EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling Talk About ‘The Beastly Bride’

[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]

Ellen Datlow has been editing short science fiction, fantasy, and horror for almost thirty years. She was co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for the twenty-one year run of the series and has edited or co-edited many other anthologies, most recently Troll’s Eye View, The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People (the last two with Terri Windling), Best Horror of the Year, Volumes 1 and 2, Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft Unbound, Tails of Wonder and the Imagination (a big, reprint cat anthology), Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror. Forthcoming are Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3, Naked City: New Tales of Urban Fantasy, Haunted Legends (with Nick Mamatas), and Teeth: Vampire Tales (a young adult anthology, with Terri Windling). She has won multiple awards for her editing, and was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” More information can be found at www.datlow.com, and she regularly blogs at http://ellen-datlow.livejournal.com/ (Photo by Lori Datlow)

Terri Windling has been an editor specializing in fantasy and mythic fiction for over thirty years, winning nine World Fantasy Awards, the Mythopoeic Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and (most recently) the S.F.W.A. Solstice Award for outstanding contributions to the sf/fantasy field. She has been a consulting fantasy editor for Tor Books since 1986, and the director of The Endicott Studio for Mythic Arts since 1987. She was the fantasy editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror annual volumes (St. Martin’s Press) for the first sixteen years of the series’ publication; and she has edited dozens of other anthologies as well, often in partnership with Ellen Datlow. Terri also writes fantasy fiction for adults and children, publishes nonfiction on myth and folklore subject, and she is a painter whose works are exhibited in museums and gallery in the U.S. and Europe. A former New Yorker, she now lives with her husband and step-daughter in a tiny village in the west of England. (Photo by Alan Lee)


Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. I love your anthology series from Viking. What made you decide to start this “fairy tale” series–and continued doing so until this fourth anthology, The Beastly Bride?

Ellen Datlow: The Beastly Bride is part of a new mythic rather than fairy tale series that Terri and I started with The Green Man.

We’d never worked in the young adult market before and Viking editor Sharyn November approached us about editing something for her and Terri came up with the green man theme. We’ve had great fun working on the series.

One thing I’m particularly pleased about is persuading some of the fine writers we’ve used in adult venues, writers such as Jeffrey Ford, Lucius Shepard, Delia Sherman, Tanith Lee, Carol Emshwiller, and a host of others–to write young adult fiction for the first time. The other thing is that the series crosses over from the young adult market to the adult market.

Terri Windling: As Ellen said, the idea behind this anthology series was to look at mythic themes, rather than fairy tales. In previous volumes of the series we’d explored forest myths (The Green Man), faeries and nature spirits (The Faery Reel), and trickster myths (The Coyote Road). One of the things I’ve loved most about working on this series is that it’s a great way to to educate young readers about world myth, which is a subject I’m rather passionate about.

CT: You mention young adults and the crossover to adults. In previous interviews, I’ve also heard Ellen discuss how there was no YA sub-genre during her time. Is there something in particular that you look for–or edit for–to cater to young readers? How about the balancing act between that audience and adults?

ED: When we edit a young adult anthology– even if the intent/hope is that its appeal will cross over to an adult audience– we’re very careful that the stories are actually aimed at young adults….The big difference (to me) between adult and young adult stories is that most of the main characters need to be young adults (between about 17-23 year’s old -which may be an arbitrary age break) and that the stories mustn’t be too dense. Other than that, anything goes.

CT: What’s the collaboration process like? You’ve both been working together for a long, long time. How has your dynamic changed (or remained the same)?

TW: Ellen and I have been working as an editorial team for over twenty years — and as a result we’ve developed a steady, familiar rhythm to the way we work together. We both love short stories and have a deep commitment to creating venues where this much-beleaguered art form can flourish; we have complimentary literary tastes; and we have separate strengths to contribute to each project. (Ellen is a better line-editor, for example, and far better at organizational/promotional work, whereas I tend to do the bulk of the writing for proposals, book introductions, and so forth.)

ED: We both work on the story order.

TW: Back when we co-edited the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror volumes for St. Martin’s Press, we actually worked quite separately, with Ellen covering the horror half of the volume, while I covered the fantasy. We sometimes recommended stories to each other, or “shared” a story selection that fell midway between horror and fantasy — but we didn’t weigh in on the other’s final selections.

For all our other anthologies, however, we collaborate more closely. We generally start by choosing a theme we’d like to explore (“trickster myths,” for example, or “adult fairy tales”), and then we compile a list of the writers we’ll invite to contribute to the project. Publishers, of course, always want to have as many “big names” on that list as possible — but it’s important to us to make sure there’s room for emerging writers on the list too. (In the end, we always choose the best stories submitted regardless of whose names are on them.)

In order for a story or poem to be accepted, both of us have to like it. That’s our only iron-clad rule. If one of us loves a piece and the other at least likes it, then we’ll usually go for it..but if either of us is lukewarm or negative, then we’ll pass. This isn;t often a problem, however. I’d say we agree about 98% of the time (addendum from Ellen: 99% of the time. We’ve only rejected at the most three stories because one of us didn’t care for it, in all the time we’ve worked together)–which is pretty damn good!

TW: In creative terms, the way we work together hasn’t changed much over the years, but logistically, it’s changed a great deal, due largely to the Internet. We didn’t start our editorial partnership until I left New York City (back in the late 1980s), so it’s always been a long-distance working relationship — but this was a lot harder back in the pre-Internet era, particularly when I moved to England. For my first few years in south-west England, we were dependent on telephones and fax machines and Federal Express…which was a difficult way to collaborate. But now, with e-mail, working together is easy. It no longer matters that she’s in New York city and I’m in a tiny Devon village…we’re always in touch. We make a good team, and I hope we’ll be doing this for many, many more years to come.

CT: How did you finally settle on “The Beastly Bride” as a concept? What goes into the deliberation of an anthology’s theme, title, or central image?

ED: If I remember correctly, I think I had the idea for animal transformation as our next YA anthology but Terri came up with the title.

Different anthologies come about in different ways. Sometimes the title comes first (with my Lovecraft Unbound anthology) but usually it’s the concept that comes first and then the editor struggles (or doesn’t) with the title. Also, it’s important to come up with a theme that’s broad enough to accommodate a variety of types of stories and authorial voices.

TW: Yes, Ellen suggested the “animal transformation” theme. She thought it would be a good follow-up to the themes of the previous books in the series (forest myths, faeries & nature spirits, trickster tales), and I was more than happy to agree. I’ve often used animal-human transformation myths in my own creative work, both as a writer (in books like The Wood Wife) and as a painter, and I’d previously published an article on the subject in Realms of Fantasy magazine, so I was intrigued to see where other writers would go in their exploration of the subject.

CT: What’s the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?

ED: I love animals and it just struck me as a fun theme to work with.

TW: Animal-transformation tales cans be found in the earliest stories of virtually every culture around the globe — and my interest in these old tales borders on obsession! It’s also a familiar theme in fantasy fiction, popping up in some of the my very favorite tales — such as that wonderful bit in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King in which Merlin transforms young Arthur into various creatures as part of his royal education. For me, animal-human transformation stories have a great deal to say (in the poetic, metaphorical language of myth) about our relationship to the natural world, to animals, and to the animal side of our own natures.