Thursday, October 27, 2011

Twenty Questions with Editor Ellen Datlow

Photo by Gregory Frost
Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over twenty-five years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and has edited more than fifty anthologies, including The Best Horror of the Year, Inferno, Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Lovecraft Unbound, Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy, Blood and Other Cravings, Supernatural Noir, the Mythic series of young adult books and Teeth: Vampire Tales (with Terri Windling), Haunted Legends (with Nick Mamatas).
Forthcoming is the young adult dystopian anthology After, with Terri Windling.

She's won multiple Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, World Fantasy Awards, and The Shirley Jackson Award for her editing. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for "outstanding contribution to the genre." She has also been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career.

She co-curates the long-running Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series in New York City’s east village.

More information can be found at or at her blog: and Facebook. She also, (gods help her) tweets, under EllenDatlow but only from her home computer (not phone).

Twenty Questions with Editor Ellen Datlow

How many hours do you spend editing an anthology before it goes to print?

That’s a more complicated question than you’d think, because the process begins with the proposal, and a good one that will interest a publisher could take months to put together—including soliciting a handful of prominent writers in advance.

But if you mean the actual hands-on reading and editing of the stories, that’s on ongoing process. I read the submissions as they come in and some stories I reject outright. I start the editing process on those I’m interested in from before I actually commit to buying the story (I may like the story but feel there are flaws that need to be addressed before I make a final decision to see if I feel the writer can fix them). A story might go through one or more rewrites. At the very end of the process, once all the stories are accepted, I do a final close line edit before handing the book in to the publisher.

If you weren’t in the writing industry, what would you be doing today?

No idea. Possibly work in a bookstore or in a library. It would have always been something to do with reading.

What three authors are essential for anyone seriously interested in the horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres?

I don’t feel comfortable answering this but in order to see where their chosen subgenres of the fantastic emerged it wouldn’t hurt to read:

Horror: Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Shirley Jackson
Science fiction: Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin
Fantasy: J. R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, John Crowley

Do you have a favorite anthology you’ve edited?

I’ve enjoyed editing most of my anthologies but among my most recent favorites are Supernatural Noir and Teeth.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring editors, what would it be?

Make sure you’re really committed to all aspects of editing, that is, acquisitions and hands-on editing. You must be willing to reject the stories you don’t think are good enough or appropriate for what you’re editing, whether it be a magazine or an anthology. And part of that is if you’re a writer/editor do not impose your voice on another writer’s work. You’re working with the writer to make a better story. You can make suggestions and ask for rewrites but it is not your story. It is ultimately the writer’s. If it can’t be fixed to your satisfaction, reject it.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Read widely in and out of the field you’re interested in and be willing to take chances. That’s what’s ideal about writing short fiction.

What is the oddest encounter you’ve ever had with a fan?

Not a live encounter and not really from a fan but someone who submitted a story at OMNI: he sent me a package of Hostess Twinkies because one criticism of his story was that Twinkies don’t crackle—(he meant the package but that wasn’t clear in the mss). My assistant and I consumed the evidence without setting it on fire).

Which editors do you admire?

Maxwell Perkins, Harlan Ellison, Judith Merril.

Which authors do you admire?

Too many to name-but most of those I publish.

Do you think that the social issues authors address has changed since you first began editing over thirty years ago?

Not really. The specific issues may change (eg. Vietnam vs. Iraqi wars) but the basics remains the same. Gender relations, how technology affects humanity, racism, sexism, etc.

You often co-edit with Terri Windling. Have the two of you ever disagreed on whether or not to include a certain story in an anthology? If so, how did you resolve the issue?

We’ve only disagreed in two instances over the years (don’t forget, we did not confer on our choices for The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series—I’m only referring to our original anthologies) and each time we didn’t buy the story (in one case I bought it for a different anthology).

You have edited more than one anthology a with fairy tale theme. What is your personal favorite fairy tale?

I always had a soft spot for Falada, the horse, in “The Goose Girl”. I just felt bad that his head was cut off for fear of his telling the truth.

