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Ellen Datlow is an incredibly talented editor whose anthologies I have been reading for years. She is perhaps best known among general readers as the horror arm of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series (currently co-edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link) but science fiction fans know her also for the period from 2000 until the end of 2005, when she was the editor of the groundbreaking online publication SCI FICTION for the SCI FI Channel's SCIFI.COM. SCI Fiction and its editor had an unparalleled record of critical success, earning ten major awards, including three Hugo Awards, four Nebula Awards and a World Fantasy Award. Earlier this month her anthology Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural won a World Fantasy Award.

Most recently I reviewed Coyote Road, edited by Ellen and Terri Windling for my Bookslut YA column. I thought this was a great anthology. Here's a bit of the review:

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling had a wonderful anthology of trickster tales, The Coyote Road, come out last year with stories from many great authors including Holly Black, Charles de Lint, Kelly Link and Ellen Klages. While several of the tales have animal characters it is the Nebula Award nominated novelette, "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North America After the Change" by Kij Johnson that really blew me away. Johnson takes a relatively simple idea -- that animals have gained the ability to speak -- and takes readers into an emotionally charged arena that is wholly unexpected and exhilarating. Once I realized the hook for this story, I thought it might be funny in a wry or maybe even sophisticated sort of way, but I didn't think that Johnson would be able to touch my heart so deeply.

Johnson's story can be found in the current YBFH.

I also reviewed another Datlow and Windling project, Salon Fantastique. Here's a bit of that standalone review:

There are so many other examples of good writing, of good story telling in Salon Fantastique that I almost feel like I should point to each author and say, "look what Lucien Shepherd has done or Peter S. Beagle or Jedediah Berry!" It's like I'm hawking something on a street corner, trying to entice people as they walk by to just hear me for a moment; just consider for a second what I'm trying to sell: Good stories, all gathered in one volume, for those who love to read.

It was in Salon Fantastique that I first read the work of Christopher Barzak who has become one of my absolute favorite writers.

Ellen answered these questions over a period of two months and I deeply appreciate her patience as we discussed good writing and editing for multiple genres, formats and age groups.


Chasing Ray: Having edited anthologies for both teens and adults, what can you tell me is the fundamental difference between the two audiences (from an editor's POV of course)?

ED: Just a bit of background first: Terri Windling and I have co-edited three, going on four young adult anthologies in the "Mythic" series we've created for Viking (neither of us have edited YA anthologies solo). When we began, we really didn't know what "young adult" meant, partly because we both grew up before that marketing niche existed. I went from reading children's books directly to adult books.

The Green Man: Tales From the Mythic Forest
was pretty much unexplored territory for us. We envisioned the anthology as young adult, crossing over to (or overlapping with) the adult market. What we were told by our in-house editor was that there could be sex (but not too graphic) and there could be violence (although very few of the stories in that series are particularly violent). We came away with the impression that it was a good idea to commission stories told from a young adult's perspective and populated mostly with younger people. For The Faery Reel we were initially hesitant about buying Gregory Maguire's wonderful "The Oakthing," whose main character is an elderly woman. However, we decided that we could squeeze in one such story. As it turned out, not one reviewer seemed bothered by this.

The other major difference is that we're aware that density of language can be a problem for younger readers; so we mention this issue to contributors to our YA anthologies.

When editing anthologies specifically for adults I feel that anything goes. Characters can be of any age --although I do occasionally worry that having a child prominently featured in a story may allow readers to misinterpret the "adultness" of that story or of the entire anthology. (as is discussed in the next question). In adult fiction, the language can be as dense as the story needs it to be.

CR: To cite a specific story, some of the blow-back from Margo Lanagan's "The Goosle" (included in the adult anthology The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy) was that it was written from a child's perspective – how much do you think the age of the protagonist has to do with the age of the reader?

ED: The blow-back from "The Goosle" is a perfect example of how a sloppy reviewer can misconstrue the aim of an entire anthology by the preconception that a young point of view character signals that the story is for children. The reviewer also misinterpreted the story, but that's a separate issue.

