TWENTY ODD YEARS AGO, I was turned on to Glimpses, a novel by Lewis Shiner. I’d never heard of the author but as I don’t keep up with much of anything anymore (it’s the old age thing), that wasn’t surprising. Because of the source of the recommendation, I read the book and thought it might be an Americanized form of “magical realism.” 1
If I say anything more about this book—any kind of teaser to get you to read this book—it would be a spoiler. I can tell you that I loved it and if you do read it, the “magic” manifests itself early in the story.
The next Shiner book that I read was Deserted Cities of the Heart, which again seemed to contain elements of magical realism. I liked this even more than Glimpses, although the emotional resonance I shared with the protagonist in the first book wasn’t in this book.
Like Glimpses, I can’t say anything about what makes this book special or magical because it would also be a spoiler. I can tell you that with this one, you have to read quite a while for the magic to happen but my-o-my it is worth the wait!
I read the rest of Shiner’s novels and, after years of lollygagging and putzing around, I actually sent an author a fan letter.
And the author responded!
That email turned into an enjoyable correspondence where we discovered we were kindred spirits sharing many similar experiences and convictions.
And lots of coincidences.
This is the first hardcover edition of Lewis Shiner’s Deserted Cities of the Heart (Doubleday, 1988). I can’t say anything about what makes this book special or magical because it would be a spoiler! Just read it.
Similarities and coincidences
Lew is now one of my collaborators (along with John Ross) on Tell It Like It Was, a music-based publication that we launched on Medium on New Year’s Day. Shortly after the first articles were published, Lew announced his partnership with John and me on his Facebook page. He promptly received a message from an old friend, Shawna McCarthy.
When Lew began looking for work as a professional writer, Shawna was the first editor who believed in him, in his writing. She published a few of his stories in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, where she was an editor. They became friends.
Forty years later, he still thinks highly of her and fondly of her, neither of which prepared him for the question he received from Shawna on his Facebook page:
“Is that Neal Umphred from Pennsylvania?”
Wikipedia is mired in a state where any contributor citing any source is considered factually correct despite many of those sources being decades old and demonstrably inaccurate.
In a brief friendship filled with remarkable similarities and coincidences, here was yet another one for Lew and me: Shawna and I had gone to college together in 1971!
I immediately found Shawna on Facebook and we started messaging, ending up on the phone playing catch-up. She told me about her career as an editor in the fantasy and science fiction fields and how she had worked with many important writers. Now she was a literary agent and a mother.
I remembered Shawna McCarthy as a pretty co-ed who could hold her own in an argument with me or anyone else on the Wilkes College campus. It was an odd and pleasant sensation talking with her forty-eight years later: I felt a little bit of pride in the accomplishments of this person I barely knew—who I hadn’t seen or spoken with in so, so long.
This is the first hardcover edition of Asimov’s Space Of Her Own, edited by Shawna McCarthy (Doubleday, 1983). Unfortunately, Shawna did not receive credit on the front cover.
An edgier and more literary tone
After we hung up, I checked Shawna out on the Internet and found a rather anemic entry on Wikipedia. Here it is in its entirety:
“Shawna Lee McCarthy (born 1954) is an American science fiction and fantasy editor and literary agent.
McCarthy graduated from Wilkes University and studied at American University.
McCarthy edited various magazines for several years, starting as editorial assistant and editor of Firehouse Magazine before working as the managing editor at Asimov’s. In 1983, she took over from Kathleen Moloney as the editor-in-chief of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, a change under which the magazine “acquired an edgier and more literary and experimental tone.” During her time at Asimov’s, McCarthy edited four anthologies of stories from the magazine (Isaac Asimov’s Wonders of the World (1982), Isaac Asimov’s Aliens & Outworlders (1983), Isaac Asimov’s Space of Her Own (1984) and Isaac Asimov’s Fantasy! (1985), and received the 1984 Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor (she was nominated for this award three times). She left the magazine in 1985 and was succeeded by Gardner Dozois.
