March 24, 2011

Made It Moment: I. J. Parker

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:29 am

The Masuda Affair

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.


  1. Nice! I am so glad to hear of your success. I am a historical writer too (as yet, unpublished). It’s nice to hear you’ve done so well. And I believe that anyone who says “I’m great at marketing and rejections don’t depress me” is a liar! lol :)

    Comment by Savvy — March 24, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  2. This is the most frustrating business…glad to hear you’re not giving up, though!

    Comment by Judy — March 24, 2011 @ 10:09 am

  3. Thanks to Jenny, Savvy, and Judy. I’m hanging in there. :)

    Comment by I.J.Parker — March 24, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  4. My big barrier is making time to write while teaching writing. Not just clock time, but brain space. When I’m busy commenting on student essays morning, noon, and night, I can’t seem to switch out of editorial mode into drafting mode. How did you manage to keep writing while teaching? (And bravo for doing so.)

    Comment by Sara — March 24, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  5. I get up very early in the morning. Pre-dawn. That time was reserved for writing. Then, since I was senior faculty, I had usually a half-day schedule. Some of the afternoons, I could also write. And then there were the summers.

    And yes, grading essays and research papers takes an enormous amount of time. When you teach English, your load tends to be very heavy. I used to envy people in other areas who only prepared their classes and made out the occasional test (frequently computer-graded).

    Comment by I.J.Parker — March 24, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  6. So great to see IJ here. She’s a longtime favorite of mine, but I’ve never heard her tell her story before. There should just be twelve more Akitada books; I’d buy them all in advance without even asking for a bulk discount. And I’m pre-ordering THE FIRES OF THE GODS right now.

    Comment by Timothy Hallinan — March 24, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

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