Saturday, November 11, 2017

A wild, gorgeous holiday gift: Carolyn Turgeon talks about The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects

It was the boots that did it. I was at Kathy L. Murphy's Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, when I saw the ones belonging to Carolyn Turgeon--embroidered, black and gorgeous. "They fit like slippers," she told me. We became friends that weekend, and we've stayed in touch ever since. Her new book, THE FAERIE HANDBOOK is truly one of the most beautiful books I've seen, and it's filled with recipes, fashion, fascinating facts, and lore, all faerie-centric, too. The pages are silver tipped. There is a lovely lilac ribbon to mark your page. The illustrations and photographs are breathtaking. (Just take a look at the photos above!)

Carolyn is also the author of Rainvillage; Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story; Mermaid, The Fairest of Them All. She's the editor of Faerie Magazine, too.

Thank you so much, Carolyn for being here, and I hope to hang out with you really soon so we can compare boots.

I have to ask, though I know the answer, what is about Faeries that draws you? As a child did you believe in them and devour all the Fairy Tale books like I did? (And do you think they are around now?)
I did love fairy tales and myths and magic as a kid, and books full of pretty stories—and of course I still do! I like the idea that the world is full of magic, if you know where to look, that there’s tremendous beauty just out of sight. In the book’s introduction I describe an old story of a country midwife who’s taken to a cottage that seems normal and cozy until she accidentally rubs her eye with a strange ointment; then the cottage becomes an ancient oak tree and the fireplace, a hollow, mossy tree trunk. To me fairy stories are about all those hidden things. Whether fairies are around now? I don’t know. There have been stories about the fairies leaving us as long as there have been stories about fairies, it seems, but I like to think that there are all kinds of things out there that we can’t see.

This book is so completely gorgeous that I want to know if you had a hand in the design? It’s an exquisite gift book, too.
Actually, for months before we even signed a book deal and agreed on what the book would be exactly, my editor Liz Sullivan and I went back and forth discussing the book’s sumptuous, ornate, storybook design—and salivating over fancy Victorian-y book covers we used as inspiration. Like this one, with this insane gilded floweryfont: ! Isn’t that gorgeous? So we knew from the beginning that this book had to be like a treasure chest, from the silver foil to the stained edges to the purple satin bookmark and the inset image (by Kirsty Mitchell, who does some of the most elaborate and stunning fairy tale photography out there). As for the images inside the book, Grace Nuth (who is a senior editor at Faerie Magazine and helped me write the book) and I spent many hours finding the most wonderful images we could to illustrate each section, and Liz and the design team narrowed down the final images from those choices. In the past, I did not really have a say in how my novels were presented (and didn’t always love the way they were!), so I really appreciated that Liz discussed every step with me and was dedicated to making something so, so beautiful.

The Faerie Handbook has literature, lore, art, recipes and even projects. How did you decide what you wanted to put in here? Did anything not make the cut (and you wish that it had?)
I made the initial list by sitting down and brainstorming with Kim Cross (who founded Faerie Magazine) and we refined it as we went. Initially, it was twice as long! But we had to make room for all those lush images, so lots of things were cut. Originally there was going to be a whole section on fairy tales, including some actual stories, and a bit about moss, and sections on berries and tree houses and fairy gardens and Hans Christian Andersen’s paper cut-outs…. All kinds of lovely things! But we narrowed it down and actually expanded the book by thirty-two pages over what it was supposed to be originally. Of course I’d have loved another ten, or hundred, but the ones we have are pretty good!

What’s your favorite part of this book and what is up next for you?
I love all of it, to be honest, but I have a particular affection for the image of the 80-year-old fairy lady featured in the “Fairy Beauty” section written by Grace. That image actually originally came to our Faerie Magazine submissions folder and was from photographer Marsha Steckling, who did the shoot to celebrate her mother Sharron Rhoads. “We both have always loved the theme of the Fairy Queen,” Marsha wrote, “and put together her costume and created the photographs in a park near my home.” When we posted the images on our Faerie Magazine Facebook page, it was insanely popular, one of the most beloved images we’d ever posted, so it was important to me to include it in the book! The most popular image we’ve ever shared was from Tricia Saroya, a brilliant stylist we’ve worked with many times, of a Midsummer Night’s Dream garden party she created for our summer 2015 issue. You see this long candlelit table with an arbor draped in fairy lights stretching over it, and that image (taken by Vince Chafin) had something insane like 150,000 likes when we first posted it online and was seen by many millions of people. We actually shared that image the other day on a panel we did at FaerieCon, and a couple in the audience was astonished—they’d based their wedding on that image and had no idea it was from us! So that’s in the book as well, along with Tricia’s tips on how to throw your own enchanted soirée. I loved being able to include a few of those treasures.

Next up is The Mermaid Handbook, which is the same thing but with mermaids, out in May 2018! I’ve had a long history with mermaids by now, ever since I wrote my novel Mermaid and started a mermaid blog and ended up doing things like attending mermaid camp at Weeki Wachee Springs and going on a mermaid dive trip in the Bahamas, etc. So doing that book felt like a good way to pull all that mermaid expertise together.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
I’ve turned back to a novel now, one I’ve been working on for years (off and on), about Dante and Beatrice (I studied medieval Italian lit in graduate school), so in every spare moment I’m reading about all things medieval and carrying around suspicious-sounding tomes like Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella or Accounting for Dante: Urban Readers and Writers in Late Medieval Italy. Our winter issue of Faerie Magazine is medieval-themed, as it happens (we’re just finishing it now) and we recreated Dante Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, a portrait of Dante’s Beatrice, for the cover, which was shot by Steve Parke (who is brilliant photographer; he has a book of photos of Prince just out, Picturing Prince, from his 14 years as Prince’s art director!). Doing a magazine can be incredibly stressful, but being able to do something like that is pretty great.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Well, if you’d asked me about a particular challenge we had with the book, one is that I’d written this bit about taking a fairy bath but couldn’t find the right image to go with it.  I spent hours searching for the perfect shot! It didn’t exist, so we had to make one. I live in a beautiful apartment building in Baltimore but the tubs are ordinary, and everyone knows that fairies never do anything ordinary, so I put out a call for an extraordinary clawfoot tub, and a friend of a friend of a friend ended up having one we could use. So Steve Parke grabbed his camera and we bought a pile of flowers from the local florist and a jug of milk and showed up at this lovely house, where the husband of the friend of a friend of the friend was waiting on the charming front porch. He greeted up graciously and watched as we filled that clawfoot tub with milky water and flowers and then took a zillion photos, rearranging the flowers as we went, adding in new ones as the old ones sunk. When we were done, I offered the fairy bath to the husband, but shockingly he turned us down, so Steve and I cleaned the tub and filled a basket full of milky flowers, which we returned to the florist in case they could put them to use.  After all that, the image in the book doesn’t even show the tub!

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