After leaving Asimov’s, McCarthy became an editor for Bantam in 1985 and co-edited the first two volumes of that publisher’s Full Spectrum anthology series with Lou Aronica, et al. Upon leaving Bantam in 1988, she began working as a literary agent, first with Scott Meredith, then with Scovil Chichak Galen, and now as an independent. In addition, she was the fiction editor of Realms of Fantasy magazine from its debut in 1994 until its closure after the October 2011 issue.
That’s it! A mere 200 words that are poorly written, poorly laid out, and boring to read. (I know, that sounds exactly like every other Wikipedia entry you’ve read lately.) It also fails to pass along any sense of Shawna’s accomplishments.
(And for readers who romanticize writers and look at editors as a writer’s bane, I assure you that for every hundred talented writers there are, perhaps, a handful of talented editors. But that’s another story.)
In 1989, Shawna McCarthy was working for Workman Publishing, a company specializing in cookbooks, parenting and pregnancy guides, children’s books, and calendars. While there, she acquired for the company its only novel, the hugely successful Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
Not being given to being nonplussed, I decided to do the right thing and make things better. With Shawna’s coöperation, I prepared a new biography of her for submission to Wikipedia. This is that biography in its entirety (tweaked a wee bit to look better on this blog):
“Shawna Lee McCarthy (born 1954) is an American science fiction and fantasy editor and literary agent. McCarthy graduated from Wilkes College and studied at American University. She started her professional career as an editorial assistant and then editor of Firehouse Magazine.
“In 1978, she became managing editor at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. In 1983, she took over Asimov’s as the editor-in-chief and the magazine took on an edgier and more literary and experimental tone.
“During her time at Asimov’s, Shawna published much of Connie Willis’s award-winning work as well as stories by Octavia E. Butler, Gardner Dozois, Karen Joy Fowler, Esther M. Friesner, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Nancy Kress, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Pat Murphy, Kit Reed, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, Robert Silverberg, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick, John Varley, and Zelazny.
“She also edited four anthologies of stories from the magazine: Isaac Asimov’s Wonders of the World (1982), Isaac Asimov’s Aliens & Outworlders (1983), Isaac Asimov’s Space of Her Own (1984), and Isaac Asimov’s Fantasy! (1985). For this, Shawna was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor three times, winning it in 1984.
“During her time at Asimov’s, she also worked for Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Science Fiction Digest.
Shawna McCarthy was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor three times,
winning it in 1984.
“After leaving Asimov’s, in 1985, McCarthy moved to Bantam Spectra, the science fiction division of American publishing company Bantam Books. As Senior Editor, she acquired books from writers such as William Gibson, Connie Willis, and Robert Charles Wilson. Shawna also co-edited the first two volumes of the Full Spectrum anthology series with Lou Aronica, et al.
“At the same time, she was helping establish Bantam Spectra, she also taught a successful workshop in writing science fiction and fantasy at the New School.
“After the birth of her first child, she went back to work as Senior Editor at the non-fiction house, Workman Publishing. While there, she acquired that company’s only novel, Good Omens – The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
“In 1988, she began working as a literary agent with Scott Meredith. After a second child, in 1993 she worked as an agent with Scoville Chichak Galen. At the same time, she co-founded Realms of Fantasy magazine with Sovereign Media of Virginia. McCarthy was the fiction editor of world’s most successful magazine devoted solely to fantasy fiction, enjoying a 17-year run before folding in 2013.
“In 2000, she founded her own firm, the McCarthy Agency LLC. As an independent agent, she has represented many well-known fantasy and science fiction writers, including Daniel Abraham, Eric Flint, Susanna Kearsley, Tanith Lee, Katya Reiman, Liz Williams, Robert Charles Wilson, and Sarah Zettel.
Shawna currently resides in New Jersey.”
I followed the general outline and tone of the original, but my entry is better written, better laid-out, easier to read, and it makes her look like a person of accomplishment. So I went to Wikipedia, where I have been an editor for years, and I removed the old entry and replaced it with mine.
Wikipedia requires that contributors explain additions and alterations, so I wrote that the new information came from the subject of the entry, Shawna McCarthy.
And that was that!
This is the premier issue of Realms of Fantasy (Volume 1, Number 1, cover dated October 1994), a labor of love for Shawna. RoF lasted seventeen years, making it the longest running fantasy magazine in American publishing history.
