Igms issue 20, p.13
IGMS Issue 20, page 13
DATLOW: No -- there is so much diversity and so many niches in the sf/f field now that I think no magazine editor could do that. Possibly anthologists, a bit.
SCHWEITZER: How did you come to develop that whole series of anthologies based on fairy tales with Terri Windling? Surely this had an effect, turning the upmarket end of the fantasy field away from generic Tolkien imitations and back toward its roots.
DATLOW: The idea for the adult fairy tale series was suggested by Tom Canty to Terri Windling and she approached me to be co-editor. I certainly think that series contributed to the creation of a huge sub-genre in the retold fairy tale, although Tanith Lee and Angela Carter of course were writing such stories way before Terri and I began the series.
SCHWEITZER: While editing Omni you must have also gotten every second-hand Cyberpunk imitation in existence. I remember you once telling an audience (at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society) not to send in their cyberpunk stories because you had Gibson and Sterling and didn't need the imitations.
DATLOW: Yes, I got a lot of so-called cyberpunk that didn't integrate the tech into the story but made the tech the story. Boooooring.
However, I honestly believe that there is no theme that cannot be made fresh by the right treatment by a good writer.
SCHWEITZER: Do you ever develop an editorial fatigue, in the sense of, "Oh no, not that again?"
DATLOW: Not reading slush for a magazine has cut out a lot of that in sf/f, although reading for a Best Horror of the Year for twenty-four years makes me curse some of the published stories I end up skimming. I'm not sure I'd call that editorial fatigue. Just annoyance.
I get tired of reading stories that are about nothing, that are merely an incident or series of incidents that don't make up a story. This happens more in horror than in science fiction or fantasy. When I critique at writing workshops (beginning and pro) I sometimes read fiction that has no reason for existing -- it's about nothing. If a writer has nothing to say, she should stop writing. Not everyone who wants to write should write. That may sound harsh, but so be it.
SCHWEITZER: I suppose I have to ask: What is the strangest or funniest submission you ever got?
DATLOW: I don't recall any particularly strange or funny submissions, but once when I rejected a slush story and commented that "twinkies don't crackle if you burn them" -- the writer sent me a package of twinkies with a note saying the packaging does . . . (well, duh, he should have said he was referring to the packaging in the story) . . . I admit that I didn't try burning the Twinkie package, but Rob Killheffer (who was my assistant at the time) and I ate the evidence.
SCHWEITZER: For slush pile stories, maybe the high prestige of Omni deterred some of the really awful amateurs from trying, and so you were spared. I shall always remember a couple that came in to Amazing, including one about domed cities under the methane seas of Venus, or the one in which, having taken an injection, someone remarks: "'Gee, you'd think that here in the year 2463 AD we'd have a more efficient method of taking medicine,' he continued his running dysentery."
I also saw a manuscript that must have been typed on a typewriter that worked backwards, because it read from bottom to top . . .
So how much did you find yourself as editor of Omni interacting with the writers, in the sense of suggesting revisions, even pointing the direction of that writer's career? Were you that sort of hands-on editor? (I suppose I am thinking of the John W. Campbell model again.)
DATLOW: Oh we got plenty of slush, but I don't really remember it from thirty years ago, and once I was made fiction editor I rarely read it. I had assistants or readers who took over that task.
I've always been a very hands-on editor. During the years I've been editing, I can recall only about four or five stories that required no edits. About a third of the stories I buy go through at least one rewrite. That to me is one of the most important parts of being an editor -- working with the writer.
Someone who just buys and publishes stories is lazy or doesn't understand the art and profession of editing. Anyone who only does that (for original stories) is not doing half her job. That crucial part of the job is to help the writer look as good as possible, to push her into producing her best work, to keep the writer from stumbling (here, an editor might overlap with a copy editor, catching inconsistencies, the unintentional overuse of words/phrases/sentence patterns), and to enable the writer to communicate to the reader what she intends to in each story.
SCHWEITZER: Let's also talk about you and horror fiction. You've been increasingly associated with dark, supernatural fiction for a number of years now. I assume this has always been an area of interest for you. What are some of its special charms for you?
DATLOW: I was reading Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and anthologies such as Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions, simultaneously with reading H. P. Lovecraft and Richard Matheson's short fiction. I love horror and terror short stories. Novels, not as much. I've always maintained that it's far more difficult to write a successful (in quality) supernatural horror novel than short story or novella. And the reason is very simple: it's more difficult to retain that "suspension of disbelief" in a novel that's required if the reader doesn't believe in the supernatural. I can be persuaded to play along for the length of a story if it's good enough, but usually novels aren't tight enough and go on too long and something slips through my concentration. Good horror makes me uncomfortable and opens up boxes I'd not ordinarily explore about human experience.
