Exclusive: Editor Paula Guran on Prime Dark Fantasy and Horror - Part 1


If you want to know what literary genres and subgenres are hot and what writers are worth looking out for, but don't have time to read everything and refuse to let marketing dictate your choices, you might want to consider going straight to the source and asking an editor. What's that? You don't have time for that either? Well, that's where I come in! I recently sat down with Prime Books' Stoker and International Horror Guild Award-winning editor Paula Guran, who's responsible for such anthologies as Zombies: The Recent Dead, Vampires: The Recent Undead, New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, and Halloween; as well as Prime's Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror series. I'll be presenting this interview in two parts. Read part 1after the jump.

Can you talk about how you became Prime's resident horror editor?

My background was in horror, for a long time. And of course I have nice connections and friends there. However I got totally away from horror for a while, and I'm glad I did because I needed a break—it's not as if horror was my only "love." I hadn't been a horror fan to start with, but I discovered all this great dark stuff in the mid-nineties and fell into it and then got immersed in it. But even ten-twelve years ago, as a reviewer, I was doing mostly fantasy—people just didn't realize it. My horror reviews and columns were bylined; my fantasy reviews for Publishers Weekly weren't. And I was also doing fantasy and science fiction for other venues. Then I started editing Juno Books, a fantasy line, about six years ago. A lot of it was dark fantasy, though.

The first anthology I did for Prime, Zombies: The Recent Dead, turned out to be horror. It was one of those spur of the moment things—Sean [Wallace, Prime's publisher] and I saying, "What can we do that we know will work? Zombies will be over any day now. So let's get this out fast."[Laughs.] I said, "I'd like to do a survey of recent stuff." That's how it started.

Since I reviewed a lot of horror and I was an administrator of the International Horror Guild Awards, I was acquainted with many of the stories already. Plus I knew David Schow had done an introduction about zombies for his limited edition Zombie Jam that really more people should read.

That was the start of doing these anthologies, a reprint with a focus and a theme. And the zombie anthology did really, really well. Of course now zombies are still doing really well.

The whole idea of the "Recent" series, just focusing on stories from this century seemed natural after the zombie theme. I did vampires next and now Lovecraftian fiction with New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird. Instead of trying to do a survey of all the best Lovecraftian stories ever the focus was, again, "Let's just look at the last ten or eleven years."

Then the idea of a Year's Best… Sean wanted to get back to doing a Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series. And it is dark fantasy and horror, but with "horror" in a smaller typeface—my focus is more on dark fantasy. I think when Ellen Datlow does her The Year's Best Horror she's looking more for a story that is scary. I, on the other hand, am looking for something "dark"—not that I can define that.

Otherwise, the novels and collections I'm editing and acquiring are not specifically dark. Sean, who has done anthologies in the past, is doing a couple of science-fiction anthologies for 2012. John Joseph Adams has also edited anthologies for Prime, so have John Langan and Paul Trembley, as well as Ekaterina Sedia.

Which new Dark Fantasy writers impress you the most these days? Who deserves more attention?

Stephen Graham Jones is very impressive. I just can't find anything he's written that's not wonderful. Sarah Pinborough is another good, fairly new writer. Certainly Holly Black. Although she's a YA writer, she certainly translates to adult readers too. Again, she's a wonderful example of dark fantasy rather than horror. I think she definitely has the thing… It's also hard to decide who's new anymore. Caitlin Kiernan is certainly not new, but I guess to some people she is… Angela Slatter, who's an Australian writer…Steve Duffy, again a super writer, virtually unknown. Ash Tree Press did Tragic Lives, his last collection… Elizabeth Bear does a range of things. She's not new, but when she writes something dark people tend to [notice]… John Langan does wonderful things. He's coming out with another collection soon…Norman Prentiss seems to have come out of nowhere. He's another one to keep your eye on. Obviously I could go on and on. Those are off the top of my head. I know I am forgetting a lot of folks. Forgive me!

In addition to your zombie and vampire anthologies Prime also has a werewolf one…

Running with the Pack is werewolves and Bewere the Night is shapeshifters. So Prime has done werewolves and shapeshifters. Kathy Sedia did a wonderful job with Running with the Pack, but—in general—it a difficult theme for short fiction.

Is there a growing audience for werewolves? They seem to be showing up a great deal these days in the media, on TV and in films.

Yeah. It's kind of like the whole urban fantasy subgenre has influenced what most people think about with lycanthropes—when you look at those books they really tend to be a very broad arc telling a long story overall—you have to deal with the werewolf as human and the werewolf as beast. Getting all that into a single short story is tricky. I'm not saying it can't be done, because certainly has been done—and well. Just a theme more easily dealt with in long form rather than short.

Read Part 2 right here!