Finding the Best: An Interview with Year’s Best Editors Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois

Finding the Best: An Interview with Year’s Best Editors Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois

The Year's Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual CollectionThe following is a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat (SFFWRTCHT) special for Black Gate.

For the first time, I was able to gather four of the Year’s Best editors to chat about genre, how they do what they do, why and more. So here are Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton, and Gardner Dozois.

SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Ellen Datlow: I was reading everything in my parents’ apartment from a very young age. I encountered Bullfinch’s Mythology, The Odyssey, the stories of Guy de Maupassant and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read all the comic books in my father’s luncheonette, including the ones with ichor on the covers.

Paula Guran: I devoured books of all kinds growing up. Loved mythology and fairy tales. Probably encountered supernatural tales first from an old treasury of American folktales of my father’s and science fiction specifically with Podkayne Of Mars. Although I still read all sorts of material, SF/F became a portion of my reading thanks to my older cousin. She made up SF stories and illustrated them herself — sort of an oral graphic novel – and told them to her younger sister and me.

She also handed me a couple of Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books with really cool covers and an Andre Norton Witch World book. Double wowzers.

I also read comic books: Wonder WomanGreen LanternAquaman, and Justice League were some of my favorites.

[Click on any image in this article for a bigger version.]

Rich Horton: When I was young I read everything I came across in the library,and early favorites were the Dr. Dolittle books, Narnia, John Christopher, George MacDonald… like Ellen I also devoured Mythology early, including the D’Aulaires. Also fairy tales, especially from Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Tale books.

Analog August 1974-smallI do remember bumping into Andre Norton (The Zero Stone) and Robert Silverberg (Revolt On Alpha C, of all things). But I had no concept of SF or Fantasy as a separate thing.

Aged 11 or 12, I was introduced to Asimov, Clarke, Simak, and Norton in a special program in my 7th grade class. I knew then I need to find more, and I finally found the Science Fiction section in the Adult room of the Nichols Library in Naperville, IL; and soon, I had read everything they had by the four writers above plus Alan E. Nourse and others. (But not Heinlein, for some reason. He came later. Not much later …)

Then I found short stories (The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Boucher’s Treasury, the Nebula anthologies), and at 14 I saw an issue of Analog in a local drugstore, and that was it.

Gardner Dozois: I think what I wanted most was the chance to, for a brief while, be someone else who lived somewhere else other than a decaying mill town in New England, at some time other than the 1950s, probably the grayest and most repressive era of the Twentieth Century. To get the view from the eyes of someone or something who lived a totally different sort of life than my own dreary existence. To live in their skin rather than my own for a while.

The more different from me the thing whose eyes I was going to be looking through was, the more exotic their life and surroundings, the better.

I may have first gotten that hit of exoticism from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Later I got it from reading YA series about horses and dogs, and from superhero comic books. My addiction to SF and fantasy really started when I got to high school and ran into the Andre Norton “juveniles,” as they called YA stuff then.

I quickly graduated from them to the superior “juveniles” by Robert A. Heinlein, which I devoured. From old magazines in second-hand stores, and from anthologies like Don Benson’s Unknown, I learned about Fafrhd and the Gray Mouser, Conan, and other Sword and Sorcery heroes, and about quirky Unknown-style fantasy like De Camp and Pratt’s Harold Shea stories that were latter collected in The Incomplete Enchanter.

Davy Edgar Pangborn-smallThen I found the monthly SF magazines, starting with Cele Goldsmith’s Fantastic, initially because they were running new Fafhrd/Gray Mouser stories. Then I added Galaxy and Worlds of If, and soon I was buying every SF novel that came out — which in those days, was about two per month.

I particularly liked the garish, pulpy Ace Doubles, where writers like Delany and Le Guin got their starts, and where Jack Vance published much of his best start. To this day, nothing says Sense Of Wonder to me like those pulpy old Ace Double covers.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of the authors who influenced you growing up?

Datlow: Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Eleanor Cameron (the mushroom planet series).

