What Scares You, Ellen Datlow?

When I thought of the idea for this blog series, I immediately thought of Ellen Datlow as someone to reach out to. Ellen is an expert in horror, after all. She reads hundreds–maybe thousands–of stories each year for the Best Horror of the Year anthology, currently in its 11th edition. Her latest anthology, Echoes, features 30 ghost stories by writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Tremblay, Alice Hoffman, and others.

Given that she spends so much time reading about the darker side, I wanted to know if she also spent a lot of time thinking about what truly scares her.

And today, my friends, you shall find out…

What is your greatest fear?

Loss of control of my life by Alzheimer’s, paralysis, that sort of thing.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I don’t. I don’t believe in an afterlife. However—I do believe there are inexplicable occurrences.

“I do believe there are inexplicable occurrences.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

My nightmares are only scary to me—and usually pretty obvious as soon as I think about them when awake: I’m in a phone booth, it’s an emergency, and I can’t dial the phone (rotary);  I work in an office, and when I come in one day, I can’t find my office or the furniture’s been rearranged (I haven’t had this one since I started working at home); I’m on the street where I live (not the real street) and can’t find the entrance to my building; I’m in a foreign country and don’t remember where I’m staying (this one prompted me to start getting cards of hotels with their addresses on them).

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?

The circumstances while I was reading Salem’s Lot scared me. I was in a friend’s large apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan (most apartment in NYC are small), reading alone in the living room as it was getting darker out. There was very little light in the room. At a certain point I was afraid to get up in the dark apartment to go into any other rooms. There must have been other people in the apartment, but I don’t recall them being around.

Who is the best villain, fictional or in real life?

Hannibal Lector. He’s fascinating and utterly terrifying

What’s worse: closed-in spaces or heights?

For me, heights. I think it’s the idea of falling, tripping, being pushed.

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?

Maybe. Several of us were hanging out in a partly deserted house that a friend was caretaking. The others all went out while I stayed in to read. I was pretty sure I was the only one in the building at the time, but I heard what sounded like footsteps upstairs. I kind of freaked, but figured maybe someone else stayed behind. I did NOT investigate. I ignored it, kept on reading, and waited for my friends to return. They said they all had gone out.


Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost 40 years. She currently acquires short fiction and novellas for Tor.com. She’s edited more than 90 anthologies and has won multiple awards for her work. Her next original anthology is Final Cuts, an all-original anthology of movie horror. She has won the Karl Edward Wagner (special) award given by the British Fantasy Convention, and Life Achievement Awards given by the Horror Writers Association and by the World Fantasy Convention.

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