Terri Windling: ‘‘So we were on parallel tracks, but I was very focused on fantasy, and you were focused on horror and science fiction.’’

Ellen Datlow: ‘‘Mostly science fiction then. The reason I got into horror was so it wouldn’t conflict with Omni. I was supposed to be buying science fiction and some fantasy for Omni, but I was not supposed to buy horror. My first original horror anthology was Blood Is Not Enough. Someone I worked with at Penthouse was talking to some publishers and they wanted to com­mission a bunch of anthologies. He approached me and said, ‘Hey, do you have five ideas for anthologies?’ I thought about the stories I couldn’t buy for Omni. All these horror stories at the time that Ben Bova would not let me buy, like ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ by Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, which has been reprinted a lot, about a vampire in a concentration camp. There were several stories that I couldn’t buy for whatever reason at the time. Some would have been too controversial. That was how Alien Sex and Blood Is Not Enough came about. The stories were submitted to me for Omni but I turned them down and they were published elsewhere. So I used those plus new stories, creating anthologies that were half original and half reprints. I created these anthology ideas with themes like vampir­ism and alien sex. I wanted to edit a book of monkey tales, because I had to turn down ‘The Monkey Treatment’ by George R.R. Martin and ‘Pope of the Chimps’ by Robert Silverberg, but I never did that one. I’d always loved reading horror, but the reason I started editing it was to not conflict with my job at Omni – I was afraid they’d get pissed off if I did science fiction anthologies.’’

ED: ‘‘Horror is much more likely to be superficial, and I hate superficial horror. I hate the kind of horror that’s just a ‘boo’ and that’s it, unless it’s re­ally, really short and effective. When I take a story for a year’s best, by the time the book comes out, I’ve read it at least five times, because I’m eliminat­ing. When you’re doing a year’s best, it’s a process of elimination by the end, because you only get a certain amount of wordage. Towards the end I’d count up the stories I had starred and I’d say, ‘I have 300,000 words. I have to get it down to 125,000.’ I’d have to reread, reread, reread, and start eliminating. The ones that are left, to me, really affect me after reading them four times. Once in a while, on a first read I know I’m going to take a story immediately. It doesn’t happen often. I have a story coming out in an original anthology that I know I’m going to take for my year’s best, because I really love it.’’

ED: ‘‘I love doing the Year’s Best. Maybe I’ll say it’s the best, but for me, it’s the stories I love this year; my favorite stories. There are some writers in horror who are prolific and doing wonderful work. Paula Guran and I actually do compare what we’re taking for our year’s best anthologies. If a writer has more than one story out that we really like, we try not to repeat. This year we have four overlaps, I think, but we try to avoid that. If there are overlaps it just means there’s a consensus on that story. There are two stories in the last few years that I did not take in the Year’s Best for deliberate reasons. Even though I love them. One was ‘The Things’ by Peter Watts, which is the movie The Thing from the point of view of the alien. Everyone took it. Every science fiction year’s best took it. I really loved the story, but I had two problems. Number one, everyone was taking it, and number two, it’s from the Thing’s doing! I loved the story, though. The other one was ‘The Deepwater Bride’ by Tamsyn Muir. I loved that story, but I found out that Paula Guran was going to take it for her anthology, and I think Jonathan Strahan was going to take it too. Tam­syn had another story that was not as popular as ‘Deepwater Bride’, called ‘The Woman in the Hill’, so I ended up taking that instead.’’

ED: ‘‘Terri wrote all the intros for the origi­nal anthologies. She’s the expert. I hate writing introductions.’’

TW: ‘‘When you do it, Ellen, you do it well. But yeah, I generally write the intros. I enjoy writing. And you do parts of the job I hate.’’

ED: ‘‘You mean the contracts?’’

TW: ‘‘The organization, including contracts. You make the trains run on time.’’

ED: ‘‘But we always pick the table of contents together. Actually, you’re better at the table of contents than I am.’’

TW: ‘‘Yeah, I like that part. And you’re really good at the back-and-forth with the authors.’’

ED: ‘‘It depends on who’s worked more with the author. There were some writers I didn’t feel comfortable editing, or maybe I wasn’t wild about the story. I do most of the line editing. In terms of story order, for me the first story and the last story are the most important. You want to invite the reader in. The first story can’t be too dense. It has to be inviting, and it can’t be too weird. The last story should either be the strongest, or the next-to-last story should be the strongest – it depends. You don’t want something too long in the beginning. The rest of it, we kind of rearrange like cards.’’

TW: ‘‘I do it literally with cards. I have index cards. I write the name of every story on a card, and also whether it’s written in first person or third person. Sometimes I’ll mention the setting, or what kind of myth it’s based on, or female or male protagonist – I put down all of the identifying things. Then I spread all the cards out on the floor and move them around until the balance and flow from story to story feels right.’’

ED: ‘‘That’s a good way to do it. You can’t guarantee the reader will read it in order, but you have to assume they will, because there’s no other way to organize it. I did Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror, with Tachyon, and I covered 2005-2015. I did those in the order they were published, but that’s not usually the way it’s organized.’’

TW: ‘‘You can take a weaker story and place it properly, and sometimes the conversations it has with the stories on either side are strengthen­ing. There’s a real art to putting an anthology together. There are some readers (a blessing on their houses) who actually read the stories in order, and reviewers who read it that way – and plenty who don’t. Thems the breaks. For the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series, however, we never did the story ordering. Jim Frenkel did it, and he did a wonderful job.’’

Read the complete interview in the June 2016 issue of Locus Magazine. Interview design by Francesca Myman.