Horton: Well, the four listed above at first. Then Zelazny, Bester, Le Guin.

Guran: Like Ellen: Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, but also, earlier, books like the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies of different varieties — the writers names meant nothing to me then, of course. Heinlein’s Glory Road made a huge impression, as did books by Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, and Fritz Leiber.

Dozois: As I said, Heinlein’s “juveniles” made a big impression on me, as did Fritz Leiber, both with his Sword and Sorcery and with his SF, with The Big Time being a special favorite of mine. Cordwainer Smith blew my mind, and still does, and made a huge impression on me. Jack Vance, for both fantasy and SF. Edgar Pangborn, particularly his masterpiece, Davy.

Bester, mainly for The Stars My Destination. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The early novels of Samuel R. Delany and Roger Zelazny. Later, Ursula K. Le Guin.

Somehow Bradbury, Ellison, and McCaffrey never made as big an impression on me, although I read them and knew their work.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you study creative writing or editing in school? How’d you learn your craft?

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2013 Edition-smallDatlow: No. On the job — first as an editorial assistant at mainstream book publishers and then as Associate Fiction Editor and subsequently Fiction Editor at OMNI Magazine. I continue to learn my craft, with every story I work on.

Guran: I started editing when I was in junior high journalism, then high school. Got burned out on writing/editing. Went into technical theatre in college and as a first career; motherhood was my second career.

When I got into genre, it was through an online writing workshop I wound up running. Then I became a reviewer/ interviewer/ journalist. A lot of my editorial eye was developed through years of reading and then reviewing.

My first fiction editing was for horror ‘zines. And, as Ellen said, I continue to learn my craft with every novel or story I work on.

Dozois: No, no formal training or schooling in either editing or writing. Learned on the job, and on the fly. When I was living in New York City in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I’d managed to gain a reputation in some SF circles as a “hot new writer,” greatly aided by support from Damon Knight, at whose house I’d met many of the important figures in the industry of the day, and that reputation and those contacts got me work as a slush-pile reader and an “initial reports” reader for novel lines, and as I proved myself good at that, more of that kind of work came my way.

It helped that I was poor enough to work cheap, and do the jobs that nobody else wanted to do, like breaking the once-famous “Galaxy backlog,” six or seven months worth of submissions that had piled up unread after Fred Pohl left the magazine.

Horton: Didn’t study creative writing or editing. (Physics, actually.) Took classes in poetry, which didn’t make me a poet but pointed me at poets that really stuck with me.

As for the craft of editing, I am but an egg, I think. I stumble around. I’m in awe of the work Gardner and Ellen and Jonathan Strahan and David Hartwell do… I’m not in that league. I hope I’m getting better.

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you get started editing anthologies?

Dozois A Day In The Life-smallDozois: My very first book actually was an anthology, a reprint anthology called A Day In The Life, all the way back in 1970. Even today, it’s almost unheard of for an unknown new writer to be able to sell an anthology, particularly a prestigious hardcover anthology. I managed it, I think, because of the slush-reading work I was doing, which was getting good word-of-mouth in the tight little SF publishing world of the time, because of the cachet of being a “hot new writer,” and because of some of the social contacts I’d made.

Victoria Schochet, for instance, I knew socially, from parties and conventions, and she’d just taken over as the new editor of the SF line at Harper & Row, and, in keeping with the revolutionary nature of the times, wanted new and exciting kinds of books to revolutionize and perhaps radicalize her line. I proposed a Hot New Anthology to her, and, since I was a Hot New Writer, and so theoretically tapped into the Zeitgeist, she bought it. A Day In The Life has been out of print for decades, but it is now available for reading again, as an ebook from Baen.

Datlow: The first anthologies were reprint collections of OMNI stories, sometimes with an extra original or two. Then a colleague at sister magazine Penthouse asked for some ideas for themed anthologies that he thought he’d be able to buy for an interested publisher.

That never happened, but my friend, agent Merrilee Heifetz, suggested I create actual proposals to sell the anthologies. I did and she did. Blood is Not Enough, consisting of half reprinted vampirism tales and half originals, was my first “real” anthology. Alien Sex was the second. Both came out of the thematic ideas I had come up with a few years prior.

