I am sitting here, writing this, on a late Saturday afternoon in early August, in a dry, grassy field in Eugene, Oregon, in my pink- and lime-green-satin-draped, vine- and fairylight-filled festival tent, behind a decorated table and the 40 copies I have left of my novel Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story. Next to me, three girls from Boston are selling tutus and silver leaf-shaped jewelry and leather bootstraps; on the other side, a Spanish-speaking couple is selling feather hair ornaments and scarves. In the field before me, just in front of the main stage where a fiddle-wielding band is playing, a couple hundred people decked out in wings, horns, antlers, hooves, glitter, body paint, flowers, and leaves are dancing and milling about. And as the sun starts to set, and I watch an old antlered man with fake fur pants dancing wildly and obliviously next to a winged toddler shimmying in a hula hoop, I sort of start to think that maybe the veil has lifted and maybe I actually have entered "the realm."
But that just might be the heat getting to me.
This collective madness in which I've temporarily and literally pitched my own tent is known as Faerieworlds, a three-day outdoor "mythic music" festival that draws thousands of people each year. I first heard about Faerieworlds a couple of years ago, from a fantasy book packager I glamorously met on a local bus in Queens, New York. The book packager told me there was an annual fairy festival on the west coast that 40,000 people showed up to each year, dressed in fairy garb. Before that, I'd had no idea that people were so into fairies and "fae folk" that they had whole festivals around them. Let alone 40,000 people! (A slight exaggeration, as it turns out, but still... a lot of people.) In wings! Thousands of people in wings who should be reading my book! Which isn't exactly a book about fairies, but does indeed have fairies in it, as the fairy godmother Lil, my main character, now an old woman in New York City, is constantly remembering her fairy past. I could not help but think that the wing wearers might be a special demographic my publisher wasn't necessarily targeting in its marketing efforts.
It was last spring that I decided to actually attend the festival, though, when I met the lovely Signe Pike, whose book Faery Tale: One Woman's Search for Magic in a Grown-Up World is coming out next year. Signe was planning not only to spend some months in the UK learning about fairies — and also visiting the home of Brian and Wendy Froud, fairy artists extraordinaire who also serve as the official hosts of Faerieworlds each year — but to attend Faerieworlds. We decided then and there to go together, and to embrace the experience fully. Camp out, wear wings, embrace the magic that lives within us! As it turned out, Signe was not able to make it to Oregon (and I am not wearing wings, and after a night of camping have checked into a gloriously air-conditioned Motel 6), but she put me in touch with one of the main people behind the event who then convinced me to get my own booth. Which I hadn't realized at first was not actually a booth but a 10' by 10' plot of land. But I accepted my fate, and decided that if I was going to do this, I ought to do it all the way. So I bought a big white festival tent, rented a table and chairs, ordered a banner, bought fabric and fake vines and fairy lights... not to mention 75 copies of Godmother to sell, and a plane ticket, and a car rental, and postcards and flyers and an ad in the festival program... Bringing one's book to the wing-wearing masses ain't cheap! More an expensive, bow-wrapped gift from me to the realm.
And now, sitting at this table watching the antler boys go by, I have a bunch of different feelings about being here. Marketing and selling books is so strange, who knows what really works and what doesn't. Some people head straight for my booth and are excited to get my book and for me to sign it — but usually, I gather, that is because they've already heard of it. Others walk by slowly, suspiciously, wondering if I'm legit... "Is Three Rivers a small local press?" someone asks. "Is this book in stores?" Gaggles of little girls run up when they see the magic word CINDERELLA, and I give them glass slipper temporary tattoos and answer their questions — "You wrote this book? Was it hard???" — while trying to delicately explain that the book isn't really for kids. (And wishing, for those moments, that it was!) At one point I leave my friend Barb, who's come along for the ride, to get some iced coffee and visit the Frouds at their jam-packed double booth, and when I come back, there is a whole family waiting for me to sign a book: a slinky, green-painted, green-lashed mermaid mother; a black-painted, leather-wearing father with two spears in a sling on his back (I don't know what he's supposed to be, but he looks like he's fought a dragon or two); and a baby girl with flowers in her hair. I love them; I want to put them in a frame and hang them on my wall. I love the women who come by, grab up my book like it's candy, and tell me they "inhale books." I love the shirtless Viking man who walks by hand in hand with his shirtless baby daughter. At moments here, I love everyone. I am in a field in Oregon, at a fairy festival. You can't help but be affected.
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Carolyn Turgeon is the author of Rain Village, Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story, Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale, and the young adult novel The Next Full Moon. She is the editor of Mermaids, a special-edition annual magazine, and teaches writing in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Alaska at Anchorage.
Books mentioned in this post
Carolyn Turgeon is the author of The Fairest of Them All