An interview with Ellen Datlow
conducted by Stephen M. WilsonEllen Datlow has been editor of SCI FICTION at the SCIFI Channel’s website, SCIFI.COM, for six years, a position that will continue through the end of 2005 (for more information, read Ellen’s statement at: (http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/message.html). She was fiction editor of OMNI for over seventeen years and created the award-winning website Event Horizon with her former OMNI colleagues.
With Terri Windling, she has co-edited six-volumes of adult fairy tales that began with
Snow White, Blood Red and two children's fairy tale anthologies:
A Wolf at the Door and
Swan Sister. They have also collaborated on two young adult anthologies:
The Green Man and
The Faery Reel, an erotic fantasy anthology
Sirens and other Daemon Lovers, and the first sixteen volumes of
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. She is still editing the horror half of
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (now with Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant).
Solo, she has edited anthologies on vampirism:
Blood is not Enough and
A Whisper of Blood, sf and gender:
Alien Sex and
Off Limits, sexual horror:
Little Deaths, and revenge:
Lethal Kisses. She has edited two animal themed anthologies:
Twists of the Tale (cat horror) and
Vanishing Acts (endangered species). Her most recent anthology is
The Dark: New Ghost Stories. Datlow has won several awards for her work as an editor including seven World Fantasy Awards, two Bram Stoker Awards, an International Horror Guild Award, Three Hugo Awards (including Best Website in 2005 for SCIFICTION), and the Locus Award (also in 2005).
She is also a Consulting Editor for Tor Books. She lives in New York City.
SW: For 10 years now you have been at the forefront of e-publishing (Omni Magazine left print for cyberspace in 1996) with your editorial work on three of the most successful online magazines, OMNI Online, Event Horizon, and, most recently, SCIFICTION. What do you think is the biggest pro of e-publishing? The biggest con?
ED: Length is no longer a problem. In print, it was rare that I could run novellas. Now I can. I can run stories with “footnotes” that appear as pop-ups, which is fun. I was able to run Michael Swanwick’s Periodic Table of Science Fiction as one big periodic table with each element popping up into an individual short-short. Stories can stay up indefinitely and don’t go “out of print.” (unless the author asks for the story to be removed from the site).
The only con I can think of is that people might have trouble reading in the bathtub (although they could take their laptop or print out the stories into the tub with them, I guess).
SW: While we’re on the subject of the internet, anyone who has visited your website (http://www.datlow.com/index.html
) should be familiar with Lily and Dinah (Ellen’s cats). You are also an avid collector of dolls. Do your dolls have names? Do you have a personal favorite?
ED: Unfortunately, Lily died of kidney failure in July. But now I’ve gotten a tabby kitten named Bella.
None of the dolls have names other than Billikins, who came with that name. I have a soft spot for the three faced dolls. They’re just so weird.
SW: Under the links heading on your website you have a link called: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: The Weird, Weird, & Weirdest of the Web. What, to date, is the weirdest website that you have thus far come across?
ED: Meatmation, which are puppets made from raw hamburger, although I have to admit I haven’t added any in awhile. I used to surf the web looking for weird websites while working for OMNI online as part of the job, but I don’t have time any more. Got too caught up in blogs, newsgroups, and bulletin boards instead.
SW: Continuing on the subject of weird, you and I are both appreciators of Bosch. What is your favorite Bosch painting? What other artists do you like?
ED: The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The black Goyas, Albrecht Dürer, Max Ernst, Max Beckmann, Peter Bruegel, Vincent Van Gogh, some of Picasso, Francis Bacon, Paul Cadmus, Hans Bellmer –those are a few.
SW: There seems to be a lot of disagreement within the horror community itself as to what qualifies as horror. How do you define horror? Is it a genre? An emotion?
ED: I define horror as a literature of fear, whether it be supernatural or psychological. I believe it’s an emotion, and that because of this it can be found in combination with mainstream, mystery, and science fiction. “Who Goes There?” by John Campbell is sf/horror for example.
SW: While you’re at it, can you also give us the final word on ‘speculative fiction’? What exactly is it and how does it fit into the mix with horror, sci-fi, and fantasy?
