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Ellen Datlow and Laird Barron on Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe

In honor of Edgar Allan Poe's two-hundredth birthday, Solaris recently released POE: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, edited by multiple award-winner Ellen Datlow. Contributors include Kim Newman, Pat Cadigan, Sharyn McCrumb, Lucius Shepard, and Laird Barron. Barron's own story collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories clearly shows an affinity for both Poe and Lovecraft, so I thought it might be appropriate to get Barron and Datlow in a virtual room together and talk about Poe... - Jeff

Laird Barron: As a boy, I first encountered Edgar Allan Poe in an old water-damaged book of classic fiction and poetry. The Tell-Tale Heart, The Masque of the Red Death, and most especially, The Cask of Amontillado,  got under my skin, and crept into my subconscious in a way few stories have since. Poe’s command of the hypnogogic and the macabre is a powerful influence, “a dark seed” as author John Langan has said while lecturing on Poe. Who needs laudanum or absinthe when you’ve the old master whispering from beyond? I have Mr. Poe to thank for my morbid preoccupation with madness, premature burial, and an abiding disquiet regarding small, jangling bells. [So] I’m honored to have contributed a story to Ellen Datlow’s new anthology.

Ellen, thank you for taking the time to discuss POE. Where did the idea originate? 

Poe



Ellen Datlow: Unusually, this one came from George Mann and Christian Dunn of Solaris. I generally come up with commercial ideas for anthologies by accident and this is one I completely missed: the bicentennial of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe. But once it was suggested, I realized what a great idea it was. 
 
Laird Barron: What was the process in regard to selecting authors and shaping the POE anthology?

Ellen Datlow:
I thought about writers who might be interested and who might have an interesting "take" on Poe and began soliciting stories from them. I encouraged those writers to use less familiar works by Poe for their inspiration, and also tried to avoid too much repetition of a specific Poe work--although I knew all along that the writers--different enough from each other in style and interests/obsessions--would come up with totally different approaches even if more than one chose the same core work for inspiration. And so it went. A few writers who ended up in the anthology surprised me by their interest in Poe--I wouldn't have thought it of them. I suppose I must have mentioned the anthology to those writers and because of their eager response, I said go ahead. Others were naturals.
 
Laird Barron:  What did these stories tell you about Poe's continuing effect on the writers of today?

Ellen Datlow:
Well, there are writers in the anthology who I hadn’t expected to be interested in Poe: Delia Sherman, David Prill, Lucius Shepard, E. Catherine Tobler, Kaaron Warren. The fact that these writers were so interested in writing for the anthology made me realize how extensive Poe’s influence is on dark fiction. And the variety of types of stories demonstrates not only the contributors’ talents but Poe’s virtuosity as well. 
 
Laird Barron:  Each story is accompanied by an author note.  Would you say a few words regarding their significance and how you arrived at the decision to include them?

Ellen Datlow: As mentioned above, I tried to avoid too much repetition of the source material and I
encouraged writers to stretch and avoid pastiches--because of this, I thought it would be fun (and informative) to have each contributor write about what Poe work influenced his/her story. To me, this kind of addition is a little extra that the reader  can read or ignore.
 
Laird Barron: People unfamiliar with Poe have asked whether they should read the anthology and then tackle the old master, or vice versa. Your thoughts on this?

Ellen Datlow:
I don’t think it matters at all. The stories in my anthology all stand on their own--you don’t have to know anything about Poe to enjoy them. But if you do read the anthology first you won’t be tempted to guess which Poe story or poem inspired it as you’re reading, so to me, it’s a good thing.
 
Laird Barron: Which of Poe’s works do you count among your favorites?

Ellen Datlow: Oh I think my favorites are the poem "Annabel Lee" for its deep melancholic sadness. My favorite story of his is "Hop-Frog"--I just love a great revenge story when it's sooo well-deserved.
 
Laird Barron: What’s next for you?

Ellen Datlow:
This year: The Nebula Award Showcase 2009, which in addition to the award winners and nominees has essays by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Gwenda Bond, Howard Waldrop, and Barry N. Malzberg, plus an interview with Guillermo de Toro not seen by most sf/f readers; Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales edited by me and Terri Windling  for middle grade kids (8-12 year olds); Lovecraft Unbound which is mostly original Lovecraftian tales (as mentioned above); Best Horror of the Year #1; and Digital Domains, which is an anthology of some of the stories I published on OMNI Online, Event Horizon, and SCIFICTION.

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