Charles de Lint, Make a Joyful Noise (Subterranean Press, 2005)

Do come in . . . I'm just helping our Librarian, Iain MacKenzie, properly file away a stack of chapbook that came in over the past few months. [Iain here. Helping. my ass. He's kibbitizing. He's as bad as Maida and Zia!] Though you won't find chapbooks in most bookstores, they are an increasingly popular printing medium for many of the specialty presses we deal with these days.

Chapbooks are odd creatures witha very long history. These small printed volmues, according to Wikipedia, have been with us a very long time: 'There are records from Cambridgeshire as early as in 1553 of a man offering a scurrilous ballad 'maistres mass' at an alehouse, and a pedlar selling 'lytle books' to people, including a patcher of old clothes in 1578. These sales are probably characteristic of the market for chapbooks.' Now Wikipedia gets it wrong when it says that they were 'popular from the sixteenth through to the later part of the nineteenth century' as that suggests they are no longer popular which simply is incorrect. Charles de Lint's Make a Joyful Noise is an excellent example of the current crop of fantasy/horror/science fiction chapbooks being issued by such fine publishers as Small Beer Press, Tachyon Publications, Golden Gryphon, Tropism Press, and, of coure, Subterranean Press. Indeed de Lint has his own press, Trikell Press, that has for nearly two decades been published a series of winter holiday chapbooks that go out to a select number of folks. (Yes, I get them. It's a wonderful treat when the weather is getting quite cold!) So why do publishers offer these little goodies?

That was the question I posed to some publishers who do chapbooks. Here are some of their answers. . . .

William K. Schafer, editor and publisher at Subterranean Press, had an illuminating answer: ' Well, one of the major reasons on my end is that it allows me to pay some of my favorite writers very well for short fiction. Beyond that, it's a format I've grown to love, a way for us to do projects with smaller limitations, illustrations, and a bit less labor intensive -- in some cases -- than our full books.' (Subterranean Press has published an impressive number of works by de Lint over the years including the The Newford Collection, a forthcoming release that will include all the Newford short stories to date.) Tim Pratt of Tropism Press gave an excellent answer: 'They're an inexpensive, attractive way to sample a writer's wares, without the investment (by publisher or reader!) in a more expensive full-length collection. The logistics of creating and distributing a full-length book are daunting, but anyone with a few hundred bucks to spare and some desktop publishing software can create a nice saddle-stapled chapbook. Also, they're small, and small things are cute.' And Gary Turner at Golden Gryphon had a succinct answer: 'Chapbooks allow a small subplot to be examined, which would not fit in a novel, but are 'special' enough to warrant their own edition.'

Ahhh, but you'd like to know what Make a Joyful Noise is about. Are you familiar with de Lint's Newford tales that take place in a city where magic and mundane co-exist in an uneasy state of affairs? Where a homeless person might simply be a human down on her luck, or the Queen of All the Fey in disguise? It's a place where fiddle music is really magical and can have deadly consequenes to those who are foolish. And it's a place where two punkish looking girls of a shifting age are really immortal shapeshifters who call themselves the Crow Girls. An excerpt from ' The Crow Girls' is printed here. Go read to get an appreciation for these characters! This story was first published by Triskell Press in 1995, and reprinted in Triskell Tales, the first collection of his annual chapbooks. Though truly neither good nor evil as those are human concepts of morality, the Crow Girls do, by intention or not, usually end up doing the right thing. But on minor things, they can be delightfully eccentric as you can see in A Crow Girls Christmas as written by Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris (with charming illustrations by her as well) which, in a different form, is in Triskell Tales 2.

This lovely chapbook -- with superb illustrations by de Lint himself -- looks at what happens when they meddle, as they always do no matter the costs, where they shouldn't.

 

[Cat Eldridge]