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[GUEST INTERVIEW] Alvaro Zinos-Amaro’s Crackpot Questions for Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow has been editing sf/f/h short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and is currently consulting for In addition she has edited or co-edited more than fifty anthologies, including the annual Best Horror of the Year, Naked City, Supernatural Noir, Hauntings, a reprint anthology of ghostly stories, Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, an adult fantasy anthology (with Terri Windling) plus several middle grade and young adult anthologies with Terri Windling, the most recent a dystopian and post apocalyptic anthology titled After.

Ellen has won every award for editing given in the sf/f/h genres. She was the recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award for outstanding contribution to the genre and was honored with the Life Achievement Award by the Horror Writers Association.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: Hauntings is a tremendous anthology, which now sits proudly on my shelf next to one of its older cousins, The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories. One of the things I particularly enjoyed is the range of narrative approaches: from Joyce Carol Oates’ fragmentary, memory-driven chronicle “Haunted” and the straight-ahead descriptive simplicity of Michael Marshall Smith’s “Everybody Goes” to the story-within-a-story of Neil Gaiman’s “Closing Time” and the deconstructionism of Peter Straub’s “Hunger, An Introduction”. Did this range arise naturally, or was it something you looked for when picking stories, perhaps as a way of showcasing the versatility of this sub-genre?

Ellen Datlow: Thank you–I appreciate you saying that. It means I succeeded in my goal.

I’m always interested in providing a variety of tones, styles, themes, and points of view in every anthology I edit–this is easier to juggle with a reprint anthology because the stories already exist, as long as I’m aware of them or someone can point them out to me.

What happens with a reprint anthology is I’ll start with a few stories I loved when I first read them, even if I hadn’t been their editor (specifically for Hauntings, the Unsworth you refer to below and the E. Michael Lewis story “Cargo”). At a certain point in the process of acquiring reprints I’ll “notice” what I’ve got and be more careful in choosing stories for the rest of the book.

That’s why I say for original anthologies that I’m more open at the beginning of the process than later. By the time ¾ of the stories are in I’ll be far more careful about how the rest of the incoming stories fit, i.e. create the variety I want.

I guess at this point in my career the necessity for showcasing a variety of material within a theme is so ingrained in my brain that the constant juggling is sub-conscious.

What is probably most important to me when I edit the reprint theme anthologies is to include at least some writers not known for the type of story of theirs that I’ve chosen. Or perhaps not even known in the genre. It’s satisfying to publish stories that the reader of a certain type of fiction may encounter for the first time. For Hauntings, there are probably a percentage of readers who have not read Blaylock, Hand, Willis, Dale Bailey, or Richard Bowes.

In my next reprint anthology for Tachyon, Lovecraft’s Monsters, I’m hoping to introduce readers interested in Lovecraftian fiction to writers they’re probably aware of but might not have read: Howard Waldrop & Steven Utley, Elizabeth Bear (who has written several wonderful Lovecraftian stories in the past few years), Kim Newman, Nadia Bulkin, Nick Mamatas, and Karl Edward Wagner (who is of course well-known but not for his Lovecraftian fiction).

AZA: Two standout pieces that casual fans of the genre may be less familiar with, Simon Kurt Unsworth’s matter-of-fact “The Pennine Tower Restaurant” and Gemma Files’ footnote-rich “Spectral Evidence”, derive much of their power from insisting that they are not fiction. How important are such formal devices in horror?

ED: That kind of device can only work when the story is exceptionally well-written. Otherwise, it can be off-putting, too obviously just a device to fool the reader, who usually won’t be fooled.

When it does work, as it does in the above two stories (especially “The Pennine Tower Restaurant”) the possibility that elements of the story are true provides an extra layer of discomfort in the reader. I admit that I wasn’t sure about “The Pennine Tower Restaurant”– I looked up the restaurant and the tower to see if they existed.

AZA: You mention in the introduction that the stories reprinted in Hauntings were originally published between 1983 and 2012. Was the publication date of a story part of your selection process, and if so why did you decide to stick with material from the last three decades? Or did it just work out that none of the stories you chose was older than 1983?

