An interview with Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant of YBFH

We sat down with Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant on an early afternoon here in the Green Man Pub to have them answer some questions we had about twenty years worth of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology which they, along with Kelly Link, currently edit. (Terri Windling, a previous editor, is busy moving homes this month and therefor could not vosit us.) A particularly fine single malt whisky is at hand for their drinking pleasure. Should they wish there's also a keg of the housecider, Ryhope Wood, on tap as well.

So who came up with idea of what was known initially as The Year's Best Fantasy? The front matter made it quite different from what existed for anthologies at that time. Did it get a good reception at St. Martin's when pitched there?

Ellen: Jim Frenkel, who was publisher of Bluejay Books and of Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction series, approached me and Terri Windling and asked if we'd be interested in co-editing a new series, with me in charge of horror and she in charge of SF. By the time he pitched this to us, Bluejay was dead, Gardner's anthology had moved to St Martin's Press and so it was a natural for St. Martin's to take us on. Jim pitched it to St Martin's as a packager (Gardner chose not to have Jim as packager). Jim sold our series to Stuart Moore, who later went on to DC Comics (I think).

Given that the shelves are getting more crowded each year with 'Best of' books, what changes, if any, are you planning to ensure new F/H fans pick up your collection?

Ellen: Since we're still the biggest with the most fiction (250,000 words) and with the most thorough summary of the year. I don't believe there are any changed necessary. Some of the others will fall by the wayside.

Gavin: We're not planning any changes on our part -- we're still going to read as widely as we can, list a couple of hundred honorable mentions, an try and convince Jim Frenkel and the publisher that we should get to reprint much more than 125,000 words.

Are you ever going to have a 'best of the decade' collection?

Ellen: We're hoping to do a Best of the Best of the last 20 years

Gavin: We hope so! Ellen and Terri and Jim Frenkel have done some work on it. It would make an amazing book -- Gardner Dozois's were both page turners.

In any given year, approximately what percentage of writers have appeared in a previous YBFH? Do you seek out just the best, or do you like to showcase new talent?

Ellen: In 2006 in my horror half there were nine stories by writers from whom I'd never taken a story for YBFH. In 2005, there were twelve. So obviously, I showcase new talent all the time. I seek out the best and that often means discovering new talent. Some of the writers have been well-known but I'd never taken anything from them before because their earlier stories weren't the best or maybe they were too long.

Gavin: We pick based on the stories. Who the author is has nothing to do with it. It drives me crazy that an editor would only read work by familiar writers. That would make the book The Best of Who You Know instead of it always being full of surprises. Every editor likes to discover new talent.

One of the best aspects for us is to reach out into the non-genre magazines, collections, and anthologies, select something to reprint, and then to hear from the editor or writer how excited they are by it. It's also great to find out that many of those editors and writers are reading widely across different fields and are already familiar with the anthology.

In the last twenty years of YBFH, which years were the best?

Ellen: There have been good years in which a lot of terrific horror has been published and those are the toughest years to make decisions. It's much easier when there is a dearth of good original anthologies being published because the relatively fewer great stories are much more obvious.

This year (2007) is a very strong year, with a ton of original anthologies, and a lot of excellent stories, so that will make it more difficult to make my final decisions.

Gavin: I have no idea! Every year seems like the best when we're reading for it but then when I look back at the older books there are such good stories.

Out of all the thousands of stories you've read, which one is your favorite of all time?

Ellen: I have no one favorite. Can anyone ever pick a favorite? I suppose some people can, but I can't ;-)

Gavin: Wow. It's hard enough to choose 20-25 stories and poems each year, never mind cutting it down to one. There was a story by Paul LaFarge, 'Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur', which was published in the anthology Politically Inspired (MacAdam/Cage) which I loved. Also anything by Margo Lanagan. I think Ellen claimed her stories in the most recent volume but we could just reprint her collections they're that good.

Which are your favorite covers?

Ellen: the first, because it was totally startling at the time. (and I have the original art) ;-), #12, and #13.

Thank you for coming by and answering our questions. The Kitchen Staff is now serving a proper English-style High Tea in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room in the Green Man Library, so do join us there for a repast on this cold, rainy afternoon.