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Charm City Spec: My Kind of Reading Series

May 31, 2018
Three awesome authors

from left: A.C. Wise, Leah Cypess, Fran Wilde

Speculative fiction runs in Baltimore’s blood. Edgar Allan Poe must have started it percolating when he first moved to the city in 1829. Dashiell Hammet, who lived in Baltimore in the early 1900s and worked as a Pinkerton, must have kept speculative fiction on life support by adding a dose of mystery. Fast forward to the 1960s, and the Baltimore Science Fiction Society was born in the back of a Trailways bus. Or so I’m told.

Roger Zelazny, Joe Haldeman, Jack Haldeman, and Gardner Dozois were some of the more famous names associated with early efforts to put Baltimore on the speculative fiction map. Fifty years on, speculative fiction in Baltimore is going strong.

In 2018, the Charm City Spec Reading Series joined a long tradition of speculative fiction in the city. The series aims to spotlight not only Baltimore-area speculative fiction writers, but also those from out-of-town. Past readers have included Katherine Locke, Sunny Moraine, Catharine Asaro, Ariel S. Winter, Malka Older, and Tom Doyle. In April, Leah Cypess, A.C. Wise, and Fran Wilde joined their ranks.

I was lucky enough to get rockstar parking across the street from cafe-bookshop Bird in Hand, where Charm City Spec happens. There’s nothing like a bookshop that lets me eat vegetable soup and drink hot chocolate right next to the brand new books for sale. Bird in Hand’s relaxed atmosphere and independent spirit make them easy to love. They’re the perfect setting for the Charm City Spec Reading Series.

Leah Cypess reads

Leah Cypess

After a bit of chatting and the distribution of tarot cards for a later book giveaway, Leah Cypess kicked off the night. She read from her novel Mistwood, the tale of an ancient shapeshifter trapped in the body of a human girl. Cypess pulled from chapter 2, and I was immediately hooked. Mistwood is just one of Cypess’s four published novels. The author’s second reading was from On the Ship,” one of her many pieces in Asimov’s Science Fiction. That story is about an intergenerational ship making landfall for the fifth time after four unsuccessful attempts. During Cypess’s question-and-answer session, she talked about how Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams sent Cypess a series of encouraging notes to accompany rejections before Williams eventually bought a story. It was a heartening tale for writers.

A.C. Wise reads

A.C. Wise

A.C. Wise read from her novel The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter SquadronThe Glitter Squadron and I go way back. I fell in love with them three years ago as I prepared to interview Wise for Weightless Books. I’d never heard Wise read her work before, and she brought as much personality to the ass-kicking, monster-fighting group as I imagined when I read her debut novel in 2015. The Glitter Squadron superheroes use the full force of their extra-chunky heels, rayguns and spaceships to root out evil, especially when it comes in the form of eels. Wise is more than a novelist, too. Since 2004, over 100 of her short stories have been published. Like Leah Cypess and Fran Wilde, A.C. Wise offered the Bird in Hand audience an engaging, well-delivered taste of her work.

Fran Wilde reads

Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde read the entirety of her Uncanny Magazine short story “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand.” Wilde’s stage presence is compelling. Teeth filled her chilling reading. Introducing the piece, Wilde said, “I should tell you I was fairly angry when I wrote this.” That was clear from the reading, but it was still wrapped in a layer of awesome. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” has been nominated for a Nebula award and a Hugo. Those aren’t Wilde’s first nominations. Her work has been recognized several times over the last few years with numerous nominations, and her debut novel Updraft won the Andre Norton and Compton Crook awards. The third book in her Bone Cycle series was published in 2017.

Yes, the reading series is awesome. Yes, the talent on display is impressive. Yes, I had soup and a hot chocolate for dinner. Yes, I still went to Insomnia Cookies across the street afterward for the sustenance I required to drive the 39 miles back to Washington D.C.  I cannot resist cookies or readings by great speculative fiction authors. The Charm City Spec Reading Series was everything I hoped it would be.

Alan Smale, Justina Ireland and Bryan Camp are next up for Charm City Spec. The authors will be at Bird in Hand to read and take questions on July 18, 2018 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be amazing.

Charm City Spec can be found at charmcityspec.com, on Facebook, and on twitter @CharmCitySpec.

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