SCHWEITZER: One question, apart from all this talk of editing: Have you ever wanted to write fiction or tried to?
SCHWEITZER: After editing all this time, you must have a very good perspective on how the field's short fiction is developing. Do you see steady progress, a plateau, bumps and dips?
DATLOW: I always enjoy seeing what develops. I'm assuming you're referring to sf and fantasy not just sf? I think on the whole, the writing itself has gotten better. But currently I also see a lot more surreal short fiction by younger writers inspired (way too much) by Kelly Link's unique, wonderful work.
As you said earlier about cyberpunk, "Why would I need copies of Kelly Link's work, when I've got Kelly? (although her writing output has slowed down markedly in the past six years)."
I think too many young writers are -- and I never thought I'd say this -- but I feel they're concentrating too much on style and not enough on storytelling. I'd like to see more stories about something. I especially see this in writing workshops (not the beginning ones like Clarion West, during which each week a writer concentrates on certain crucial aspects of writing a story, but in writing workshops run by local groups of newer and recently published writers).
SCHWEITZER: One thing I notice is that actual science fiction with real science in it, about the future, seems to be in decreasing supply, at least relative to everything else. Do you agree? Is hard-SF an endangered species, as some have suggested?
DATLOW: I haven't edited an sf anthology since The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction which including sf/f and some horror so I'm not as well-read in science fiction these days as I have been in the past. I think there is still plenty of hard-edged speculation about the future and how science and technology is affecting the planet and individuals living on it.
Hard science fiction is only endangered if the writers of it can't write well enough to engage an ever-evolving audience. Over the years I've published and read hard science fiction with stylistic elegance and three dimensional characters that I can believe in. But there isn't enough of it. It's always been important to meld style and substance and characterization and story.
SCHWEITZER: What do you make of "movements" generally? Any thoughts on New Weird? Does this mean anything or is it just a marketing label and a style of cover design?
DATLOW: Very generally, I feel that all contemporary literary movements are primarily used by publishers and writers as a marketing tool. They're also a means for critics and historians to codify
SCHWEITZER: How about Steampunk? Why do you think this has come roaring back again, after being started in the 1980s?
DATLOW: No idea.
SCHWEITZER: But it did, so we can all be surprised. Thanks Ellen.
Letter From The Editor
Issue 20 - December 2010
by Edmund R. Schubert
Editor, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show
* * *
Well, here comes issue twenty, and all we had to do to get here was publish nineteen others…
Seriously though, this twentieth issue of IGMS is a great follow-up to our fifth anniversary issue last month. The cover story, "The Never, Never Wizard of Appalachicola," is by Jason Sanford, a previous contributor making his first appearance as our featured cover author. It's about the yin and yang between science and magic, and the value both can bring to a dangerous world.
"Sympathy of a Gun" by Gary Kloster show us a disastrous first encounter between Earth and an alien race, and the steps a young woman must take to ensure the survival of humanity.
Apparently there are a lot of ways to change the face of the Earth, because next up is "The American" by Bruce Worden: a fascinating look at the effects of a transhuman singularity on a young Polish woman and her family's small farm.
"The Vicksburg Dead" takes us back in time, as author Jens Rushing shows us the secret history behind the Civil War battle for the city that was the key to controlling the Mississippi.
Finally we have, "Beneath the Shadow of the Dragon" by Erin Cashier. A young woman on an alien planet must choose between tradition and family vs. a bold personal step to honor her dead mother's intentions, getting some help from an unexpected source. "Beneath the Shadow of the Dragon" is also this issue's audio story, read by Emily Card, daughter of our publisher who took a break from her regular job of reading/producing audio books to help us out here at IGMS.
Because it's the holiday, and because we love any excuse to give you some extras for your money, we also have two Holiday Bonus Stories: "The Wisemen," a brand new sci fi reimagining of the Christmas story by Orson Scott Card, as well as another story selected by Orson from one of his writing students: "Miracle on Massachusetts Avenue" by Maureen Power.
Top it all of with a Darrell Schweitzer interview of famed editor Ellen Datlow, and you've got issue twenty of IGMS - with a bow on top of it.
Happy Holidays - whatever holiday it is that you celebrate - and to all a good night.
Edmund R. Schubert
Editor, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show
P.S. As usual, we've collected essays from the authors in this issue and will post them on our blog (www.SideShowFreaks.blogspot.com). Feel free to drop by and catch The Story Behind The Stories, where the authors talk about the creation of their tales.
P.P.S. And remember, issue #11 is still free for all to read until the end of the year. If you need a quick gift to pass along to a friend, point them there.
For more from Orson Scott Card's
InterGalactic Medicine Show visit:
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