ED: Speculative fiction is just a broader term for science fiction. It might encompass futuristic stories without obvious science in them such as political speculation, but basically it’s used pretty interchangeably with “science fiction.”
SW: You have mentioned in several previous interviews that you are not a writer. I disagree with that self-assessment; your introductions to the annual YBF&H
anthologies intelligently and comprehensively cover every aspect of the horror field from fiction to film to comic books. What is your process for composing these essays—do you work on them throughout the year or is it more of a cram-session near deadline?
ED: Thank you, but to me those are just compilations of information, with some judgments/remarks thrown in.
I work on the essay throughout the year, adding to it as I read. But there is always that last minute cramming when I skim all the nonfiction and art books and other odds and ends I haven’t gotten to during the year.
SW: As you know, I have been trying to sell an anthology for nearly two years. The most common response that I have received from publishers is “Anthologies don’t sell.” Even with your credentials and reputation, do you still occasionally get this response? Can we expect to see a non-themed horror anthology from you sometime in the near future?
ED: Sure. It’s a battle to sell almost every anthology, although YA seems to be selling easier—for now. It took at least three years for me to sell The Dark
to Tor. I’ve been hoping to edit a non-theme horror anthology for years, although I’ve always enjoyed editing my themed ones. I am currently working on a non-theme horror anthology called Inferno
. However, it’s not open, as I don’t have time to read as many mss as would come in if it was.
SW: Recommend three stories that you feel all horror fans (and writers) should read at least once before they die.
ED: I can’t. But I can recommend a few writers
whose short stories MUST be read:
Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch, Flannery O’Connor, and Fritz Leiber.
SW: Name a few up-and-coming writers that we should keep a look-out for.
ED: Simon Bestwick, Melanie Fazi, Margo Lanagan, Simon Brown, Laird Barron, Emerson Scott Bull, Philip Raines & Harvey Welles, Don Tumasonis, M. Rickert, Joe Hill, Barbara Roden (co-publisher of Ash-Tree Press has unexpectedly proven herself an excellent writer), China Miéville is writing the occasional excellent horror story, Marc Laidlaw is back writing short horror fiction—these are newer writers whose work I’ve chosen for YBF&H
the past few years.
SW: What books should people put under their Christmas trees this year?
by Jonathan Carroll (Tor) (I’m his editor, so I’m biased),
by John Burdett (follow up to the wonderful Bangkok 8
from last year).
Don’t Turn Out the Light
edited by Stephen Jones (PS Publishing),
Acquainted With the Night
edited by Christopher Roden (Ash-Tree Press),
Collections: Looking for Jake
by China Miéville--collection (Del Rey),
by Margo Lanagan, (HarperCollins)—marketed as YA but really for adults,
Magic for Beginners
by Kelly Link (Small Beer),
As the Crow Flies
by Dave Hutchinson (BeWrite) –excellent, underrated British writer of sf/f/h,
by Joe Hill (PS Publishing)
Art/nonfiction: Mrs. Ballard’s Parrots
by Arne Swenson (Abrams) is a strange book of photographs of this woman’s parrots dressed up in clothes and posing in artful tableaux.
SW: Can you recommend a good restaurant in Manhattan?
ED: Depends on the kind of food. My local Japanese restaurant, Sakura on Hudson street.
For a good brunch with a terrific prickly pear frozen margarita and the best guacamole in town: Dos Caminos (there are two, one in the 20s and one on Houston street).
Chinese: Grand Szechwan on St Mark’s Place or my local Sung Chu Mei.
SW: I'm honored that you took the time to chat. Thank you. I wish you as good of a year in '06 as you've had in '05.
ED: You’re very welcome. Me too. Stephen has had coffee with Allen Ginsberg, been an L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future finalist, and been nominated for the Rhysling Award. He belongs to both the HWA and the SFPA. Stephen has three children and is 'involved' with novelist J. J. Ace. He resides in an old Victorian house in California with a cat, two dogs, several ghosts, and a witch. His website is: www.StephenMWilson.com.
Interview conducted via email and first published in The Wicked Karnival #6 - Dec. 2005