Horton: I’d been reviewing short fiction for Tangent at first, and then Locus, for several years, and eventually began writing long summaries of the short fiction field, publication by publication, culminating in, each year, a sort of “virtual” best of the year: a list of enough stories to fill a Gardner-sized volume. (Yes, that’s a straight line… I won’t bite.)

I had the notion that a collection of the best stories first published online might be interesting – this was 2005 or so, when online short fiction publishing, though growing rapidly, was still a somewhat minor aspect of the field. I asked Sean Wallace at Prime if he thought that would be interesting, and he said he didn’t think it would sell. Then a little while later he said, why not just do a full best of the year?

Zombies The Recent Dead-smallGuran: My first anthology was original dark literary erotica, Embraces: Dark Erotica, commissioned by Masquerade; they then stopped publishing books. It was picked up by a small press, got good reviews and an award nomination, evidently sold well… and then the publisher disappeared. I tried proposing anthologies for a couple of years after that, but no one was interested.

Then, several years later, when I helped develop the Juno imprint, I did two “year’s bests” of romantic fantasy in 2006 and 2007. Zombies: The Recent Dead came along in 2010 for Prime Books as well as my first The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror. I started doing a lot of anthologies after that – primarily reprint anthologies, but all-originals are in the future.

SFFWRTCHT: Where did the idea for the Years Best anthologies you edit originate — you or publisher?

Datlow: James Frenkel thought up the idea as publisher of Bluejay – although by the time the first Year’s Best Fantasy came out – we had to persuade the publisher to add “horror” to the title — St. Martin’s had taken over as publisher. Jim was our packager throughout the twenty-one years of the anthology.

Horton: Well, really from Sean, my publisher. At first we did two a year — one SF, one Fantasy. Partly I believe this was to fit the format of Cosmos Books, which did mass market editions for a while.

When Cosmos opted out (or went away…) and Sean took full control of Prime, we decided a bigger book, combining SF and Fantasy, would be a better value, and sell better.

Guran: I guess it was a natural outgrowth. Prime Books already did Rich Horton’s SF/F volume. Previously, as an imprint of another publisher, Prime had attempted a horror companion volume. So when I started working with Sean Wallace at Prime, I had the background and we came up with YBDF&H – intentionally emphasizing dark fantasy over horror.

The Year's Best Fantasy 1 Datlow Windling-smallDozois: I took over Lester Del Rey’s ongoing Best of the Year series for Dutton, after he decided that he didn’t want to edit it anymore, and did six volumes of it before the series died. So I’d already had experience as a Best of the Year editor under my belt. When my Dutton series died, Jim Frenkel, who was just starting up a brand-new publishing company, Bluejay Books, suggested that I start doing a Best of the Year anthology for Bluejay, and I agreed.

I did three books for Bluejay, and then Bluejay died, and the series was taken over and continued by St. Martin’s Press, where it’s now in its Thirtieth Annual Collection, just out.

Jim Frenkel probably deserves a fair amount of credit for the success of the series. I wanted to do a regular–sized volume, the size of the one I’d been doing for Dutton, but Jim insisted that we do a huge fat volume instead, as big as we could get it to be. I didn’t think it would work, but I think the huge size of the volume, now up over 350,000 words per volume, has always been one of its selling points, so Jim was right.

SFFWRTCHT: How many stories do you read to make your selections each year? How do you keep up? Do you make extensive notes, spreadsheets?

Datlow: Hundreds. I don’t count them. But I try to skim every genre magazine/webzine I’m aware of (I skim SF/F/mystery magazines, not just the obviously horror ones); anthologies, single-author collections, and novella chapbooks.

When I finish reading an anthology, collection, or magazine I make a note about it — extensive or not. For stories I’m very impressed by, I put an asterisk on my recommended list (the latter compiles throughout the year as I read) as a note to reread toward the end of the process.

