by Sandy Auden
This month's column is dedicated to Steve Jones' Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #20 anthology -- An Extra Special Milestone.
It's a busy time of year for editor and author Stephen Jones. October saw the release of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Volume 20 -- a book which is also his 100th title -- and November kicked off with the re-release of The Mammoth Book of Wolf Men.
Twenty volumes is a significant achievement for an anthology series, did Jones ever think Best New Horror would run for so long? "In publishing -- especially horror publishing -- you just never know," he said. "Every year it comes as a surprise to me that we're doing another volume. But I credit Robinson Publishing for that continued support. They've been very good about that over the years.
"Volume twenty felt the same as the previous nineteen volumes -- a lot of hard work! I didn't think about it being significant at the time, I just got on with it."
For both Best New Horror and The Mammoth Book of Wolf Men (a reissue of Jones' 1994 Werwolves anthology) his methods and target audience have remained the same but the technology has definitely moved on. "If a story is good, and I like it, I put it in the book. The same stories are being told, but just in new and interesting ways by successive generations of writers. The only difference is that there is a great deal more stuff out there now than there was when we started.
"I still think of the readership for the book being literate, intelligent and discerning -- not your average 'horror geek.' As a consequence, I always aim for the highest quality I can -- in both writing and concept. It's always dependent on what stories are published in a given year, but there are always great stories to be found.
"Obviously, there was no such thing as personal computers, the Internet, print-on-demand or electronic readers when I started, so from a technology point of view there has been an incredible revolution in the way people produce and read books.
"But when it comes down to editing and writing it doesn't matter what you use -- the process is still pretty much the same it has always been. I read a lot of stuff throughout the year. The stories I like I put on a shortlist. Then, closer to the time I have to deliver the book, I go through that shortlist and cut it down to the final contents."
And when it's hard to choose between two stories? "It all comes down to personal taste in the end. If I like one story better than another, then that's the one I'll choose. It's ultimately my name on the book as editor, so it's my responsibility to stand by my selection."
Selecting the stories is only half of the process though. Jones still has to decide which order to present the stories to the reader. "I take great pains with the order of the Contents in my books. There is always a reason to them (in my mind at least). That way you can create a mood, and hopefully you don't have two stories with similar themes or ideas too close to each other. Of course, that's all a waste of time if the reader decides to dip in and out of the book and read their favourite authors first! But there really is an art to 'constructing' an anthology -- I often liken it to editing a movie.
"You begin the book with a strong story to drag the reader in, and you end with something they will hopefully remember. Then you try to create a 'flow' with the stories in-between, so that the reader is continually being surprised or delighted and will keep on reading. If I keep the movie analogy going, being an anthology editor is very much like being the director. I construct my anthologies as if I was creating a film.
"Hopefully the readers never notice it and (like a good movie) just enjoy the experience of reading the book cover-to-cover."
Unlike Wolf Men, Best New Horror delivers more than just stories, there's also a narrative on the publishing year, a writer's resources section and a Necrology marking the passing of significant writers, artists, performers and technicians. "Those are all 'extras' -- which means that they don't come out of the book's budget. When we started the series, (author) Ramsey Campbell and I agreed that we wanted each volume to be representative -- like a 'time capsule' of the horror genre in a given year. And it just grew from there."
It may have come from a modest 'time capsule' idea but Best New Horror #20 is also (staggeringly) the 100th title that Jones' has released. "It's fun to have reached the century, but I've known that it was coming for a couple of years. Work-wise I'm already several books past it now, even if those will not appear until next year or beyond.
"But I celebrated by winning two awards at the recent British FantasyCon in Nottingham and having drinks with my friends over the weekend. My editor at Robinson very kindly presented me with a bottle of very nice champagne to mark the occasion. I will hopefully be having a private party at World Horror Convention 2010 to thank all those people who've contributed to the books over the years."
It's taken twenty-one years to reach this milestone. "I started with three titles that came out at the same time for the 1988 World Fantasy Convention in London -- Fantasy Tales #1 and The Best Horror From Fantasy Tales, both edited with David Sutton, and Horror: 100 Best Books co-edited with Kim Newman. Along the way, the most enduring memory has been just how much hard work it is. And how little an editor earns from an anthology once you've split the advance and royalties with all the contributors!"
But that's not going to stop him from producing new books. "I'll keep going until I drop! I'm already working on next year's Best New Horror volume. Like many self-employed people I don't have much in the way of savings or a pension, so I guess there could be many hundreds more before I finally give up the ghost -- literally!"
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #20 and The Mammoth Book of Wolf Men are out now from Robinson Publishers in the UK.
The Very Best From Best New Horror will be published as a limited edition by US publishers Earthling at the end of 2009 and launched in trade paperback at the World Horror Convention 2010 in Brighton in March.
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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