Please welcome mystery author IJ Parker to the site. Her Moment encompasses a few things that will feel familiar to many of us–but her material has to be amongst the most exotic yet.
I started writing my mysteries some twenty-five years ago. From the beginning, it was very hard. I never do things the easy way, and in this case I decided to write about a time and place so remote that I needed a lot of research. I had read mysteries all of my life, and particularly loved those that took me into another, more exotic world. My favorite author was Robert Van Gulik, whose Judge Dee series is set in Tang China.
My own choice of setting was eleventh century Japan, and my protagonist is Sugawara Akitada, an impecunious nobleman serving at the Ministry of Justice. Progress was very slow, especially in the beginning when I was still teaching fulltime and also I spending hours in university libraries, delving into Japanese history and culture. Reading required more time than writing, even when you consider that my early books were written on a typewriter.
Eventually, the first novel (THE DRAGON SCROLL) got finished, and I sent queries to several major publishers. I think there were about five queries, and five rejections returned. At that point, I put THE DRAGON SCROLL aside and started on number two (RASHOMON GATE). This, too, got done and gathered its rejections, and I began number three (BLACK ARROW).
Some years later, I tried my hand at short stories. By then the three novels were still unsold. I admit I’m not good at marketing, and rejections depress me. But one day, by God, about ten years after I started the whole process, the first amazing bit of success happened: one of my stories was accepted by ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Greatly encouraged, I began to revise the earlier novels, started novel number four, and wrote more stories. AHMM accepted all of my stories.
In 2000, two major pieces of good luck happened to me: I won the Shamus Award for the story “Akitada’s First Case” and I found an agent, Jean Naggar.
The following year, my agent sold two of the Akitada novels to St. Martin’s Press.
Since then, I have moved to Penguin, who brought out the complete series of six Akitada novels in their proper order in trade paper. After that I changed publishers again. Severn House published THE MASUDA AFFAIR and THE FIRES OF THE GODS. These titles are hard covers, but paperback versions will follow. It means that eight Akitada novels are now in print.
In addition,Random House has produced audio versions of books one through six, and the novels are also available on Kindle and in other electronic formats or soon will be. They are published in twelve foreign countries (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the CzechRepublic, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Israel, Brazil, Indonesia, Romania, and Hungary).
From the start, my books have received critical praise. I’m immensely grateful to my reviewers. Their opinions have kept me going on in spite of disappointing sales. Most recently, MASUDA AFFAIR received starred reviews from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and LIBRARY JOURNAL. LJ picked it as one of the best 10 mysteries of 2010. THE FIRES OF THE GODS is also making a good start with another starred review from PW, and making its list of the best 10 spring releases for 2011.
No, I haven’t made it yet. I’m again without a publisher. But I hope I’m moving in the right direction, slowly, step by step, by the grace of the gods of luck and my loyal fans, and perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a break-through in the future.
I.J. PARKER won the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best P.I. Short Story in 2000 for “Akitada’s First Case,” published in 1999. Parker began research into 11th century Japan because of a professional interest in that culture’s literature, which led to the first Akitada short story, “Instruments of Murder,” published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in October of 1997. Although Parker’s multi-lingual background includes a little Japanese, research is done using translations and the help of scholars specializing in the period.