Bullet They Dug Out Of My Dad’s Shoulder”.
Major D. Davis also writes: “Oh and any news on who will write the season finale of SGU?”
Answer: I would expect that particular honor would fall to either Brad Wright or Robert Cooper.
Pol writes: “Any updates on SG1-3 (the new movie?).”
Answer: It’s presently in Brad Wright’s hands.