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Interview with Ellen Datlow, Editor of Dark Horse's 'Nightmare Carnival'


Interview with Ellen Datlow, Editor of Dark Horse’s ‘Nightmare Carnival’

Ellen Datlow is the award-winning editor of various horror anthologies, such as Supernatural Noir and Lovecraft Unbound. Her newest collection, Nightmare Carnival, is available now from Dark Horse Books.

Adventures in Poor Taste: What is the first thing you can remember that scared you?

Ellen Datlow: The witch hiding under my bed.

AiPT: Any horror comics you really dig?

Ellen: I’m afraid I’m not as well-read in comics as I should be.

AiPT: How do you decide on the order of the stories in a collection you edit, once you’ve picked all of them?

Ellen: The first and last stories are the most important. You want to make sure the first one is going to invite the reader in so it needs to be intriguing but not too dense. You place more “difficult” stories
further on into the book. In addition, you try to pace the stories: that is don’t put very long stories one after another and try to vary tone and voice. The last or next to last story should be the strongest. Sometimes
the next to last story might be the strongest and then I end with a grace note, like in music.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the reader will read the stories in order: some read their favorite writers first, or savor them for last. Or choose the stories by length (if they don’t have much time, they’ll read a shorter one).

AiPT: How did Dark Horse get in touch with you to do a short story collection?

Interview with Ellen Datlow, Editor of Dark Horse's 'Nightmare Carnival'

Ellen: Several years ago, my friend Robert Simpson was editor at Dark Horse, and they were just starting up a prose line “M Press.” He commissioned a few novels by respected genre writers using some of the classic horror characters: Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein if I remember correctly.

He asked if I was interested in editing an anthology and I saw sure he suggested something Lovecraftian, and I came up with the title “Lovecraft Unbound.” (Stories inspired by Lovecraft but not pastiches of his work.)

Rob left before the book was published and the M Press imprint was discontinued, but the book was nominated for The Shirley Jackson and Bram Stoker Awards.

The editor who took over for Rob, Rachel Edidin, proposed that I edit a second anthology for Dark Horse. That book was Supernatural Noir, and is exactly what it sounds like, and was also nominated for the Shirley Jackson and Stoker awards.

Then Rachel left and the editor who took over for her, Daniel Chabon, asked if I wanted to edit another anthology. Of course I said yes and that’s Nightmare Carnival!

AiPT: Cotton candy or fried dough?

Ellen: COTTON CANDY! Love it. A guilty pleasure.

AiPT: Fried Twinkie, or fried Oreo?

Ellen: Oreo but not fried.

AiPT: What are some of your favorite short horror anthologies you enjoy you haven’t edited?

Ellen:The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural, and Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley.

AiPT: What are some other themed anthologies you’ve had ideas for?

Ellen: I’m not telling, I’m hoping to sell them. 😉

AiPT: Have you ever tried your hand at fiction?

Ellen: No.

AiPT: Do you have any tips for those wishing to edit an anthology, or even just tips on editing for our readers?

Interview with Ellen Datlow, Editor of Dark Horse's 'Nightmare Carnival'

Ellen: Editing an anthology is complicated and a lot of work. First you come up with a theme (or non-theme, but those are much harder to sell), and you pitch it to various publishers (with a few name writers attached).

You need to figure out how much money you need as an advance, and what you want to pay your contributors. That total is how much advance you will require from the publisher (plus whatever your agent will be taking).

Once you sell the anthology, you start soliciting the kind of stories you want/need for your anthology. You provide a deadline and word length guidelines, and let the possible writers know what you don’t want. Next step involves reading, lots of reading, whether or not you’re reading slush. As an editor, you must be prepared to reject stories that don’t work for the anthology, or that you don’t love, even if they’re by your friends.

And then the hard work begins. Working with writers on their stories. In all the decades I’ve edited, there have been only about four “perfect” stories; i.e. stories that needed no work whatsoever. My job as an editor is to help writers make their good work even better. And I’m their advocate in the publishing environment.

Copy editing is not the same thing as line editing. It’s an entirely different skill set. Very few editors also copy edit. It’s best to have someone else doing that so you have a fresh eye on the work. That’s also why having a different proofreader is also important in the production process.

AiPT: With Halloween around the corner, decorations are starting to get into full swing. Do you like to decorate where you live?

Ellen: Living in Manhattan, in an apartment building, not really. I used to dress up and march in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade for several years, but then it got too large and became a zoo.

AiPT: Most memorable Halloween costume you can remember?

Ellen: Mine? Rabbit, it’s on the internet.

AiPT: How did you get into editing?

Ellen: It was either that or work in a bookstore. I love reading. I worked for several mainstream book publishers in the mid-seventies and started my first magazine publishing job in 1979 soon after OMNI Magazine started up. I was there, first as Associate Fiction Editor, then Fiction Editor for seventeen years. While at OMNI I started compiling reprint anthologies of OMNI stories and then began editing original anthologies as well.

AiPT: Any parting words of wisdom, other plugs, catch phrases, anagrams, what have you?

Ellen: Support horror. Buy my books and make it possible for my cats to continue eating.

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