If you’ve read a decent amount of dark fantasy and horror fiction, you’ve undoubtedly run across the name Ellen Datlow. Since her first editing job at Omni Magazine between 1981 and 1998, Ms. Datlow has forged a career whose output is exceeded only by her keen eye for quality fiction. She’s edited fiction at Event Horizon, Sci Fiction, and—her current gig—Tor.com. On top of those impressive credentials, she’s edited more than 100 anthologies, including the always-anticipated The Best Horror of the Year series. Along the way she’s earned a healthy lineup of awards, including the Hugo, World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, Shirley Jackson, and Locus awards. In what’s left of her spare time, she co-hosts the wonderful Fantastic Fiction Reading Series once a month at KGB Bar in New York City.
If you haven’t heard of Ellen Datlow, it’s time to fix that. Datlow has new two anthologies out now: Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories (Gallery / Saga Press), a themed collection of 30 ghost stories; and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven (Night Shade Books), the latest volume in the must-have horror anthology series, this year featuring 25 excellent works of fiction first published in 2018.
Echoes is not the first ghost-themed anthology Datlow has edited. You might say ghost stories have been part of her entire life. “I’ve enjoyed all kinds of supernatural stories since I was a child,” says Datlow, “among them ghost stories. But I only started separating them out, if you will, from the rest of the supernatural, with my anthology The Dark [Tor Books, 2003]. Some ghost stories not only play on our fear of death and what’s beyond, but they can be quite moving, avoiding what we think of as ‘horror.’ I’d read (and loved) a few heartbreaking ghost stories in the ’90s, and those stories inspired me to create an anthology of much darker tales. Hence, The Dark. Then, several years later I edited Hauntings [Tachyon Publications, 2013], a reprint anthology of ghost stories/hauntings originally published between 1982 and 2012.”
Echoes is predominantly founded on new original ghost stories. It includes stories by Pat Cadigan, Aliette de Bodard, Brian Evenson, Jeffrey Ford, Seanan McGuire, Garth Nix, Joyce Carol Oates, A. C. Wise, and others. “I’d been wanting to edit another anthology of original ghost stories for the past five years or so, and I approached Joe Monti at Saga about the idea,” she says. “He was interested, I solicited stories from a host of writers, chose two classics and one other reprint, and voila!” The result is a massive 800-page anthology offering 30 stories designed to leave you unsettled.
As a testament to her love and dedication to the genre, Datlow researched the history of ghost stories, despite already having lots of preexisting experience with ghost-themed fiction. What did she learn? “How long they’ve been around,” she says. “But more importantly, how the ghost story was dominated by women during the Victorian era, although they’ve rarely been given the exposure that their male counterparts received—even now.”
Her focus on short fiction requires enormous amounts of reading and limits the amount of time she can spend reading novels, but she still has some favorites. “Because I don’t believe in the supernatural, the ghost story rather than the novel usually works better for me,” she says. “However, I love The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Shining by Stephen King, and The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski—although I admit to preferring the footnotes, which make up their own story, to the novel’s plot. But, there’s also a specific type of ghost story I really like—the ‘lost movie’ such as Flicker by Theodore Roszak, Experimental Film by Gemma Files, and Night Film by Marisha Pessl.”
But it’s short horror fiction with which Datlow’s name has become synonymous. The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven is the latest volume in the distinguished anthology series. That series is a horror-focused continuation of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series, co-edited with Terri Windling, that ran from 1988 to 2008. Volume Eleven features 25 stories by the likes of Laird Barron, Siobhan Carrol, Gemma Files, Joe Hill, Robert Shearman, Michael Marshall Smith, and more. What does Ms. Datlow hope readers take away from this new volume? “Simply, the incredible variety and richness of voices writing great short horror today,” she says.
To her point, there are lots of great rewards waiting for readers in the pages of short horror fiction. Mainstream-only readers might not even realize what they’re missing. Datlow cites some of short fiction’s benefits as “gorgeous writing, terrifying possibilities, [and] the feeling of unease and discomfort. A step outside the world of the everyday they’re used to.” She notes that some mainstream readers may have read horror fiction unknowingly. “They’ve already read and appreciated horror fiction whether they realize it or not,” Datlow says. “Many of the ‘classics’ are horror fiction, and if they regularly read so-called ‘mainstream’ writers such as Victor LaValle, Henry James, Brian Evenson, Karen Russell, and Joyce Carol Oates, they’re already reading horror fiction and they should just embrace it. Every dystopian novel, from Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World to The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games, is a horror novel. Many dark crime novels by writers such as John Connolly and James Lee Burke to Thomas Harris and Chelsea Cain are horror novels. Horror is everywhere.”
When asked what motivates her to keep editing anthologies, Datlow’s genuine love of reading and sharing shines through. “I love being the person who sometimes initiates the process of the creation of a brilliant new story (by soliciting new stories by writers whose work I love) and I love rediscovering/pushing stories that I think are amazing. I want everyone to discover stories they will love and admire as much as I do. I also enjoy working with all my authors.”
And there’s certainly no sign she’s slowing down, or even has intentions of doing so. “In 2020, I’ve got an all original movie horror anthology called Final Cuts; horror and dark fantasy novellas I’ve acquired for Tor.com and their new imprint Nightfire by Kathleen Jennings, Stephen Graham Jones, Jeffrey Ford, and Cassandra Khaw; a reprint anthology of body horror; the reprint anthology Edited By, which is a ‘best of’/overview of all my original anthology work (more than 200,000 words); the next Best Horror of the Year. Not sure after that.”
We can be sure of one thing. When it comes to delivering quality fiction into the hands of hungry readers, Ellen Datlow has your back.