ED: I’m more familiar with short fiction from 1987 on because that’s when I started reading for The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Several of the stories were published by me in that series. Then I emailed a bunch of writers whose work I love and who I thought might have published at least one great ghost story. They suggested stories. I also asked readers/fans for suggestions and I tracked down a couple that were suggested to me that way. But yes, I deliberately chose newer stories.

Regarding the earlier stories: Pat Cadigan suggested her 1983 story-I hadn’t read it before and loved it. Someone else suggested Connie Willis’s 1981 story “Distress Call.” I’d read it a long time ago as a chapbook, reread it, and thought it perfect for the anthology.

AZA: Dale Bailey’s “Hunger: A Confession” is one of the anthology’s opening stories, and Peter Straub’s “Hunger, An Introduction” closes it. What’s the relationship between hunger and the uncanny?

ED: I don’t think I know enough about the “uncanny” to be able to respond with any intelligence 🙂

AZA: Sorry–I was thinking about the uncanny in a very broad way, as that sense of something being both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time (a response that both stories elicited in me, though the “hunger” in each is different). Any relationship there, or simply a coincidence in story titles?

ED: Ah. Just a coincidence that I happened to love both stories. A weird coincidence, or perhaps synchronicity!

AZA: Jessica Amanda Salmonson has written that “supernatural fiction written in English in the last two hundred years has been predominantly women’s literature, and much of it is clearly feminist.” Agree/disagree? Do you think readers of Hauntings would see it that way?

ED: I think this might have been true up to fifty years ago, but not any longer. I’m no expert in the history of supernatural literature. I only read a few staples growing up, from Lovecraft to Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Poe. I missed the whole period that Jessica wrote about and now I don’t have time to go back to it. As long as I continue editing a best horror of the year, I have no time to go back and read anything previous to the year in which I’m working.

If the readers of Hauntings expect predominantly stories by women, they’ll clearly be disappointed, as more than half the stories in Hauntings are by men and only a couple of the stories by women in the book could be classified as feminist.

Women in earlier times primarily wrote ghost stories about domestic issues. They no longer do because of feminism. Most of the ghost stories I’ve read about war are by men. As more women join the armed forces, that will likely change. Ghost stories, as with all horror, reflect the fears of the period in which they’re written. I see more women writing psychological horror stories than ever before. It all evens out.

AZA: For someone who loved the stories collected in Hauntings, can you recommend a few other anthologies you’ve edited that may be of interest?

ED: Definitely The Dark, which is an all original ghost story anthology intended to showcase the disturbing rather than “moving” ghost story.

Inferno is a non-theme horror anthology with many supernatural stories in it. They’re both available as e-books and the latter is still in print in trade paperback.

AZA: In S. T. Joshi’s Icons of Horror and the Supernatural, Vol. 1, Melissa Mia Hall writes that “The enigmatic paradox found in the contemplation of ghosts is that whether they enchant and/or terrify, their power can be found in the mortality they represent while suggesting the possibility of immortality.” What does the idea of a ghostly life beyond this one inspire in you (hope, dread, skepticism, indifference…)?

ED: Just because I love reading about ghosts doesn’t mean I believe in them. I don’t believe in anything after death. The power of storytelling enables me to believe while I’m reading the story, but once I finish I’m back in the real world where you’re either alive or dead.

AZA: In an interview published in 2001, you observed that “In horror, particularly, the short form (again, up to novella) is the heart of the genre.” Do you believe that’s still the case in 2013?

ED: Absolutely. In my opinion, that’s where a lot of the most interesting work is being created.

AZA: What are your plans for the future of The Best Horror of the Year anthology series?

ED: Negotiations with Night Shade and Skyhorse are still in process so I don’t know.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is the co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When the Blue Shift Comes, a new novel in the Stellar Guild series of author team-ups, edited by Mike Resnick and published by Phoenix Pick (forthcoming Nov 2012). Alvaro grew up in Europe and has a BS in Theoretical Physics from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM). Alvaro is a Finalist of the Writers of the Future contest and his short fiction has appeared in various online venues. Alvaro has also published numerous reviews and critical essays in The New York Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Foundation, and elsewhere.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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