Friday, March 30, 2012

Who Is K.J. Parker?


K.J. Parker is a critically-acclaimed, best-selling author of fantasy fiction. However, K.J. Parker is a pseudonym, and unlike many pseudonyms that are essentially open secrets to anyone who digs, the identity of K.J. Parker remains a mystery. In fact, it is not even known if K.J. Parker is male or female. The Wikipedia entry and theories below go into more detail.

The internet being what it is and fantasy fans being who they are, conversations on K.J. Parker’s identity are somewhat common on forums, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. A recent Twitter conversation of such has led to this post, with several SFF bloggers offering up their ideas on who K.J. Parker is. Speculation ranges from very well though-out ideas that use what evidence is available to what are essentially wild-ass guesses. We tried to get a comment from a representative from Parker’s publisher, Orbit, to give a comment, but we didn't receive one in a timely manner.

Make of this post what you will. On one hand it’s a (small) internet campaign to figure out the identity of K.J. Parker, though it’s mostly just a bunch of fun speculation among a few SFF fans and bloggers. The truth is that we all respect the privacy of K.J. Parker and his/her desire to remain anonymous, however our curiosity cannot be denied.

On to the theories….



Jared @ Pornokitch:

Here's what we know:

The big stuff:

- Married to a solicitor (1)
- Lives in southern England (1)
- Worked in law, journalism, numismatics (1)
- Bit of a crafty geek: building things of wood, metal (1)
- First published (as Parker) in 1998 (1)

The more specific stuff:

- Not Tom Holt (2)
- Raised in Vermont (3)

The conflicting stuff:

- Male! (4)
- Female! (5)

Stuff I can add myself:

- Based on an inscription in one of my books, KJ Parker can use a semi-colon correctly (6)
- Parker gets both American and English idioms; something that comes across naturally in the work (7)

Oh, and the bit that everyone takes for granted:

- KJ Parker is a pseudonym (8)

However, we also know a lot about Parker from the primary sources. What we know about Parker appears in the books - the time in a foundry, the professional background, even the numismatics (The Folding Knife). So what if we stretch this a bit more. From the Scavenger Trilogy and Purple & Black, as well as the short stories, there's quite a bit in there about very old, very formal and very posh universities - including several instances of a middle class protagonist being surrounded by the scions of the upper crust. So why not put Parker at Oxford or Cambridge? (9)

Another fascinating twist - "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" - involves a creator (a composer) publishing the work of another composer, and feeling imprisoned, then freed by the experience. (10) Following on from that, KJ Parker's real name is, probably, a published writer - not a journalist, but an author. Following the "Birdsong" theory, the "real" Parker was possibly already famous before the first "Parker" book, but now "Parker" is the more popular name. Controversial! (11)

So, in conclusion:

I have no idea. (12)

----

Footnotes:


(1): About the author, UK editions of Parker's books
(2): Two sources - first, taking the Tom Holt/KJ Parker interview at face value. (http://subterraneanpress.com/index.php/magazine/summer-2010/interview-with-k-j-parker-by-tom-holt/) Second, a statement from William Schafer (Parker's publisher at Subterranean) declaring that Parker absolutely was not Holt.
(3): Have to admit, this one is new to me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._J._Parker#cite_note-1 - but I'm not sure why an Australian SF/F magazine, no matter how reputable, would have/share more detailed information than anyone else. Incidentally, SF/F authors from Vermont that kinda fit the profile? Michael Stackpole (hmm) and Piers Anthony (YIKES).
(4): http://www.sffworld.com/interview/85p0.html - and many other reviews
(5): About the author notes on the Bragelonne editions of Parker's Fencer trilogy. (#YesIhavetheFrencheditions and #noIamnotcompletelyobsessed)
(6): Seriously, that removes, what, 99.885% of the English-speaking world?
(7): No, really. Anne spotted this, and it makes sense.
(8): Weirdly, not written down in a lot of places - but it is there on the US The Company, as well as in the Parker/Holt interview
(9): Holt, for the record, is a graduate of Wadham College, Oxford. The two say they met at their local blacksmith's shop, which could've taken place while they were students...
(10): It is a bit more complex than that, but, whatever. It is free online, go read it yourself. (http://subterraneanpress.com/index.php/magazine/winter-2011/fiction-a-small-price-to-pay-for-birdsong-by-k-j-parker/)
(11): A bit like The Dark Half, really.
(12): And you know what? I kind of don't want to, either. Not to go all "death of the author", but KJ Parker's work has made Parker my favourite author - there's nothing that Parker him/herself could add into the mix to make me appreciate the books more.  


I believe KJ Parker is none other than J.K Rowling. My reasoning... KJ is an obvious reversal of JK. Harry Potter was first published in 1995. In order to avoid the backlash of writing other things from hordes of unstable preteen psychos, Rowling published under Parker in 1998. I fully expect Rowling to admit this fact when her new adult novel is released by Little, Brown in 2013!

Bastard @ Bastard Books:

Robert Stanek (Bastard has not read any K.J. Parker books)

Ken @ Neth Space:

This falls much closer to the wild-ass guess than anything else. I blatantly ignore the known ‘evidence’ discussed here and elsewhere and use lots of second-hand ‘hearsay’.