Of all the illustrators you’ve worked with, do you have a favorite?

I haven’t worked with any illustrators. I’ve had jacket art created by different illustrators, but writers/anthologists generally have no say (or very little) in the matter of their book covers or design. I’ve certainly loved the art on most of my anthologies –especially some of the covers by Thomas Canty. I also love the art of Cory and Catska Ench, for Tales of Wonder and Imagination.

Along with editing fantasy and science fiction, you also edit horror. What is your deepest fear?

Loss of control of my life

Are there any authors you haven’t worked with that are on your wish list?

Not really, but I’d like to work again with some writers I’ve edited in the past.

Which new authors do you have your eye on?

Genevieve Valentine, N. K. Jemisin, Matthew Kressel, Nicole J. LeBoeuf, Karina Sumner-Smith, Ray Cluley, Steve Eller, Micaela Morrissette, Carole Johnstone, E. Michael Lewis, and Miranda Siemienowicz. Some of these writers I’ve reprinted in my last three Best Horror of the Year series. A few are writers whose work I’ve bought for recent original anthologies.    

If you could invite three dead authors to dinner, who would they be and what would you ask them?

Ewww. Not a good idea. They’d put me off my meal, I’d think ;-)

What themes do you predict to be popular in science fiction, horror, and fantasy for next year?

I hear mermaids are the new big thing in fantasy. I suspect that dystopic/post apocalypse work will continue to be popular (in fact Terri and I have a YA anthology on the theme coming out fall 2012). Overall though, it’s always just a guessing game.

You wake up tomorrow morning and learn that the pet store down the street is selling mythological creatures. What pet would you get and why?

If I had room in my apartment, I’d love a unicorn –alas I don’t have room. They’re one of the most magical of all creatures, and very beautiful. Also, I’ve always loved horses and as a child dreamed about being a rider. What could be more fun than riding a gleaming unicorn in NYC traffic?

Who introduced you to your love of stories as a little girl and were books a big part of your household experience growing up?

My mom read me classic fairy tales as a child, but we had collections of stories on the bookshelves as long as I can remember, from Bullfinch’s Mythology to the collected tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Guy de Maupassant. I was allowed to read whatever I wanted as a child and adolescent, which gave me a rather broad view of literature.


mbc said...

You blog looks great. I enjoyed reading the interview. I too, am a huge fan of Stephen King. His short stories more than anything, but some of his full-length novels are great too. Following you from the Thoughtful Thursday hop...

Nora B. Peevy said...

Thank you for the follow and the kind words. I strive for entertaining and informative...


Good Girl Gone Green said...

Great interview! :)

Shah Wharton said...

What a great woman to interview. And you did it brilliantly. Interesting questions. She has one of the best jobs in the world!

And mermaids - Who new? :D X

(PS: You pick up the prompt every Friday - you have till Tuesday to post last weeks - The new linky opens every Wednesday. Clear as mud? Let me know.)

e my health - What a day!! Check this out

Anonymous said...

Indeed a good interview. I was a little nervous of the fact that there were 20 questions, but it moved along well. And some great responses. I especially like the fact that she recommends that writers read widely and outside of their genre. In my post, "My own Works Cited: 10 books that inspired me," only two of them are traditional horror novels.

Great to meet you both (and my best wishes for continued success on the Coffin Hop)

Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

Jessica @FoundtheMarbles said...

Terrific questions! That was such an interesting interview.

Shah Wharton said...

Thanks for linking this up over at Nora, have a great weekend. Oh - did you find the prompt this weekend - bottom of the post. ;D Shah. X

Shah Wharton said...

Hey - You've added a few links to to the creative blog hop - but because you put the home page URL in, that's all that people get when they click, instead of the actual page you wrote as the title of the link. Let me know what you'd like me to do. You should come back and link up the proper links, or readers won't read them. X

Nora B. Peevy said...

Thanks, everyone. I enjoyed interviewing Ms. Datlow. She is one of my favorite editors for anthologies.

