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ELLEN DATLOW: Shaping Fiction


Originally published: CFQ/Cinefantastique, Vol. 38 No. 2
[Click to download PDF of interview]

"I think the fantastic genres in short fiction are producing reams of high quality material."

Ellen DatlowHow can you tell Ellen Datlow is genre's premiere editor? To start, she's the only professional editor who edits all types of short fiction: science fiction, horror, fantasy and all permutations thereof. Or you might consider her years (1981 through 1998) first as fiction editor of Omni magazine then of Omni Online, her work with Event Horizon, and, most recently, SCIFICTION.

You might take a look at her bookcase groaning under the weight of the over two dozen anthologies she's edited or co-edited, plus eighteen (so far) editions of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (and a few novels by the likes of Jonathan Carroll). Then there are the awards. Currently she is tied for winning the most World Fantasy Awards in the organization's history (seven); has won (with co-editors) two Bram Stoker Awards; and, as an individual, won an International Horror Guild Award, a Locus Award for Best Editor, and two Hugo Awards for Best Editor. [The nineteenth Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is now out (August 2006).]

Ellen Datlow loves editing, especially "the process of making a good story better and helping the author find the story she wanted to tell."

For almost six years, Datlow's been the editor of the Hugo-award-winning (yes, more awards) SCIFICTION for SciFi.com. After publishing around 350 stories -- 130 republished classics and 220 originals -- The SciFi Channel, SciFi.com's parent, decided to drop the fiction feature at the end of 2005.

"I've loved working at SCIFICTION. It gave me the opportunity to regularly publish novellas, something I'd rarely been able to do in print magazines or anthologies," says Datlow. "I had a ball working with dozens of writers who I'd never edited or published before and I had some great colleagues at SciFi.com. But now -- not having to publish an original story a week and two classics every other week makes my life feel like a vacation, even with the various projects I'm working on."

Book Cover Currently looking for new opportunities, Datlow's "dream job" would be "editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories for another magazine or webzine (one that has nonfiction or not). Or earning enough from my original anthologies to make a living out of them."

She and frequent co-editor Terri Windling have just turned in their third young adult anthology for Viking, The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, which will be out in spring of 2007.

"We're currently working on a children's anthology for Viking," Datlow adds, "and an adult fantasy anthology [Salon Fantastique] for Thunder's Mouth [due out October 2006]r. Solo, I'm working on a horror anthology and may edit another original anthology down the road."

Considering her current circumstances, she is still quite optimistic about fiction on the Web, although she "honestly doesn't know" about its future. "Readers will learn to pay for quality fiction on the Web -- or not. Corporations will continue to use it as a lure for other things. I'm curious to see if the 'Amazon Shorts' program makes money for the authors and/or attract new readers for the authors' novels."

As for the status of genre fiction: "Don't forget, I mostly deal with short stories rather than novels. I think the fantastic genres in short fiction are producing reams of high quality material. This year, for example, I've got a very long 'short' list of stories I need to reread before I make my final choices for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Nineteenth Annual Collection. Judging from the material submitted to me at SCIFICTION, there seem to be fewer strictly science fiction stories being written than those that could be considered science fantasy--stories that feel like SF but are really not. And two of the most acclaimed (in mainstream venues) novels of the year were science fiction: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham and Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I've heard it said that Ishiguro's novel isn't SF. Excuse me? It's about using clones for body parts! Science fiction is alive and thriving. Just as fantasy and horror is. They've just been co-opted by the mainstream, which refuses to acknowledge its roots." -- Paula Guran