Exclusive Interview: “Body Shocks” Editor Ellen Datlow


Over the course of her more than thirty-five year career, Ellen Datlow has edited numerous collections of horror short story collections, including twenty annual installments of The Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror and a dozen more in The Best Horror Of The Year series. But in the following email interview about her latest anthology, the aptly titled Body Shocks: Extreme Tales Of Body Horror (paperback, Kindle), she says this is, “probably the most visceral and graphic anthology I’ve ever edited.”

Ellen Datlow Body Shocks

Body Shocks: Extreme Tales Of Body Horror is obviously a collection of scary stories. But how exactly are you defining “body horror”? Are we talking about graphic depictions of mutilation and torture, are we talking about monsters like the thing in The Thing, what?

I’m more into disturbing, unsettling, and maybe icky stories than scary. I don’t expect to be “scared” by fiction and honestly, it surprises me when readers tell me they are.

As to how I’m defining “body horror,” I think it encompasses all of what you mentioned. The Thing — which was based On John W. Campbell’s classic novella Who Goes There? — is full of mutilation. In fact, I’ve not been able to re-watch it since I saw it in a screening room at a preview. My introduction goes into the definition a bit more but I’d say that breaching bodily integrity is certainly a primary aspect of body horror. In my intro I quote Gabino Iglesias who says, “it’s a subgenre of horror that is also called biological horror or organic horror, refers to stories… in which the horror comes from or is based on the human body.”

Whose idea was it to put this collection together?

I don’t remember if it was Jacob, the publisher of Tachyon or me. I’ve edited several reprint theme anthologies for the company, and we always try to think of a “big, broad theme” rather than something more narrow. I suspect Jacob might have brought up the idea and even though I’ve never been particularly into body horror, I thought it sounded good. And thinking about it more I figured that I could round up enough great reprints from a variety of writers for such a book — which I did.

Aside from having to fit the theme, what other parameters did the stories have to follow?

Once Jacob and I agreed on the theme, we decided on the approximate word count (125,000 words) and I started making lists of stories I was aware of that might work for the book. I also asked a friend for “classic” (a.k.a. really old, public domain) recommendations, but I didn’t like any of them enough to take.

As I’ve been reading horror stories for a year’s best for almost 35 years (and of course, also in my previous short story editing jobs) there were some I remembered that stuck with me. I reread those stories and if they held up I contacted the author or the author’s estate to acquire them. I also emailed around 45 writers whose work I admire asking if they had published anything they considered to be body horror (quoting Gabino in my note). Most of the writers sent me stories (a few, more than one) and I read them all-about 100 or so.

So how often did you have to tell someone, “No, we have enough stories that are like Hellraiser“?

Well, it would never have been that specific, but if I had too many stories of a specific type I’d just say that to the writer. Since I wasn’t soliciting new stories, they all understood if I didn’t take their submitted work.

But I don’t recall it coming up. There were submissions that weren’t on theme, or I just didn’t love them enough.

How gross do the stories in Body Shocks get? Obviously, the story is the most important thing, but if someone submitted one that was super good but also super gross, would you have rejected it or asked for edits? Because I always bring books with me when I go out to lunch, and I don’t want to lose my appetite right after I order a breakfast burrito.

I guess it depends on what you consider gross. I don’t recall reading anything I thought was too gross.

I also wouldn’t ask a writer to revise a previously published story for that reason. Though I have sometimes found typos or the wrong count — how many bullets shot; how many survivors — in stories I want to reprint and will ask the writer to make fixes.

So did any of the stories in Body Shocks really freak you out?

A few, sure — but that was the point.

Now, along with editing anthologies like Body Shocks, you also acquire fiction for Are any of the stories in Body Shocks ones you originally found for that site?

At least 8 of the stories in the book were originally published by me and / or appeared in my best of horror of the year. One was acquired and edited by me for [the online science fiction magazine] SciFiction. Two were acquired and edited by me for And a few were reprinted by me in other anthologies.

Ellen Datlow Body Shocks

Finally, if someone enjoys Body Shocks, which of your other anthologies would you suggest they check out next?

That’s a really hard question as this is probably the most visceral and graphic anthology I’ve ever edited. Most of my anthologies mix the graphic with the more subtle types of horror. But I’d recommend any of my Best Of The Year anthologies for a good mix.



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