Guran: I don’t count. Would drive me mad to even know, I’m sure. Certainly hundreds. As the new kid on the block doing a year’s best, I don’t yet receive as many periodicals, collections, chapbooks, or anthologies as the others do, but I seek a lot out and follow up on recommendations. Since “dark fantasy” is a very broad base and I consider horrific SF as within my purview, I look at almost anything genre and also look for non-genre publications too.

I read all the time, make lists. I prefer submissions in digital form, but I also have stacks of books and magazines – often with sticky notes and paperclips attached! Then I re-read later.

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year Sixth Annual Collection-smallHorton: I read 2,000 to 2,500 stories a year. I also try to read or at least skim every magazine and/or webzine and anthology that I come across, plus original stories in collections, plus chapbooks.

I do keep spreadsheets, with a slightly complicated system of checkmarks and notes to indicate which are the stories I really liked.The discipline of writing a monthly column on short SF for Locus helps – helps me keep better notes, for one thing.

Dozois: Thousands, and more ever year as online markets continue to multiply. I make a good faith attempt to read all the SF stories printed in English every year, although I’m sure I miss some of them, and I usually end up reading a fair amount of the fantasy stories as well; I read very little horror.

Of course, I don’t read all of every story. As the saying goes, you don’t have to eat all of an egg to know that it’s rotten. Even if it’s not “rotten,” though, you don’t have to read every word to know that it’s not special enough to make the cut, or even that it’s not the type of thing that appeals to you.

I make a list in longhand in a paper notebook of the titles of all the stories I read and where I read them, and if a story impresses me, if it stands out above the average, I put an asterisk next to the title. At the end of the year, I go back and look at all the stuff that has asterisks next to it, reading it again, and start eliminating things and making tentative lists. Then I usually read the stuff that’s survived this process again, and often again.

When I’m down to the last three or four stories in consideration, and I only have room for one or two, I read them all again, and maybe again. At this point, I read stories against each other, and I consider them to be fighting out for the remaining slots, like a fictional steel-cage match.

SFFWRTCHT: Obviously it’s selective and personal taste plays a role. How do you choose stories for the anthologies?

Guran: There are stories that interest you immediately and you don’t forget. Others you realize are good, but don’t appreciate until you re-read or, perhaps, they stay with you and you feel more certain about them later.

You are also looking for something of a mix, variety, but each year may bring a number of good stories with a similar theme, so you don’t negate something just because you already have a good vampire story or a dark fairy tale or whatever in mind. I have around 225,000 words to play with, so I also can indulge in a great novella or two.

I do try to limit my picks from one source – I will go with two, but not more, and I prefer to try to stick to one. There are always compromises and hard choices. You keep learning.

grunge border and backgroundDozois: There are stories that impress me strongly on the first reading, and usually those are things that will make it into the book. There are other stories that I’m on the fence about, and I have to read several times and think about; sometimes they make it into the book, sometimes they don’t. There are even stories that I was unimpressed with at first that I change my mind about after reading them again.

Even with a book as huge as mine, there are quite a few stories every year that I would gladly have used if I had the room for them, and those are among the ones you agonize over the most, trying to make the decision to use it or not.

Datlow: There are stories that either grab me the first time I read them and I automatically know they’re going to be in the book or stories that I was very impressed by on the first reading and read and reread over and over again. If the impact remains on multiple readings, I’ll likely take the story.

By the end, it’s a process of elimination. I have might have a short list coming to about 180,000 words. I have to get that down to my limit: about 140,000 words now.

Horton: By the end of the year I have a long list of stories that I thought were worth another look. A few are automatics – I’ve known from the start that they would make the book. (I have a few such already this year.)

Then I go through the rest, rereading, thinking about them, and I cut it down to a list that’s still too long. I have about 250,000 words – I suppose each year the list I cull is close to 350,000 words. Then I add the ones I am most sure of, and make the final cuts based on a variety of criteria: balance of tone of story, balance of publication source (I try not to take too many from any one magazine or book), balance of length, balance of sub-genre.

