Generally, we readers hold the misconception that editors are the people who let a misspelled word slip onto the pages or altered a writer’s whatever to fit into limited space. Editors are the ones we blame for just about anything that doesn’t look or read right within a book. And, to a minor degree, we’re correct in that belief in regards to copy editors. What we don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes and the invaluable, creative, service editors, in all their varying forms, provide authors and readers.
Two of the best and most respected editors in the business are Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. These women 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, Neil Gaiman, and Angela Carter, to name a scant few. Datlow and Windling’s work has amassed them 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.
Awards honor a singular event. Be it the Olympics or an anthology of fairy tales, we spectators more than likely view the win as pertaining to that one golden moment of crowning achievement. To the individual receiving the award, that polished disk or framed certificate is the validation of years of labor, sacrifice, sweat, and tears. Such is the case of the thirty year journey of Datlow and Windling.
On the surface, these editors couldn’t be more different. Ellen Datlow lives in a large U.S. city. Terri Windling, 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 & Windling edited the ground-breaking "Year's Best Fantasy & Horror" volumes together for sixteen years, and Datlow’s recent “The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four” contains some seriously scary stuff. Windling’s The Wood Wife is a Mythopoeic Award winning novel that combines her love of fantasy with her love of the desert. 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 October 9th. 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 (published by St. Martin's Press) 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 twenty-five 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) Readers have claimed of late that the focus on book editing seems to have diminished in favor of quantity over quality. What is your take on that type of observation?
A) Are we talking about anthologies here, or book editing in general? If we're focusing on anthologies, then yes, we'd have to agree. These days it seems as if everyone thinks they can edit an anthology—and well, yes, they can, but the important question is: can they edit a good anthology? So many anthologies published by micropresses are just thrown together by people who have no idea what an editor does. (Ellen notes that this is particularly true in the horror field, where it's something she encounters often when reading for the Best of the Year in Horror. ) With the larger publishers, there's an unfortunate trend towards anthologies edited by popular authors...and while that sometimes works (Holly Black's fine anthologies, for example), more often these books are disjointed and disappointing, because writing and editing are very different skills. Our fear is that poorly edited books will turn readers off of short fiction altogether -- which would be a shame.
Q) How do you decide what the theme of any anthology will be, and how do the two of you resolve disagreements in that decision?
A) We suggest themes to each other, and then we run with any idea we both like...provided our agent thinks she can sell it! If one of us has an idea that the other isn't keen on, then we always have the option of doing the book by ourselves (we've each published solo anthologies), so really there are no disputes to resolve.
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.
"Nothing can break your heart like a good short story," says short fiction writer Jason Ockert." Since there isn’t a ton of time to make sense of a shorter narrative you can often trick the heart into feeling something before the pesky brain goes to work dissecting, dissecting, dissecting."
“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 can be reached at www.kevad.net