However… even though "The Goosle" is shocking in its violence, I understand (I haven't read many young adult novels) that young adult fiction takes on some very "adult" subjects these days. So would it have been so out of place in a YA anthology? I don't know.

CR: In terms of genre, science fiction and fantasy seem to be the healthiest markets out there for short stories. Do you have any ideas why the form has sustained in this genre longer than it has in others? Are SFF readers just more receptive to short stories? (It seems particularly hard to publish books of literary short fiction these days.)

ED: You must be reading other blogs than those I read ;-). Every few years the doomsayers start up again about sf/f short fiction's death knells--this has been going on since I've been editing in the early 80s.

Certainly there are many more sf/f stories being published than mainstream stories, even counting the non-paying literary magazines (often funded by universities).

In addition, more genre stories are being published by mainstream publications, even though there may be no acknowledgment of this by the mainstream or by the genre. I've taken stories and poems from The New Yorker, McSweeney's, Esquire, Gargoyle, and Playboy over the past five years for my horror half of Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. My fantasy co-editors {Gavin Grant and Kelly Link] have taken even more.

The quality of short science fiction and fantasy is as good as or better than ever. But "healthy market"? Hmmm—there aren't many short story markets that pay more than a few cents a word—in genre or outside of it.
Most sf/f collections these days are published by small presses--but those presses seem to be thriving. Original and reprint anthologies are continuing to be published on a fairly regular basis. I know this isn't answering your question. Sorry. I don't really know why it continues to be relatively robust—but I do think that short sf/f will continue to be written, published, and read.

CR: I think what I was aiming for in that question was the higher number of SFF anthologies published in comparison to straightforward literary collections. A lot of mass market SFF come my way throughout the year (often by DAW) and then there are the YA fantasy anthologies and collections (like Margo Lanagan's, Kelly Link's and your own work with Terri Windling). My use of the term "healthy" was likely inaccurate for you - as an editor - but as a reader I am just curious as to why SFF as genres have such a long history of embracing the short story (From Amazing Stories and forward) that does not seem to have abated. It is a format that a SFF writer can break into, gain some readership and then return to after writing full length novels. (Of if you consider Kelly Link, an author can gain a steady readership simply with the short stories). As an editor do you have an opinion why readers of SFF enjoy short stories still just as much if not more than full length novels?

ED: I'm not sure I agree that sff anthologies are more prevalent than mainstream or other genre anthologies—the Best American Short Stories and O'Henry Award stories are best of anthologies that have been published longer or at least for as long as any sff best of anthology. There is a long tradition of literary magazines publishing mainstream short fiction. Also, the mystery/crime genre is giving the sff genres a run for their money these days. But as a reader, I've always enjoyed short sf/f/h stories –as have a lot of my colleagues.

CR: Thanks for giving me such an honest and in depth answer to that question - here's another thought on a similar subject. I'm reading the Del Rey SF and F collection right now and can only imagine how hard it must have been to collect these stories - they cover the map in terms of subject matter and together are really quite dizzying (I mean that in a good way). How was your selection process refined for this collection? Were these the stories that gave you the biggest "gut" response or were you looking to include specific types of stories - as in "stranger in a strange land" (Emshiller), reworked fairy tale (Lanagan), alt history, monster tale, etc. I know this question will likely seem simplistic but I think that anthology readers will appreciate having an idea as to how an editor brings an anthology together.

ED: Well, each anthology may work a bit differently. For the Del Rey Book of SF and F, several of the stories, including Paul McAuley and Kim Newman's "Prisoners of the Action" and Jason Stoddard's "The Elephant Ironclads" had been submitted to SCIFICTION, just as it was closing down. And Elizabeth Bear's "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall" was submitted too late for another anthology I had been editing. I asked the authors if I could hold on to their stories because I knew the Del Rey book was in the works. I was open to all kinds of science fiction and fantasy and specifically contacted writers whose work I enjoy. (which is how I edit all my anthologies).

