Faerie Magazine, based in Baltimore, enchants — and grows

Faerie — a magazine for everyone seeking enchantment, even if they would never wear wings.

Faerie Magazine, which is created, edited and published in Baltimore, can tell its readers where to purchase a corset that's crafted from vintage rusted steel flowers, moss and tea lights and can be worn to a moonlit midsummer party.

The magazine offers detailed instructions on how to build your own mermaid's tail, and once you have, how to swim in it — as well as a black-and-white photo of two bare-chested mermen sitting on a couch. The men's tails are spread over a low coffee table and lie next to a cellphone.

The quarterly boasts original fiction in each issue by Alice Hoffman, the best-selling author of more than 30 books, including "Practical Magic," which was made into a 1998 movie starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Each of the novelist's stories is inspired by a garment created by her cousin, Lisa Hoffman, with knitting instructions provided in the back pages.

And under the helm of Carolyn Turgeon, Faerie's savvy and energetic new editor, a publication that a few years ago was on the verge of giving up the ghost is growing by leaps and bounds.

"I'm a huge fan of the magazine," Alice Hoffman said. "I've never seen anything like it. What I love about Faerie is that it's visually gorgeous. It takes you to another world."

The spring 2016 issue is expected to hit newsstands next week.

More than 1.4 million people have "liked" Faerie Magazine on Facebook, and that number is growing. About 54,000 subscribe to the magazine's bimonthly emailed newsletter.

Though the print circulation is relatively small (in the 10,000 range), that's still large enough to make it the 19th most popular of the 168 lifestyle publications sold by Barnes & Noble, according to the organization's Dec. 17 Rank Report. Turgeon hopes eventually to increase subscriptions to the print product to 50,000, market to other countries and grow digital sales.

The timing for a magazine like Faerie certainly is right, given the recent fascination with fantasy in popular culture, from the "Harry Potter" juggernaut to such television series as "Game of Thrones" and "True Blood" and the coming "American Gods." It almost seems as though you can't visit a shooting set these days without bumping into a vampire infected with hepatitis V, a priestess giving birth to a shadow assassin, or a down-on-his-luck deity.

The first thing most readers notice about Faerie is the magazine's slightly creepy visual beauty.

For example, in the autumn 2014 issue, a model in a pale pink gown shakes hands (paws?) with a live bear. The cover shows a snake winding up the face of a preteen girl whose long, red hair is nearly the same shade as the reptile's glowing orange and yellow scales.

The sumptuous display is less surprising when the magazine's heritage is considered. Faerie's founder, Kim Cross, is a professional artist who was known as "the fairy lady" long before she opened the magazine. And before he joined Faerie, photo editor Steve Parke, 52, served as Prince's art director and personal photographer. (It was Parke who created the "Graffiti Bridge" album cover.)

Cross, 57, who grew up in Gwynn Oak, describes the magazine's genesis in 2005 as almost accidental. She was running a studio in Oella Mill, where she sold hand-painted, exquisitely crafted fairies for $140 to $600. But slowly, the bottom began to fall out of the market for her creations. At about the same time, Oella Mill closed.

So Cross decided to start a magazine that, she says, "offers people the softness and gentleness that I connect with fairy tales."

The first issue was an almost immediate success. Then, in 2008, two very bad things happened: The stock market crashed, and Cross' brother died, plunging Faerie's founder into depression.

As Cross struggled to pay the salaries of her three employees, the magazine's quality began to slip. There were embarrassing typos. Publication ceased for a year and a half. Customers complained over the phone, by letter and email, and by canceling subscriptions.

In 2011, just when it appeared that Faerie was doomed, Cross visited the Maryland Faerie Festival, a two-day celebration of pixies, elves, gnomes and their ilk that is held every year in the Baltimore area. There, Cross met Turgeon, who has written five novels updating classic fairy tales. The two hit it off and began working on a side project that morphed into a special mermaid issue of Faerie, which came out in 2013. That issue was so successful that Turgeon, now 44, agreed to become the magazine's editor.