A simple recitation of facts
Yesterday, I discovered that my entry had been removed and the original entry restored. I don’t know if my text even lasted a day. I went to the Edit section of Shawna’s entry to see what reason was given for taking my entry down. It was simple: “We can’t replace what RS say with what somebody claims the bio subject told them.”
I don’t know what or who “RS” nor whether “RS say” means something or is just more bad grammar on the Internet.
I can understand the reasoning, given the vast amount of spurious information that has been posted on Wikipedia. They should be cautious about new entries, except that I have been a Wiki editor for years and I should have some kind of record in their logs. While I haven’t been a particularly prolific contributor, but I’ve always been a factually correct contributor. 2
If I had posted personally or professionally malicious statements about Shawna, caution would be called for. But my entry was none of those things: it was a simple recitation of facts, all of which can be checked online.
But that requires editors and fact-checkers.
I’ve had this issue with Wikipedia before, usually involving an entry on popular music where the posted information is sourced but from an incorrect source. For example, many if not most of the Wikipedia entries recycle factually incorrect “data” about many artists and such important things as RIAA Gold Record Awards, which Wiki contributors and just about every other writer on the Internet get consistently wrong. 3
Correcting them is either difficult (as I said, many of the sources are also incorrect) or a pain in the behind (spelunking the Internet for correct sources).
I published several articles about these problems on my blogs over the years and recently published one addressing the RIAA certification criteria on my publication on Medium.
I haven’t been a particularly prolific contributor to Wikipedia, but I’ve always been a factually correct contributor.
I understand that I can’t expect Wiki’s editors to be regular readers of my blogs, but what can a poor boy do? I find an error on Wikipedia, I correct it, and some “editor” puts the error right back up where it doesn’t belong. 4
Why do they do that?
Because the incorrect information is “sourced,” which Wikipedia places an enormous amount of faith in. Never mind that the Internet is known by even the dimmest of its users to be replete with errors, misinformation, misunderstandings, outright lies, etc.
Wikipedia is mired in a state where any contributor citing any source is considered correct despite the fact that we are living in the “Age of Fake News and Fake Data.”
Don’t any of their editors take the time to check to see if my corrections are correct?
Can Wikipedia do things differently—do things better?
Can a non-profit organization dependent on contributions from its users afford to hire fact-checkers and editors?
Here are a few facts about the Wikimedia Foundation found on its own Wikipedia entry:
• For the years 2010 through 2016, Wikipedia realized an average profit of more than $10,000,000 per year.
• In its fiscal year 2016-2017, Wikipedia made more than $40,000,000 above its operating costs.
• Wikipedia currently has net assets in excess of $100,000,000.
So the question becomes, Can Wikipedia afford to hire fact-checkers and editors?
Of course, it can!
It could hire thousands of well-trained fact-checkers and editors while still relying on us normal folk to make the daily contributions necessary to keep it relevant.
That doesn’t seem to be a part of Wikipedia’s long-term plan. As it stands, unsourced experts will be kept from the pages of Wikipedia by anonymous editors while clueless novices with dubious sources will contribute millions of words a year.
As someone once famous once said, “So it goes.”
The next step is for me to somehow contact someone in a position of responsibility at Wikipedia and address this issue with them and see what happens, hennah?
FEATURED IMAGE: The fantastic image at the top of this page is the work of Steffan Keller, who signs his work “Kellepics.” I selected this image as it could be readily used to illustrate either a fantasy tale or a straight-ahead science fiction story. In other words, it could have fit many of the stories edited by Shawna McCarthy.
1 The circumstances that led to that book can be read in “On Knowing the Phenomenal Energi of Paul Williams.”
2 I understand from friends with backgrounds in “hard” areas like math and science that most of the information on Wikipedia is spot on. It’s just in the areas where objectivity has little sway and subjectivity and emotion come to the fore that the Wiki methodology fails.
3 The RIAA’s own website is factually incorrect on some issues, so of course, writers with no memory of the way things were can hardly be faulted for getting certain things wrong.
4 The title of “editor” at Wikipedia is a bit of a joke: anyone regardless of intelligence, education, or even intention can become a Wikipedia editor.