How Ellen Datlow Chooses the ‘Best Horror of the Year’

A conversation with one of the world's most-respected genre editors.

Ellen Datlow has been editing horror, science fiction, and fantasy short fiction for more than three decades. She has served as the fiction editor of Omni magazine and Sci Fiction, and currently acquires short fiction for A master anthologist, Datlow has won several awards, include the Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor and Best Short Form Editor. Impressed yet? Her work has also garnered a mind-blowing five Bram Stoker Awards, ten World Fantasy Awards, and three Shirley Jackson Awards.

I had the opportunity to chat with Datlow on her latest anthology, the tenth volume of The Best Horror of the Year — a showcase of 21 tales of terror that could make even a horror connoisseur hesitate to turn off the lamp on her nightstand — which includes fiction by Carmen Maria Machado, Mark Morris, Kaaron Warren, John Langan, Carole Johnstone, Brian Hodge, and others.

Devi Bhaduri

You have an impressive amount of experience with editing horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Describe your process when working with authors on an anthology.

Ellen Datlow

I read all the short fiction I’m aware of in any given year. That includes single author collections (if there are new stories), anthologies, magazines/webzines, and literary journals.

I have a reader who checks out all venues that are not known for their horror—the mystery magazines and literary journals, and the strictly sf magazines/webzines.

As I read, I write down the stories I like, and the ones I really like, I mark with an asterisk and request Word files of the stories from their publisher or editor. Then, toward the end of the year, I start rereading those marked stories. By this point I have ended up with at least twice the number of stories I can fit in the book, so my job is culling. By the time I’m done, I might have read some stories three or four times. If I still love them after that many readings I know they’re what I would consider the best of the year.

Devi Bhaduri

Did you have additional strategies, such as covering the breadth of the horror genre, or a diversity of subjects?

Ellen Datlow

I’ve been doing this for going on 32 years, so it’s always the stories I love that I’ve read over the year during which I’m reading.

Devi Bhaduri

In your opinion, what makes a story powerful—something that stays with you long after you read its last word?

Ellen Datlow

It’s no one thing. It’s that perfect storm of voice, characterization, background, theme, plot. If they’re done right, the story will be memorable.

Devi Bhaduri

One story that I felt in my chest as I read it was “The Stories We Tell About Ghosts,” by A. C. Wise. I was struck by the emotional honesty and conflictedness of the young narrator. Was there a story that pulled at your heartstrings more than others?

Ellen Datlow

I don’t look for horror to pull my heartstrings. I look for it to unsettle, unnerve, and maybe even upset me. I hope all the stories in the book accomplish that for the reader.

Devi Bhaduri

Another story that moved me was Philip Fracassi’s “Fail-Safe”—a wonderfully dark coming of age story that amplifies the horror of adult responsibility with the supernatural. What about the story made you know that it needed to be part of this collection?

Ellen Datlow

It’s a fresh take on something that’s been done to death.

Devi Bhaduri

Where are writers finding the horrors of our world today? I know technology is a huge source of inspiration for works like Stephen King’s Cell and Ken Liu’s “Real Artists.”

Ellen Datlow

Horror can be found everywhere and in every thing. I don’t see any particular thematic trends in horror. What I have found in the past several years is that there are more writers from outside Western culture who are creating horror works. And that’s thrilling because they bring a point of view that we (USAians especially) are unaccustomed to reading.

Devi Bhaduri

Are there types of horror that you think will never go out of style?

Ellen Datlow

The major tropes of horror fiction will go in and out of style but the cycles are quicker. Ghost stories, more visceral horror, zombies, werewolves, witches, monsters, psychological horror. What I would like to see go out of style is simple revenge horror. Unless done well, it’s the same old, same old. But that could be said of all fiction writing. If it’s done well, it works and evokes strong emotions in the reader. If done badly, it smells like a dead fish.

Devi Bhaduri

Do you see our current political climate inspiring lots of horror writing?

Ellen Datlow

More sf than horror. More dystopian fiction.

Devi Bhaduri

What’s next for you?

Ellen Datlow

I’m reading for the The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 11. I have The Best of the Best Horror of the Year, which covers the first ten years I’ve worked on the series. And I have a massive ghost story anthology out in the fall of 2019: Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories—all new but for three stories. And it’s about 226,000 words.


The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 10
Edited by Ellen Datlow
Night Shade Books
Published June 12, 2018

Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for more than thirty years. She was the fiction editor of Omni magazine and Sci Fiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies. Datlow has also won lifetime achievement awards from three prominent genre organizations, and currently acquires short fiction for She lives in New York City.



3 comments on “How Ellen Datlow Chooses the ‘Best Horror of the Year’

  1. Ramona Richards

    Thank you for this. I became an editor about the same time Ms. Datlow did, and I have long admired her gift for spotting and encouraging talented authors – and for giving readers their best through the anthologies.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. very much like the clear answers Ellen Datlow gives in this interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Real Life Questions

    Hi, nice post and love it.. 🙂 followed you already, you may check my blog too and follow back to build up a community..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: