Q & A with Ellen Datlow

Q & A with Ellen Datlow

by Paula Guran (from The Market List #7)


OMNI Magazine was one of the first magazines to commit to being part of an Internet service (AOL) and now is set to launch themselves into a new, expanded site on the Web. They no longer exist in hard copy form. This voyage into the Net, along with their maintenance of the AOL area, is both an attempt to survive and to pioneer. They've asked me, Paula Guran (aka DarkEcho,) to help build a horror community there.

Why me? I've been moderating the Dark Fiction/Horror Writers Workshop on AOL for almost two years now and established a web site about 10 months ago. Doesn't sound like much time, but in cyberspace it equates to a decade. I've hosted over 100 live chats so far, and published more than 100 editions of what is now called "DarkEcho," an electronic newsletter for horror writers (and others.) I've had the opportunity to form a network of writers based almost entirely on email that, I hope, proves as beneficial for them as it has for me. One benefit has been becoming the editor of BONES, a new magazine of dark fiction that will debut in late September.

I also am now working as a content webmaster for a commercial site doing research, surfing sites, facilitating tech and graphic elements and generally being as close to hard wired directly to the Net as you can get without having a skull socket. There have been days when I have been on the Net 8 hours at work and then come home and do 4 more working on horror.

Besides, Ellen Datlow, fiction editor at OMNI, is one of those people who is inflicted with that newsletter I mentioned each week. She's been getting it almost from the beginning when I "met" her, of course, via email and we took a few months and several continents to do an email interview. (Ellen travels a lot.) We've met in "real life" since then at cons, of course.

Ellen Datlow has been fiction editor of OMNI since 1981. She has earned a reputation forencouraging and developing writers such as William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Dan Simmons, andK.W. Jeter and for publishing Clive Barker, Stephen King, William Burroughs, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jonathan Carroll, Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Straub, and Jack Cady in OMNI.

She has edited dozens of anthologies and won two World Fantasy Awards. Twists of the Tale: A Book of Cat Horror will be published by Dell/Abyss November 1996; White Swan, Black Raven, the fourth volume of retold fairy tales edited by Datlow and Windling will be published by AvoNova in the spring of 1996.

Ellen moderated a panel on "what's happening in the near future" of horror at the Horror Writers Association Annual Meeting in New York City last June. I was lucky enough to be on that panel with her along with Don D'Amassa and Stephen Jones. The question of fiction on the Internet arose. This little chat is sort of an outgrowth of that and some previous chats the two of us have had about cyberspace.

PAULA: What has OMNI's experience on AOL been like, Ellen, and what are you planning on doing on the Net now?

ELLEN: Well, we plan to take what we can of the print magazine (fiction to look as close as possible to an easily readable page, short articles, columns, art gallery, humor, things like that) and transmute what we can't into an interesting participatory magazine for the Net. Our AOL area was fed by the print magazine. It was a good foot in the door and has great chat software, and is still of great concern and will be revamped and re-launched after the web start-up to reflect OMNI's growing sophistication in online arenas. The participation in our area on AOL, however, seems quite limited -- particularly people downloading fiction. Of course, there was little or no advertising for the area. Let's say it was getting our feet wet. . . .

PAULA: OMNI committed quite awhile back to publishing top writers online just as they have in print. As you mentioned, you did this first on AOL and, really, not enough people read those stories. Now OMNI no longer is a print magazine and is available only online in electronic form and will continue its commitment to fiction. We've talked about how OMNI is a pioneer in this and that someday people will sagely nod and say, "Wow, man, they really paved the infohighway for all this great stuff that is now successful. . ." but that pioneers often wind up as dead bleached bones in the middle of the trail they blazed. What do you think?

ELLEN: Hopefully we'll catch on fairly quickly. Someone's got to start and this is the perfect opportunity. The advantage of publishing (anything, not just fiction) online is that space is no longer a problem. . . a print magazine is limited by what you can fit within the magazine format -- and that often depends on how much advertising you get and the ad/edit ratio. I can now run any length fiction, we can run as many stories as we want (original or reprint if we choose.) In print I'd never reprint stories because I wouldn't want to take up the limited space devoted to fiction to reprints. Online it doesn't matter; there's infinite space to run fiction (of course it costs money to reprint or run original fiction so we're limited by budget). So I hope we can run more features like our alien summer during which we're "reprinting" 20 alien contact stories that we originally published in OMNI. . . and then we'll try selling them as a downloadable anthology. . .

PAULA: That brings up the question: How do you expect to make money enough from this to support it? Profits on the Net are next to nil for most folks as yet.

ELLEN: Advertising, sponsorships, contests, selling books (in our bookstore,) selling our stories as downloadable "create your own anthologies."

PAULA: One of the few categories that has done fairly well so far in Net retailing may be books. Advertising profits are, according to "experts" either highly inflated right now and sure to dematerialize or "The Next Big Thing" in the field. Who knows? The contests sound like fun and I personally like the idea of downloading a "specialized" anthology. Let's just hope it works. Speaking of money, writers are now beginning to be paid professional rates for web-writing. In my opinion, as long as a work is published for a professional rate -- it is published. In some cases, that writing is more widely read than it would be in hard copy. Is there any problem with professionals accepting this type of publication as "real?"

ELLEN: I believe that currently online publication does not qualify for membership in SFWA, but that should change soon with OMNI's entry onto the web making this an obviously an archaic rule. Professional standards should be the criteria, and as far as I'm concerned that means pro pay rates.

PAULA: HWA has no qualms. You pay pro rates for horror, it's professionally published. You've said you think that if any type of fiction has a chance online it is SF. You've also said you don't think the same is true for horror. Why?

ELLEN: Simply because I don't think horror/fantasy readers are as net literate or enthusiastic yet as SF readers and writers.

PAULA: I agree because many SF readers are already tech-oriented. There are a lot of horror writers already establishing web pages of their own, though. The interesting thing (and I discovered this researching genre sites) is that SF and horror absolutely dominate electronic fiction at the moment. Somehow I don't think romance, for instance, will ever be as strong as these areas. What do you think IS the future of electronic publishing?

ELLEN: Hopefully the boring sites will drop out. Everyone has a web address now. I hear URLs given for every radio station, product, etc. Most of these sites are dull, useless and basically a complete waste of time. The novelty of contentless sites will disappear and so will the mass advertising by the people who run those sites. For a publisher to just have their address and a few of their books mentioned on their site is not going to drum up business. If they run content -- excerpts, bios of their authors, interviews, chats, whatever, people will come back. The good sites will last and, hopefully, evolve.

PAULA: I wonder what people ARE beginning to read off the Net. I've downloaded some non-fiction manuals and (appropriately) Bruce Sterling's THE HACKER CRACKDOWN. I also do a lot of research on the web -- bios, background information, facts --things like that. As far as fiction, other than the OMNI stories on AOL, I've read DELIRIUM, Dennis Cooper's continuing novel. Most interestingly I've found some great classic fiction, like Poe. I recently recommended Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" to people. They didn't have to go to the library or search for it. It's on the Web. I even emailed it to some people. I do tend to print out anything lengthy, though. I am beginning to find some interesting zines. . .not so much decent new short fiction yet. And I read a LOT of email onscreen. What about you, Ellen? What do you read?

ELLEN: I email constantly. If I thought there was good fiction online I'd download and read it. . . if it were short I might read it online. As a matter of fact, I have been reading Time Out's fiction edited by Nick Royle.

PAULA: Thanks Ellen. We'll have to talk more in a few months and see how things are developing.


Copyright © 1996 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.

  • Posted by Admin
  • August 15, 2012 5:16 PM PDT
Interview with Ellen Datlow by Paula Guran from The Market List archive




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