High life: new mag showcases Virginia

Clear off your coffee table– there's a new publication in town. With bold splashes of color on each glossy cover and stories celebrating the vibrant lives in the Commonwealth, Virginia Living magazine is an ambitious effort to showcase Virginia and all it offers.

"I want the publication to inspire people to go out and enjoy Virginia more," says Virginia Living publisher and owner John-Lawrence Smith.

"I've always wanted to see a high quality lifestyle magazine for Richmond or Virginia," Smith explains. Calling Virginia "the most historic state," 38-year-old Smith says he "thought there was a real market for this magazine."

To bring his dream to life, Smith tapped fellow prep school chum Garland Pollard, also 38, to be his editor. "He's the ideal man for the job," Smith says, citing Pollard's "superlative" editing skills. "I've always had tremendous respect for him."

Pollard's statewide journalism credentials are none too shabby, either.

Once a popular columnist for Style Weekly, Pollard also freelanced extensively, did daily reporting for the Petersburg Progress-Index, and most recently served as managing editor for the now-defunct 64 Magazine, created by Style Weekly founder Lorna Wyckoff. His employment at the latter ended abruptly.

"I was canned," he laughs, explaining that Wyckoff said he was "more of a newspaper person."

Pollard agreed the match was less than perfect. "She was putting out a gussied-up journal for the Arts Council of Richmond," he explains. "A lot of people really like that," he continues, "but not enough people."

Wyckoff did not return the Hook's calls by deadline.

Following his termination from 64, Pollard left the writing biz altogether in favor of getting his hands dirty. He worked in maintenance at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, doing repairs on the grand old house and even fixing toilets. And he finished his B.A. at University of Richmond. Life was going well, he says: "I'd go into work and come home and be done. It was good."

But the keyboard came a-calling, and Pollard couldn't resist.

Now working on the fifth bi-monthly issue of Virginia Living (due out in August) Pollard says he loves every minute of the work.

Despite his extensive knowledge of Virginiana, "I still learn a lot," says this great-grandson of a governor (John G. Pollard, from 1930-34). "It's amazing how many really interesting things there are out there that we don't even know about."

The June issue features a cover story on Tangier Island, which included tracking down a former National Geographic cover-boy, à la the search for the green-eyed Afghan girl.

In addition, there are stories on such diverse topics as fox hunting in Fairfax, native Virginia plants, Rita Mae Brown, and a Thomas Jefferson-designed residence at Woodberry Forest, the Orange County boarding school that he and Smith attended. There are regional recipes and restaurant reviews, snippets about small towns, and huge, vibrant photos filling nearly every page.

Writers include Charlottesville's own Laura Parsons (who also freelances for the Hook), and Pollard says the magazine finds photographers across the state and region. But the magazine owes its clean look to art director Tyler Darden, also a former 64 staffer.

In fact, much of the masthead is filled with 64 alumni. In addition to Pollard and Darden, Torrey Munford and Beverly Montsinger are on board as sales reps who seem to be rounding out a good part of the 114-page magazine with full-page ads.

Both Pollard and Smith are well aware that Virginia has seen its share of dead magazines (anyone remember Commonwealth?) They bristle at comparisons to 64.

 "64 was completely arts focused," Pollard says. "We try to keep that only as a sliver of what we talk about."

Smith says he was a 64 subscriber and "loved reading it," but Virginia Living, he says, is a "completely different magazine."

And right now, the numbers are looking good, Smith says.

The magazine publishes 50,000 copies of each issue, distributing them at major booksellers up and down the East Coast as well as nationwide through Books-a-Million. In addition, subscriptions are at 10,000 and counting. "We're having a hard time keeping up with it," says Smith, whose Richmond-based Cape Fear Publishing Company also puts out two quarterly guides: the Value Guide, a coupon magazine, and The Richmond Guide, a small tourist freebie.

As for competition with local glossy publications such as Richmond or Albemarle, Pollard says he's not worried.

"We do compete," he says, "but we do things differently because we're writing for a broader audience. We're not bound by any geography at all." As an example, he cites a few of the stories slated for the August issue, including several on Virginia Beach. Though the stories might be "slightly obvious" to Beach residents, Pollard thinks they'll still hold appeal. A focus on Northern Virginia, which doesn't have its own regional publication, he says, also creates a nice niche.

Amy Lemley, a freelance writer and editor who once served as editor of Albemarle magazine, says she thinks Virginia Living "has potential to be great." But, she cautions, it should become monthly as soon as possible.

"It's hard to create a product that will stay in demand for two months," she says.

Smith says going monthly is a "definite." It's just the timing that's in question. But he also isn't worried about staying fresh on the shelf.

"Any of the articles that we have featured I would feel comfortable featuring now," he says. As proof, Smith says, many new subscribers ask to start with the first issue.

While the lifespan of Virginia Living can't be known now, Lemley sees no reason that interest in the publication will die down.

"There's something about Virginia," she says, "that is ever more appealing."