"I'm a dreamer," Cross said. "Carolyn is a mover and shaker who gets things done."

Turgeon's impact was felt immediately, and not only because she adopted such standard business practices as notifying customers when it came time to renew their subscriptions.

Previously, Faerie had the feel of a fanzine geared toward people who attend Renaissance festivals. The new editor made it a lifestyle publication and assigned articles on fairy-themed travel, recipes, party planning and home decor.

Through Turgeon's connections in the publishing world, little Faerie began attracting big-name writers and illustrators who could get their work accepted by virtually any publication in the land.

Features have included a short story by Gregory Maguire (author of "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West"); a discussion about storytelling techniques with novelist and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Isabel Allende; and an interview with style consultant Tim Gunn about mermaid culture's contributions to fashion.

"I wanted to make it a magazine that would appeal to everyone who wanted a little bit of enchantment in their lives," Turgeon said, "even if they would never attend a fairy festival or wear wings."

Visitors to Faerie's website will find such whimsical items as dragon eggs, edible mermaid lollipops and a special "Tooth Fairy" kit containing a handmade coin, a silver charm fashioned like a magic wand, a packet of fairy dust and a personal, handwritten miniature scroll reminding children to always brush their teeth and floss.

About 30 percent of the magazine's revenue comes from merchandise sales, Turgeon says, with the rest produced by subscriptions and single-copy purchases. (Faerie contains almost no advertisements.)

Recently, cultural gatekeepers have begun taking notice. Last November, "T," the New York Times' style magazine, wrote a feature about Faerie that noted: "It's as though 'Martha Stewart Living' and Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queene' had a magazine baby."

Timothy Schaffert, an associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, thinks that fantasy literature always has been popular — with adults as well as their offspring.

"Fairy tales have endured since they were oral tales being told by women to sleepy children," he says. "Even people who don't adhere to the whole medieval fair sensibility realize that there are aspects of these stories that are universal."

It seems that the more Turgeon aims Faerie toward a general audience, the more otherworldly the magazine becomes. Partly, that's due to the exponential improvement in the magazine's production values under creative director Anna Vorgul, who came aboard in 2013.

Now, Faerie has a signature style, in which the magazine seems to be posting dispatches from a land located midway between a nightmare and a dream.

Schaffert, an occasional contributor to the magazine, thinks that fantasy literature attracts readers for whom fairies function as invented emissaries to the natural world. Pixies and elves are powerful, instinctual beings who, like animals, exist outside the moral realm. Unlike animals, these imaginary creatures talk to humans and are willing to negotiate with them, giving readers a perhaps illusory feeling of control over real-life problems.

"Fairies always live outdoors," Schaffert says, "in beautiful gardens or haunted woods, and that can be very appealing. These cunning, winged creatures communicate something about the beauty and terror of the natural world."

For some critics, the magazine's at-times ecstatic celebration of flora and fauna is just a step removed from the espousal of nature-based religions such as druidism or Wicca. Earlier this year, the evangelical religious writer Sean McDowell included Faerie in a list of publications that he thinks promote a worldview inconsistent with Christianity — which Cross and Turgeon describe as "ridiculous."

"Faerie is not a pagan publication," Turgeon says. "There is nothing religious about it."

But while some fans might buy the magazine for articles about edible flowers or the magic of dew (see the coming issue), for other readers, Faerie seems to confirm something they've suspected all along.

For instance, Richard Buie, 59, of Ravenna, Mich., subscribes to several magazines, ranging from Faerie to Garden Gate to America's 1st Freedom, which is published by the National Rifle Association. The retired school custodian said he wouldn't be surprised if the world were someday found to contain winged sprites, leprechauns and other magical beings.

"I would guess that they exist," he says. "I had a friend who was a shaman, and he's showed me a lot of really interesting things. Some of them are pretty freaky. He and I discussed this whole thing a lot. I see no reason why fairies wouldn't be here."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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