The keen selling power of science fiction novels is attributed to much more than elaborate illustrations of dragons and a sensational title. Historical research, knowledge of mythology and religion, a sharp sense of geography, and a bursting, expansive imagination are just the beginning. Genres continue to merge in the publishing world today, and it’s important to note the special ingredients in the brimming pot of fairly new sci-fi sub-categories such as “paranormal” and “speculative fiction,” for instance. Canadian writer Marie Jakober, who won the gold medal (out of 50,000 participants) at an international literature competition at the age of 13, is currently enjoying the broad success of her science fiction/historical fantasy novel The Black Chalice (Edge Publishing). In between accepting the 2001 Independent Publisher Book Award, attending ceremonies in Nova Scotia and The States, teaching, leading international mythology panels, practicing neo-paganism, and reminiscing about the days she lived in a log cabin and “attended school” by mail correspondence, Jakober shares her thoughts on the sci-fi market.
Considering your book was the first released from small press Edge Publishing and you’ve won three North American awards, what do you feel has been its strongest selling points?
For many people who like speculative and historical fiction, especially New Age and feminist readers, this is a tale with plenty of twists and turns, with enough psychological depth to be worth taking seriously, and enough action to keep the pages turning. The book’s whole-hearted affirmation of pagan values and history appeal very strongly to these same readers. This may be the first overtly and intentionally pagan novel published in Canada. It also offers a revealing and realistic look at many facets of medieval consciousness—some of which are still with us today.
Given your background in contemporary historical writing, how laborious was it to break into the science fiction market?
My first sci-fi book was published in 1976 as part of an annual competition sponsored by the Alberta Department of Culture. This competition was the “Search for a New Alberta Novelist” Competition, and was established to discover promising new writers in the province. There was no focus on any particular genre; most winners and finalists were writing mainstream literary fiction. My novel, The Mind Gods, was a finalist and was published by the Macmillan Company (Toronto, London). Macmillan was not specifically a SF publisher, but had a wide-ranging list of books, including non-fiction. My next two books were novels dealing with contemporary history and had no connection with SF at all. By the time I returned to the field, SF publishing, along with all other publishing, had become more specialized and more market-driven. Getting books accepted in any genre had become more difficult. In fact, I’m not even sure one can speak of “breaking in” anymore, in the sense of this representing any permanent status.
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