Usually I send out guidelines, but looking back, I don't believe I did for the Del Rey Book. I just asked for stories. And yes, always, the ones that hit me in the gut are the first ones I immediately know I'm going to buy. However, once I started buying stories I had to be more careful about what I was going to buy. I knew that I didn't have room for another novella having bought the McAuley/Newman. I knew that I had to be careful about buying too many alternate histories (the Tidhar is more "future history" and time travel than an alternate history). And I had to be careful about not buying too many oddball stories (like the Bear). With any anthology you want to provide a good mix of material, even when it's a theme anthology. In the case of this book, I believe I succeeded at what I set out to do (and what my in-house editor asked me to do) –create a book that reflected what I did at SCIFICTION: publish science fiction and fantasy stories, with some horror. And the occasionally oddity that might not fit exactly into any genre.

CR: In a collection like The Coyote Road you had a narrow focus of "trickster tales" as opposed to the adult fairytales series (Black Swan, White Raven, etc.) and the new Del Rey Book of SFF. Which format do you prefer – and is it easier for an editor to create an anthology around one or the other (narrow vs general)?

ED: The six titles of the adult fairy tale series were also themed: the stories had to be retellings of fairy tales that already exist, so in its way that was as narrow a theme as The Coyote Road!

I enjoy editing both kinds of anthologies. I love having a theme and being able to push push push up against that theme as hard as possible without breaking through (or out of) it.

I've only begun editing non-theme anthologies and they're possibly more difficult to put together. I'm not sure that this is true, but I feel that I have to be constantly aware of each story I'm considering to feel how it's going to fit with the other stories—and at least with The Del Rey Book of SF&F, because I was mixing genres I worked hard to balance the types of fiction in the book. My other non-theme anthologies have been purely fantasy or purely horror.

CR: I don't want to pin you down on authors whose work appeals to you the most (because that hardly seems fair or even predictable) but I did wonder if you could discuss a couple of stories in the past year or so that have surprised you the most – stories that really came out of left field and made a deep impression.

ED: M. Rickert's "Holiday," from Subterranean issue #7 (edited by me), is a sad and chilling ghost story that combines elements from the Jon Benet murder and the case of a family whose father is accused of child molestation (filmed as a documentary called Capturing the Friedmans). The story is from the point of view of a lonely man who begins to see ghosts of dead children. Rickert is one of the field's best short story writers today. Although I've read almost all of her stories I wasn't prepared for this one. It's in the just out YBFH#21.

In fact, "Holiday" and "Closet Dreams," the latter by Lisa Tuttle, are both powerful stories about child abuse. "Closet Dreams" was published in Postscripts, in the UK, and I picked it up for YBFH #21. Tuttle has been writing sf/f/h since the mid-70s and in the past few years has written some excellent horror stories, particularly "Closet Dreams," which is about a woman who as a child, was abducted, imprisoned in a closet, and abused. Both of these stories are especially horrific because they are based on events that have actually happened or could happen.

I've recently bought a story by a relative newcomer, Matthew Kressel. Matt is the editor of Sybil's Garage, a boutique sf/f magazine--and he's recently become my co-curator for the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading series in New York City. I knew he was a writer and probably had read some of his stories over the past couple of years. But he submitted a story to my Naked City (urban fantasy) anthology and it blew me away. As soon as I read it, I knew I had something. It's about creatures in the desert that by their presence, destroy the cities they come to. And it's a love story.

CR: Anthologies and collections do not seem as prevalent for teens as I would expect – especially when you consider that fantasy is such a popular genre there. Kelly Link had a collection out last month and the mythic anthologies from you and Terri Windling seem to have garnered respectable audiences. How much do you think short story writers should be thinking about the YA audience and do you think more anthologies (and collections) should be directed at teens?

ED: I think there might be more out there than you think --but most of them are non-fantasy anthologies. For example, writer Lois Metzger told me that she edits YA anthologies regularly—but they're all "realistic" and topical. I would love to edit more YA anthologies. The ones I am aware of are Deborah Noyes' series, the Firebird series edited by Sharyn November at Viking and Jonathan Strahan's recent The Starry Rift, an sf anthology from Viking.