Most years I agonize over a novella or two I can’t fit. As a rule, I don’t take two stories from the same writer, but that’s a rule I could break if I had to.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever tip each other off on good stories?

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Five-smallHorton: Yes, Ellen and Gardner and Jonathan and I, at least occasionally, email each other about particularly good stories.Especially if they might be out of our remit – I’ll ask Ellen if she’s seen such and such a horror story I might have come across, etc. Gardner and I both write columns for Locus, so in a sense we are in a continual conversation, indirectly, through that means.

Guran: Sure. Ellen is especially helpful as she comes across stories that may not be “horror” enough for her, but might be good for my theme. And, after only three years, I’m still looking for more sources – in and out of genre – so I appreciate any recommendations.

Dozois: We occasionally point good stories out to each other, especially — although not limited to — stories out of our respective genre. Even within our respective genres, if there’s something really impressive, we often point it out to each other anyway; Jonathan and I do that all the time.

Back in the ‘70s, when my Dutton book was competing with Terry Carr’s Best, Terry and I tried a system where we decided who would get exclusive use of which stories, but it didn’t work out well, and I gave up on it. Now, I just let the chips fall where they may, and use the stories I want to use, regardless of whether another Best of the Year series is using the same story or not.

Sure, there may be a few stories in my book that are also in Jonathan’s or Rich’s or David’s — but there’s also going to be plenty of stuff in each book that isn’t in the others, taste being as personal and subjective as it is. In the final analysis, all a Best of the Year editor really has to sell is their taste, and your taste isn’t going to be exactly like anybody else’s.

Datlow: If I see a great fantasy or SF story that I think the other year’s best editors haven’t seen. More often in the past, less these days.

SFFWRTCHT: If a writer asked you what makes a year’s best story, what advice would you offer?

Dozois: Don’t be boring. I’ve read immense truckloads of really boring stuff in my day, and something that isn’t boring, that has color, sweep, drama, conflict, immediately stands out from the ruck. Take chances. Be ambitious, push the edges. You may fail, but you can’t succeed without trying.

Be ambitious. Try to write stories that mean something to you and engage your passions — if you’re passionate about your work, chances are better that someone else will be, too.

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year Seventh Annual Collection-smallGuran: We each put out a big fat volume of excellent examples each year! Read them.

Datlow: Yep. Read the best of the year anthologies and you’ll see.

Horton: What Ellen said. I do think, sometimes, that reading as much as I do, and having done so much SF reading for so long, I am more impressed by originality (either of style or idea) than I used to be.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you strive for a good balance between genres or just pick the best and let it fall where it may?

Datlow: I pick the stories I love the best, trying for some sort of balance — e.g. if there are two stories too similar in place or set up — and I love them both — I will make the tough decision to take one. This happened only a couple of times during the 25 years I’ve been editing a best horror. It finally came down to which venue needed more publicity.

Guran: As I mentioned, you do look for variety and balance, but my definitions of “dark fantasy” and “horror” are so broad, I really don’t worry about it.

Horton: As I said above, in making the final hard cuts, I might choose a fantasy story over an SF story if I feel I’ve got too many of the one.But that actually doesn’t happen that much.

Dozois: Realistically speaking, there has to be some consideration of balance. You can’t fill up a book, even a book as big as mine, with nothing but novellas, for instance. You can’t run nothing but stories from one market, no matter how good a job you think they’re doing. (This used to be a problem for me when I was editing Asimov’s. Obviously I liked the stuff I was buying there, but if I used too many stories from Asimov’s in the Best, people would complain.)

There needs to be some sort of balance for types of material as well, for subject matter, mood, and tone. You can’t run nothing but gloomy near-future dystopias or nothing but slam bang space operas. Fortunately, there’s enough excellent material of all different types published in the field that you can usually find variety without sacrificing quality.

In the end, though, you buy stories you like. If you don’ t like them, you’re a fool to buy them. The story has to speak to you first, before you can hope that it’s going to speak to your readers.

