The 11th volume of The Best Horror of the Year (Night Shade, Sept.) showcases editor Datlow’s talent for choosing a wide range of top-notch horror stories.
You’ve edited 11 volumes of The Year’s Best Horror and, before that, 21 volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. How has the horror field changed over 32 years?
Themes come and go. Tropes get popular and then go out of fashion. Ghost stories were out of vogue for a while, but they’ve made a comeback in the last few years. There was a time when you saw zombie stories all over the place. Over the years, the same tropes exist, but it’s what you do with them, and how you bring something new to them, that keeps the work and the trope fresh. There’s an increasing number of horror writers from outside the U.S., not so much in translation but many writing in English. This helps to bring a freshness to the field, and to fiction writing in general.
What are your criteria, and what’s your process?
I pick the stories that I think are the best. It’s what hits me. The selections are subjective on a major level. Sometimes there’s consensus when other editors pick up the same story for their bests-of. But sometimes, when an author has a particularly good year with a bunch of really outstanding stories, we try not to pick up the same story to avoid overlapping. As I read, I’ll put the title, author, and source of stories I like on a “recommended list.” If I like the story a lot I put an asterisk next to it. Once I’ve got my recommended list, I start rereading the stories on the asterisk list. I may read those stories multiple times before deciding which ones I want to include among the “best.” I almost always wind up with double the amount of wordage that I can take, so I have to keep rereading and refining my selections. If, after multiple rereadings, a story has the same power I felt when I first read it, I take it.
Do you look for a particular balance among contributors or themes?
I don’t look for a type of contributor or a theme. But if I have too many stories on a particular theme I have to make a choice. The rare time that happens, I may decide on the basis of which magazine I feel needs the attention more. When ordering the table of contents, I do make an attempt to balance theme, tone, and wordage. What’s been fun for me the last few years is noting in the book that there were this many men writers, this many women writers, this many writers from different countries, and so on. But I don’t think of this as I’m reading.
Are you still capable of being blown away by something you read and thinking, “Wow, I never saw that coming”?
Always! If I wasn’t I couldn’t do my job. The most gratifying thing about being an editor of horror fiction is being constantly surprised. Good stories will always startle me and instill a sense of dread.