Chrissy said...

Hello! (((((hugs)))))Awesome interview!

It’s so awesome to visit your lovely blog today on this Halloween blog hop. I think this is an awesome opportunity to meet other authors! I’m joining your blog and I hope you’ll join mine, too, so we can learn more about one another.
My favorite monster movie is Night of the Living Dead and I’m dressing up as a mime. Mime is one of the most ancient forms of theatre, appearing around the time of the Greek tragedies. I hope to perfect the art and technique of portraying a mood, idea, or narration by gestures and bodily movements. The only problem is…that I have a big mouth! LOL. It’s so nice to meet you!


P.S. I’d love to connect with you online!
My blog link is
My Facebook link is:!/chrissy.peebles1
My twitter link is:!/ChrissyPeebles1

Nora B. Peevy said...

Chrissy, zombie Romero fan here too as well. Sounds like a great costume. I would have the same problem. I like to chat too much. :)

Thanks for the follow. I will hop on over to your blog as soon as I finish checking my comments.

Unknown said...

Halloween Hop

I want to thank Jeremy Bates for the chance to participate in this blog hop.

My Favorite monster movie - Hellraiser
My Costume - Dragon (well the wings of a dragon and the rest is my sexy self)
And I am now following this Blog (yay)

I have read quite a few of the posts on this blog and I do believe I shall
be reading more as I have found them interesting to say the least. I hope that my participation brings this blog more visitors and that those turn into more readers for this blog's future. Thanks for being a participant and for those visiting this blog for the first time. Please comment, that is what we bloggers live for. :)

****Promoting my own Blog****

Free Book Reviews is a blog that reviews indie books, interviews indie authors and generally talks about whatever amuses them in the literary world. If you are an author please feel free to submit your book for review and/or an author interview. If you are a reader feel free to check out any book listed on our blog. In any case please share this blog with as many people as you can!

A. F. Stewart said...

A wonderful interview. I certainly agree with the choices for essential authors to read.

Unknown said...

Found you through the Halloween Hop! Great interview and nice to meet you!

Nora B. Peevy said...

Hello to all the hoppers! Thanks to everyone for the nice comments, the follows, and the interest. Great to see you all here. I am glad you enjoyed the interview. I love Ellen Datlow. I have read a bunch of her anthologies. In fact, Teeth, is on reserve from the library as I type. Waiting for it to come in ... *Grins*

Unknown said...


New follower from the blog hop please comes follow me back :)

Deborah Walker said...

That's a really interesting interview. Thanks!

Nora B. Peevy said...

Welcome, Deborah. A follow is coming your way, Life.... Thank you for the follow!

robertswilson said...

I love this interview. Datlow is an amazing editor and anthologist! As a new co-editor myself, I find her answers on the editing side of the spectrum to be a great inspiration!

Nora, if you haven't already, consider checking out and/or submitting a story to our horror anthology for charity. It's called Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology. All proceeds will go to amfAR, an international AIDS research organization. So far we've received stories from Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell, Ray Garton, and many more, but we also want to be able to feature some new up and coming authors as well.

Nora B. Peevy said...

Robert, I am putting this on my "to-do" list for tomorrow. Thanks for the info.

Amberr Meadows said...

I really enjoyed the interview!

I’m here visiting from Jeremy Bates' blog hop, and I love your blog!

My favorite scary book is IT (scared the crap out of me as a kid), movie that horrified me most was Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, and I did not dress up this year, because I suck. One of my favorite costumes in the past was "Dead Baby Roller Blades."

Happy Halloween!

Chasing Joy said...

Very nice interview. I love a post that teaches me something.

Thanks for linking up for Flashback Friday. Link up every friday on

Nora B. Peevy said...

I wanted to learn something new too. I tried to ask questions that might not have been covered. I read a bunch of her interviews before embarking on the journey and think I was pretty successful in giving some new info to readers. At least I was entertaining! And I now know she wants a unicorn for Christmas. LOL