It'll be interesting to discover whether the readers of Kelly's collection are teens or adults. I know that many adults buy Terri Windling and my mythic series of anthologies. Neil Gaiman is another adult writer whose stories have been collected for younger readers. Margo Lanagan's collections were initially marketed towards young readers, probably because of the earlier mentioned phenomena—many of her stories are about young people or are told from a young person's point of view or voice.

With regard to collections, I think that many YA authors don't write much short fiction. Those that do, have perhaps only recently been hitting the public consciousness and might not yet have enough stories for a collection. I assume it's also a marketing issue. If librarians asked publishers for anthologies and collections, perhaps publishers would listen.

CR: Finally, a bit of a historical question on the fairy tale. How much do you think the classics can be revisited, modernized, and altered by current authors? Again, Margo Lanagan turned "Hansel and Gretel" a bit on its ear with "The Goosle" but Walt Disney has been tampering with the original tales for decades. (I still can not believe what happened to "The Little Mermaid".) You have been writing about fairy tales for a long time – is there a limit to how much they can be mined for inspiration or are current authors just proving that truly, their scope is limitless?

ED: Terri's the fairy tale expert. Although I love fairy tales and was brought up on them, I'm really just along for the ride. Terri writes the extensive introductions for all our anthologies. We began our adult fairy tale series with the intention of redressing the trend of Disneyfying fairy tales. Angela Carter and Donald Barthelme and Tanith Lee were writing fairy tales for adults, emphasizing the darker aspects of the originals. We just took off from where they led.

I do think fairy tales can be retold over and over, retaining a freshness and vitality when done well. Just as the vampire and ghost story tropes are illimitable, so are fairy tales.

[See my detailed reviews of two stories from the Del Book of SF&F: "North American Lake Monsters" by Nathan Ballingrud and "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall" by Elizabeth Bear. I will be reviewing Margo Lanagan's "The Goosle" here after the WBBT (as well as other titles from the collection.]

comments

Lovely and thorough. Thanks for sharing!

This is an especially interesting discussion in light of the fact that in YA most of the time there is perceived to be no market for short stories -- and you must be invited to join in an anthology, much of the time. My agent has discouraged my penchant for short story scribbling, saying that they simply do not sell in the YA genre. I'll be interested to see if publishers do begin to listen and open up the market to more.


Picking up a fantasy anthology with her name and Terri Windling's on it, you know it's a good one automatically, despite the fact that they rarely come out from behind the word "editor." It's nice to hear from the woman herself.

I was really interested to see Ellen's opinion on short stories vs novels and SFF vs literary fiction, etc. She has been doing this for so long - she really has a perspective that few others do.

The discussion of "adultness" was really interesting, too! Great interview. When I was a teenager, I really loved the fairy tale anthologies she did with Terri Windling.

Very encouraging to hear that there might be a market for YA short stories!

lkmadigan Author Profile Page

Oooh, I have THE COYOTE ROAD - love it!

Thanks for the great interview.

Lisa

Great detailed interview! It really caught me, when Ellen mentioned the adult readers of the YA anthologies - it's what I've been hearing from booksellers for years regarding YA Books with Gay characters - that almost half of the readership is adults, reading for their "inner teens."

I wonder how much of the overall YA market is adults, reading for their "inner teens?"

thanks for this!

Lee

Hi Colleen,

I've enjoyed Ellen Datlow's anthologies for years, so thank you for the great interview. I'll have to go back to my bookshelf and pull out the 10- and 20- year-old copies. Wow! Also, thank you Ellen, for mentioning Sharyn November's Firebird anthologies. I have a story in the new Firebirds Soaring called "Bonechewer's Legacy". It's due out this spring.

Yes, I do think a lot of adults read for their "inner teen". I also think many authors write for that part of themselves.

I'm really looking forward to "Firebirds Soaring" Clare - Sharyn November is a great editor.

As to who reads YA - well who knows. I can't help but think in the case of Gay characters though, Lee, that some adults are looking for the books that weren't there when they were teens.

We all pick up books looking for something, whether YA for adults or YA for teens, there is something in those stories that the readers need to find.

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