shawna mccarthy created a space of her own

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 min­utes.

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. 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.


Shiner DesertedCities Doubleday hc 500

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. 


ShawnaMcCarthy SpaceOfHerOwn Doubleday 1983 hc 300

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.[1]

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.[2][3] 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.”[3][4] 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).[5][6] She left the mag­a­zine in 1985 and was suc­ceeded by Gardner Do­zois.[3]

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.[4] 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.[7]

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.)


ShawnaMcCarthy GoodOmens Workman 1990 300

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.

Good omens

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 NutterWitch 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!

Until yes­terday.


ShawnaMcCarthy RealmsOfFantasy Vo1No1 300

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?

Ap­par­ently not.

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?


Medium IMAGE fantasy FrostGiant Pixabay 2925250 Kellepics 1000

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.



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