Asimov's Science Fiction April July 2007-smallAs I said, all a Best of the Year editor has to sell is their taste, and if you compromise that by using stuff you don’t like for other reasons, you’re headed for trouble.

SFFWRTCHT: How can writers, editors and others get their work into consideration?

Horton: E-mail me and ask. I’ll look at anything. Electronic copies are fine. And do remember that my deadline is well before the end of the year. It’s ideal if I see things by September, though, sure, I’m still reading through October. But if I don’t see it by then, it’s just too late.

Dozois: Make sure I know about it. Get your publisher to send me a copy. I’ll read PDFs and electronic copies as well as print copies. Notify me.

This is becoming increasingly a problem with Kickstarter projects and ultra-small press anthologies. If you’re doing one, make sure I know about it. Occasionally, I won’t even hear about an anthology until after I’ve closed the book for that year, and that annoys me.

Datlow: Have their publishers send me the book!!!! If your publisher is unresponsive, send it yourself and don’t publish with that publisher again. All during the year I post a call for submissions — it’s regularly in the HWA internet mailer. I have a blog and am on Facebook and Twitter. I’m not hiding from publishers/editors/authors.

If you have a question, ask. I can’t count how many times I’ve come across an original anthology or single-author collection that I hadn’t known existed—too late to consider.

I was just at the World Horror Convention/Bram Stoker award weekend, and in the dealers’ room came across at least two publishers I’d never heard of that had a new horror magazine debut in 2011 and the other published several original anthologies in 2011 — they seemed disinterested when I asked them why they hadn’t sent me review copies. They are the kind of publishers that will not stay in business very long. If no one in a position to publicize your books/magazines knows that you exist, this is not the smartest business model.

Guran: Ellen said it: “Have publishers send me the book!” Same goes for periodicals. If it is online, tell me. Many kind periodical editors even point out what they feel is suitable.

In my case, just send me a PDF or even a Word doc of the finished book. I’m easy to find. I post a call and the Prime Web site has information, too.

And I do read everything. Just because you didn’t make it in this year or something from your press or zine isn’t selected, doesn’t mean it won’t another year. Email me at if you need information. And yes, sadly, I constantly find things “too late” or people send things to me after the TOC is settled.

SFFWRTCHT: Some of you actually compile essays analyzing the year in SFF, like Gardner. How do you have time to read enough to do it well?

Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the YearDozois: I do the best that I can, although I’m increasingly getting more tired and my eyes are getting weaker. I painted myself into a corner by gradually increasing the areas I covered for the Summation, so now I cover online markets, small press markets, prominent reprints of out-of-print titles, genre-related non-fiction, art books, genre television shows, genre movies, award lists, obituaries… Every year, it’s something else.

The Summation is already up to novella length, and seems to get longer every year. I have nobody to blame but myself, though.

Datlow: Mine is basically a summing up of my reading year. I only analyze in passing. I write it as I read.

Horton: I write a shortish essay trying to sum up what I see as general trends. It tends to overlap somewhat with a similar essay I do for Locus. Writing the magazine summaries does help somewhat in organizing my thoughts. Gardner’s essay is amazing …

Guran: I don’t do a summation. I had a weekly newsletter for years and tried to stay on top of things regularly, but now I don’t have time to gather the raw data, let alone, as you say, “do it well.” If I can’t do a good job – which at this point I can’t – then I don’t do it. Plus, skipping a summation leaves more room for fiction.

SFFWRTCHT: What interesting predictions/observations have you made which proved prophetic?

Datlow: I don’t predict the future; I assess the past. I’m sure I must have made some observation that was prophetic, but I’ll be damned if I can remember.

Guran: Well, back when I was a horror maven I made a lot of incorrect observations. Maybe a few correct ones. I remember being about the first person in the US to read China Mieville’s King Rat and interview him.

Horton: I’m not sure I can point to any brilliant predictions I’ve made, except for noticing Kelly Link’s first published story in the first year end summary I ever did (on, back in the late ’90s) and singling her out as a writer who’d go somewhere.

