Editor’s note: This story was written by Kat Salazar, a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
“Didn’t you get the memo to wear black?” joked one person in the back row to a friend. Most of those attending the event July 20 at the UW Book Store actually were wearing black, probably unintentionally.
But the predominant wardrobe color spoke volumes about the sort of crowd that editor Ellen Datlow attracts. And members of that crowd are largely fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror books – people who gravitate toward the weird or the eerily enigmatic. They sat patiently awaiting Datlow, a well-known editor in the genre’s publishing world.
Ellen Datlow (left) answering a question from interviewer author Nancy Kress.
Read more of Kat’s story by clicking the link below.
For the presentation, Datlow was interviewed by local author Nancy Kress and discussed her life path and how she became involved in editing. Her love of books within the science fiction/fantasy/horror realm began as a child.
“I was reading all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy from the beginning but I never distinguished it,” said Datlow. “I read anything I could get my hands on.”
When it came time to hammer out a career, Datlow knew she wanted to work somehow with books. She began in book publishing and was an editorial assistant for many years before realizing that if she wanted to go into the science fiction/fantasy genre, she had to move into magazines. The majority of what was being published at the time for the genre was in short-story form and primarily appeared in magazines.
In the late 1970s, Datlow was given the rare chance to read manuscripts while an editor at Omni magazine was on vacation. It was here that she got a foot in the door. Datlow’s credentials have since included six years at SciFi.com’s SCIFICTION magazine and several anthologies, including 20 volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.
She shared advice with how to get an editor’s attention, saying that much of what she reads she judges on the first three paragraphs.
“The first thing that hooks me is the language,” said Datlow, who also stressed the importance of plot and character as the story progresses.
Kress asked Datlow why horror is so popular and why she herself has built a career around it.
“Why? I’m not sure. I was not allowed as a child to see horror films. But at home I was able to watch “The Twilight Zone,’” said Datlow. She confessed that often she and her sister would sneak out of bed to watch it until their parents caught them; the next morning over breakfast they would hear how the episode ended.
Datlow then let slip some of her eccentricities, describing her doll-head collection (heads only … decapitated from their bodies) and her recurring nightmares of math tests. She also speculated that psychological horror stays with her much longer than paranormal horror because it is in the realm of possibility. As examples, she said she found the film Drag Me To Hell awful, but prefers films like No Country for Old Men and Winter’s Bone.
Audience members asked about how to get published. Datlow’s advice was to submit their writing often, be persistent with whom they submit to, have faith in their abilities, and be careful whose advice they take.
The event concluded with Datlow signing copies of her anthologies. The interview was hosted as part of a series for the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and many of those attending were students paying rapt attention to any advice on how to catch an editor’s eye. The workshop is a nonprofit organization and accepts only 18 students a year based on a jury process. Members of the jury consist of published authors and alumni of the program.
“It’s just very varied, it’s as individual as the people,” said workshop director Leslie Howle about the sort of submissions to the program they receive.
The topics are broad-spectrum fiction and range from cultural science fiction to magical realism. In explaining the camaraderie that is formed during the six-week workshop, “Every year seems to have its particular ‘thing’ that it does,” said Nisi Shawl, who is in charge of publicity and the workshop’s website. “They each have their ‘in joke.’”
For more information about Clarion West Writers Workshop visit clarionwest.org.
Our thanks to Kat Salazar for her contribution to UDistrictDaily.