Women in Horror: An Interview with Ellen Datlow

If you’ve read an anthology of horror, science fiction or fantasy stories in the last couple of decades, chances are good it was edited by Ellen Datlow.  In addition to editing more than 100 anthologies over the course of her 35 year career, Datlow has served as the editor magazines such as OMNI and Event Horizon, and currently acquires fiction for Tor.com.

Datlow’s impeccably keen eye for talent has made her one of the most important figures working in modern horror fiction. We at Cemetery Dance are honored that she took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us.

(Interview conducted by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann)

CEMETERY DANCE: February is “Women in Horror Month.” I’ve run across a mixed bag of reactions from female authors concerning this celebratory month. What are your feelings about it?

ELLEN DATLOW: I have mixed feelings. I’d prefer there was no longer a need for such a call out to women as women are in horror all year round. We create it, edit it, read it all year round. On the other hand, anything that promotes horror and especially newer voices, voices that are not readily heard, is a positive.

Ellen, when I read your bio, I was literally floored to read that you have edited over 100 anthologies over the span of your career. My first thought was, I wonder if she has any pet favorites? Are their a few anthologies that really stand out for you? (I’m grabbing my notes so I can buy them straight away.)

I do have a few favorites: my unthemed horror anthologies like The Dark, Inferno, and Fearful Symmetries; Supernatural Noir (I’d love to edit a second one of those). But tomorrow my favorites might change.

One of the anthologies you recently edited, The Devil in the Deep: Horror Stories From the Sea is on the preliminary ballot for a 2018 Bram Stoker. Can you tell me what that particular honor and validation of your work feels like?

It’s always an honor to be recognized for one’s work. Awards are wonderful, but sales are important because they mean one’s books are reaching readers. Awards alone won’t get a publisher to buy another anthology from me.

Sub-question: How much work goes into editing an anthology? Can you tell me what the back end of that looks like? A little bit of a behind-the-scenes peek?

Basically (very basically):

It takes about a year from sale of anthology to me handing in the ms to my publisher. During that time I solicit stories from writers whose work I love, and give them the deadline (a couple of months before my deadline).

Every few months I contact the writers from whom I’ve solicited stories to ask how it’s coming along and if it’s coming; and once stories are submitted, I accept or reject them; I edit each story I buy (or plan to buy—some stories I won’t commit to taking until I see a revision that both the author and I are happy with); as soon as I commit to a story, I send out the contract and pay the contributor.

I do a final line edit of each story and as I do that I’m also working on the order of the table of contents; put together the front matter, which includes creating a title page, copyright page, write the intro, adding bios, an About the Editor, previous titles. Put the whole ms together and email it to my in-house editor.

I’m excited about an anthology coming up called ECHOS: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories. Can you give us a little insight or a teaser into that particular project?

It’s a large anthology of 225,000 words, with three reprints (two public domain: one by Ford Maddox Ford and one by F. Marion Crawford; one contemporary) and originals by Alice Hoffman, Lee Thomas, Paul Tremblay, Seanan McGuire, Gemma Files, Richard Kadrey, Brian Evenson, John Langan, Joyce Carol Oates, Nathan Ballingrud, and a host of other writers. The subtitle explains the theme.

Ellen, lately I’ve been waging war against some stereotypes that come against the genre of horror. Can you tell me what you love about the genre and maybe give us a definition of what horror is or is not?

It’s a whole range of types of stories. It isn’t one thing. There are many sub-genres such as sf/horror, terror tales, supernatural horror, contes cruel, body horror. I love that it’s so varied. I do see a difference between horror and dark fantasy… it’s a tonal difference and also a difference in the ending. Dark fantasies end on a more hopeful aspect than horror

I usually ask the people I interview what flavor of ice cream they would be and why. I feel like the answers I get are very telling. Ellen, I’m so curious about what flavor of ice cream you would be and why!

Coffee ice cream. I’ve always loved it and especially love to eat it with chocolate sprinkles in a sugar cone. Over the years I’ve concluded that coffee Häagen-Dazs is the best. Why? Because it’s delicious.

Rapid fire questions:

SF or Horror?

Both.

Ocean or Mountains?

Both although I neither swim in the ocean any more nor have I ever climbed a mountain. Both are relaxing and beautiful.

Space or the Deep Sea?

Deep sea

Coffee or Tea?

Both at different times of day.

Black or Grey?

Black

Dreams or Nightmares?

Nightmares

Physical books or Digital?

Physical

Rain or Snow?

Snow

Preferred method of travel?

Air—it gets me there quickest.

Do you prefer editing anthologies on your own or co-editing?

On my own. When co-editing one is going to have to compromise.

Lastly, someone comes to you and explains the premise of a horror story—what horror tropes still give you that anticipation to read them? Mine are haunted house tales or coming of age.

None. Descriptions usually sound silly. It’s how the story is told, not the trope that makes it interesting to me.

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