Dozois: I’m not sure I’ve made any predictions in particular, although I sometimes can spot trends early on, and I’m fairly good at spotting new talent. I spotted Bill Gibson’s first story in an extremely small magazine before most people in the field took notice, and I’ve bought first stories in my day from George R.R. Martin, Joe Haldeman, Connie Willis, Michael Bishop, Allen Steele, Kage Baker, and Kelly Link, among others.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you all have any healthy competition going on or do you feel more mutual admiration as colleagues?

When the Great Days Come Gardner Dozois-smallDozois: Both, of course.

Datlow: Both .

Horton: Sure, both, but on my side it’s mostly admiration. And I consider everyone friends.

Guran: As Rich said, we are all know each other. As far as competing, I think our anthologies complement one another rather than compete.

But despite my age, I’m the junior member of this pack, so I’m probably the most appreciative of their talents. I did not even take the job until I asked Ellen her feelings about it. She was nothing but encouraging, but if she had been negative, I probably would have backed off. She’s the queen and I know it.

Gardner is amazing and – well, I can’t say I’ve read him since I was a kid, but for a looong time. When I helped put the collection of his short stories – When the Great Days Come — together last year (he’s a great writer too!), I updated his list of “works” and it put me even more in awe.

I feel the same about David and Kathryn: awestruck. Jonathan and I spent an interesting time together as World Fantasy judges one year when I was still did a great deal of reviewing, so I developed a great appreciation for his intelligence and taste.

Rich is much more organized and efficient than I am and reads so much! He did get to a particular story before I did this year. Since we are published by the same publisher in the same month, I felt I could not duplicate. Oh well. So I may need to start cross checking with you and discussing a dark story here and there, Rich!

SFFWRTCHT: Besides each other, are there editors who’ve inspired you in pursuing your editing careers?

Datlow: Judith Merril and Max Perkins.

Orbit 8-smallGuran: As far as editing in general, I think Maxwell Perkins epitomizes the editor as s/he should be: inspiring authors to be the best they could be. Although I never knew her, I respect what Judith Merrill did.

I probably first became aware of what a genre anthology was due to Damon Knight’s Orbit series. Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions, in its day, showed me what genre fiction could be. Ellen’s co-editor Terri Windling should be noted as another inspiration.

Back when Ann Kennedy VanderMeer was editing The Silver Web, I realized editing was what I wanted to do (never thinking I’d later work with her on Weird Tales.) I also greatly admire both Gordon Van Gelder and Ginjer Buchanan’s work overall – I’m probably forgetting lot of other people…

Horton: None that come immediately to mind. Merril’s Best anthologies were impressive, particularly for the wide range of sources she chose from — that’s something I try to emulate, with limited success. But I am proud that I’ve found wonderful stories in places like the New YorkerZoetropeTin House, and Harpers

Dozois: The biggest influences on me early on, both in editing and writing, were Damon Knight and Robert Silverberg; I pretty much learned my trade at their knees.

Fred Pohl, who bought my first story, but never dealt directly much with me thereafter, inspired me with the kinds of things he was doing editing Worlds of If and Galaxy magazines, and I tried to emulate him when I took over Asimov’s. What Cele Goldsmith did with Fantastic inspired me as well, as did Judith Merrill’s Best of the Year anthologies.

Find SFFWRTCHT Live on Twitter every Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT. Its host, Author-Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt, blogs at

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Fun interview read Bryan, thanks for making the effort to gather this together. I especially like Dozois’ “Don’t be boring” advice 😉

[…] Finding the Best: An Interview with Year’s Best Editors Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and… […]


Rich Horton kindly offers to be emailed about SF stories he might have missed, but does not specify an email address. I found “richard.horton AT” on a website dated 2012 – is it still good, and the best one for this purpose?

John ONeill

Hi darlinggj,

I’m not sure that address still works (although it may). Try rrhorton AT

[…] And Bryan Thomas Schmidt interviewed Rich Horton and Paula Guran for us as part of his ambitious article “Finding the Best: An Interview with Year’s Best Editors Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and….” […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x