Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are two of the best and most respected editors in the business. They don’t just sit at desks, painstakingly reviewing manuscripts for flaws or areas in need of improvement, although that’s an important part of their job. Their love of storytelling and keen sense of what readers want led them to create anthologies – collections of short stories – by some of the most renowned authors we readers have come to enjoy: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Susanna Clark and Angela Carter, to name a few. Datlow and Windling’s collaborations have amassed a treasure trove of awards, not limited to multiple Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Hugo Awards … the list goes on and on.
On the surface, these women couldn’t be more different. Ellen Datlow lives in a large U.S. city - Terri Windling lives in a small village in the U.K. Datlow enjoys science fiction and horror – Windling, fantasy and mythic fiction. Datlow adores cats and collects dolls and doll parts – Windling adores dogs and is a dedicated artist. Yet, their opposites have melded in order to create some of the finest and most enduring fantasy and horror anthologies in the marketplace today.
“Snow White, Blood Red,” the first of their six volumes of fairy tale retellings, was at the forefront of the modern revival of adult fairy tale literature. Datlow and Windling co-edited the ground-breaking “Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror” volumes for 16 years. “The Green Man: Tales of the Mythic Forest” is the editors’ exploration of forest myth and symbolism, and suggested reading for teens and adult alike. There are no boundaries to Datlow and Windling’s creative endeavors.
Now, “After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia” is being released by Hyperion on Oct. 9. From Amazon.com: “If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake — whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.”
There are some people who believe anthologies aren’t as popular as they once were. Read one edited by Datlow and Windling and you will find out just how wrong “some people” can be.
Q. The obvious question: What caused the two of you to work together initially, and what defining moment said this was a good idea that needed to continue?
A. Jim Frenkel created the “Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror” series and he hired the two of us to edit it -- with Ellen handling the horror half of each volume and Terri, the fantasy half. Both of us were living in New York back then, and we knew each other socially through publishing circles, but we’d never worked together before. We liked the experience so much that we then paired up to create the “Snow White, Blood Red” series ... and 25 years later we’re still editorial partners, and good friends.
We find that the strength we have as a team is that we both love fantastic literature, but we come at it from opposite directions: Ellen from the dark fantasy and horror end of the spectrum, Terri from the high fantasy and mythic fiction end, with our tastes overlapping somewhere in the middle. This gives the books that we edit together a broader range and diversity.
Q. Keeping a finger on the pulse of readers is a tricky business these days. What barometer do you use to best guess the direction of readers’ interests?
A. We both read widely and stay abreast of what’s going on in the publishing industry. And sometimes our literary agent, whose finger is very much on the pulse of the industry, recommends a theme to us. Our last two anthologies, “Teeth” and “After,” were based on themes she suggested.
Q. You work together, and separately. What defines when you will work together?
A. Basically we work together on books that we think will benefit from our diversity of tastes. For science fiction, or pure horror, Ellen tends to work solo -- while Terri generally works solo on projects that focus more on the purely fantastic end of the spectrum.
Both “Teeth” (our YA vampire anthology) and “After” (our YA dystopian anthology) are unusual books for us because their themes fall more naturally into Ellen’s camp than Terri’s. But because these themes are so commercially popular, and thus a bit over-familiar to readers, our aim was to do something fresh and original with the topics. We felt we could do this best together, drawing on our different but complimentary editorial backgrounds.
Q. How has the onset of e-books altered what you do?
A. Like most of the publishing industry, we’re still figuring this out! The most immediate effect is a positive one: we’re able to make a number of our older, out-of-print anthologies available again in e-book form, which gives them new life.
Q. Any parting comments for your readers and those yet to become familiar with your work?
A. We create anthologies out of love for the form, and writers write short stories out of love for the form -- nobody makes a lot of money this way, we all do it out of passion and conviction. We create anthologies because we believe in short stories, and we want to find ways to get them into readers’ hands. Our ultimate aim is to keep the market for fantastic short fiction alive and thriving -- and every reader who buys anthologies, or recommends them, or reviews them, is helping to keep it alive too. And this in turn supports the creative evolution of writers both new and established.
“Short fiction seems more targeted [than novels],” says Paolo Bacigalupi (who writes both), “hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.”
That’s it in a nutshell.
DA Kentner is an author. www.kevad.net