Charles Tan interviews Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow is the Shirley Jackson Awards nominated editor of the anthologies Supernatural Noir and Blood and Other Cravings.

Hi Ellen! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. Consistently year after year, you continue to produce at least one anthology that’s tinged with darkness. What makes you come back to this theme?

I’m often asked why I love horror and I find that it’s a difficult question to answer. There’s an edge to good horror that I don’t find in other fiction–what do I mean by “edge”? The deliberate exploration of the dark side of human behavior. A deliberate fictional intrusion into the unknown country of death–so much horror is about facing one’s own or one’s loved ones’ death and/or annihilation of self. I admit I’m struggling here. How can one explain why one loves life but loves reading stories of horror and terror? I’ll leave that to the psychiatrists (smile).

Can we talk about brainstorming a theme and a title for anthologies? How did you come up with the concept for Supernatural Noir for example, or when it comes to a common theme like vampires, how did you settle on Blood and Other Cravings as a title?

Supernatural Noir was the follow up to Lovecraft Unbound, an anthology I edited for Dark Horse. My editor actually suggested the theme and the title came naturally out of that. Blood and Other Cravings is the third vampirism anthology I’ve edited (Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood were the first two)and it seemed important to have the word “blood” in the title. Titles either just come to me or I agonize over them.¬† A Whisper of Blood was agony to come up with (David Hartwell– my editor on that one– and I spent the four hours in a car to and from Boston for a panel, throwing ideas at each other. ) Luckily, Blood and Other Cravings was one that just popped into my head. I knew it was perfect for what I wanted to do.

When working with writers on a story, what are some of the techniques you employ to help the writer improve the story?

I’m not sure it’s a “technique” but if I know I’m going to buy the story but I think it needs work, I ask a lot of questions.

Basically, how I work though is:

First I’ll read the story through and take notes as I go (if I have questions or comments about something that jumps out at me as I’m doing my first read).

If I know that I’m going to buy the story or love it enough to work with the writer to get the story into buy-able shape, I’ll give it a closer look and note responses/questions/suggestions throughout. The last things I do during a line edit is note repetitions of phrases, words, images to make sure the author is using them deliberately and not repeating them by accident. I also look for “tics” aka placeholder word usages. I may see one word or variation of a word used too many times (with search and replace it’s easy to check this in a ms) and ask the writer to delete or reword about 20 of the 25 uses (of course, I cannot think of an example right now).

I never rewrite but I might occasionally suggest a different way of saying something and ask the writer if she agrees and if not, ask her to come up with a different rewording. I may ask the writer to combine and tighten up two loose paragraphs that seem to say the same thing. I’ll often ask for clarification. I may ask for a trim when a writer’s research gets in the way of the story. Each edit depends on the individual story. It’s more difficult with writers I haven’t worked with before because I don’t know how he’ll react to my edits. A crucial part of being an editor is being able to persuade an author that his story needs fixing and get him or her to fix it…

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