My guess on the ID of K.J. Parker is that he is no other than best-selling author R.A. Salvatore. I’ve ‘heard’ from a couple of people who are friends with Salvatore that he writes other fantasy novels under a pseudonym, and that pseudonym is not known. I’ve been told that it would likely be a surprising revelation based on the fiction that Salvatore is best known for. And…this is the most damning evidence of all…both Parker and Salvatore publish under initials – K.J. and R.A., respectively.


Is K.J. Parker a man or a woman?

This is a question that seems to come up in online debates from time to time. Usually it ends up with a teneous conclusion that Tom Holt is K.J. Parker. I tend to think it’s a little bit more complex than that. I will come to my theory later, but first I’ll look into the relationship between K.J. Parker and Tom Holt.

That there is a close relationship between K.J. Parker and Tom Holt is clear from this interview: http://subterraneanpress.com/index.php/magazine/summer-2010/interview-with-k-j-parker-by-tom-holt/

Here’s an important passage:

TH: For the record, we’ve known each other for years, you showed me your first novel, I showed it to my agent, he sold it to Orbit. Is that about right?

KJP: Yes.

Of course if Tom Holt is K.J. Parker, this is completely made up. But let’s look at the two authors biographies. (Some of this is also in the interview.)

According to Holt’s official biography, http://www.tom-holt.com/about.htm , he’s married, has a daughter, and lives in Somerset in the UK. According to Parker’s official biography (the one printed in the books), Parker lives in southern England.

So, they both live in the same part of England. Doesn’t really prove anything, but there is more.

Holt has been a solicitor...K.J. Parker is married to a solicitor. Which is basically the basis of my theory. Tom Holt is married to K.J. Parker. This would explain why, as in the quote above, Holt read Parker’s first book and showed it to his agent.

There is some more circumstantial evidence to supprt this. Namely Tom Holt’s books. I have the first six “Tom Holt Omnibus” volumes. They contain twelve novels. Five of the novels are copyrighted to Kim Holt. And four of the volumes, 1/3/4/6, are copyrighted to Tom and Kim Holt. So it seems that they are at least two different people. And my theory is that K.J. Parker is Kim Holt, Kim J. Parker may even be her maiden name. Parker does say in the interview sited above that “Unfortunately, I was KJP while JKR was still nursing a lukewarm latte in the coffee bars of Edinburgh.” The first K.J. Parker book was published in 1998.

An interesting aside to my theory, is that Tom and Kim Holt may have functioned as a husband and wife writing team, much like David and Leigh Eddings. They may still do, maybe all Tom Holt and K.J. Parker books are written by them together. Or maybe it even could be that Tom Holt is a front, and Kim Holt has written all the books. In the interview Parker says: “I don’t do interviews or publicity stuff with, well, strangers, essentially. Not the world’s most articulate person, with people I don’t know.”

I could off course be incorrect, and Tom Holt is really the man behind the K.J. Parker pseudonym. Giving his wife, or it may even be his daughter, copyright credit on his books for financial/inheritance reasons. But from the evidence I have, I’ll go with K.J. Parker being Kim Holt, Tom Holt’s wife.



18 comments:

Justin said...

Have to give the Ole some credit. That's a fine guess. Hey Jared, way to go out on a limb there buddy...

Cursed Armada said...

Okay as to K.J. Parker's sex I'm gonna go with male for sure. 2 Reasons for this: I have a signed copy of Purple and Black and the signature HAS to be male... Secondly Parker's writing is very military-esque and it's just a gut feeling that I think Parker is a male.

Now if I had to guess on who is K.J. Parker??? I'm gonna go with either Stephen King, R. Scott Bakker, or Mark Lawrence.

BTW the idea that Parker is actually R.A. Salvatore is straight blasphemy lol.

Jared said...

@Cursed: We've got some signed Parker around as well, but I'm not getting the masculine (or feminine) vibe from the signature. Better handwriting than mine, at least!

@Justin: Hey! At least I didn't choose one of the two authors that KJP explicitly said he/she wasn't. I'm cautious. I really like Ole's work, although I do still hold to my KJP writes under another name theory, meaning we'd have to find that Mrs. Tom Holt had published elsewhere. Unless Tom Holt is married to R.A. Salavatore.

Weirdmage said...

@Jared

Well, my theory includes the possibility that K.J. Parker does also write under the name of Tom Holt. (More about that below.)

@Cursed Amanda

I have only read The Folding Knife by Parker, but I wouldn't say that that was typical male writing. It looks very typical of someone who has read a lot of history, but other than that I'd say it was gender nautral.

I did however find that some of the twelve Holt books I have read seem to have had some feminine input.
In fact I started reading Holt before I was online, and because of the Kim Holt byline on the copyright pages, I was actually entertaining the possibility that Tom Holt was the pseudonym of Kim Holt.

-
I'm not sure here, but it seems that I am the only one in this discussion that is familiar with Tom Holt's books. Am I right about that?

Justin said...

Yes, I know next to nothing about Tom Holt other than he's a dude who writes.

Adam Whitehead said...

I'm familiar with Tom Holt's reviews and occasional articles in SFX Magazine, but not his novels.

I am also strongly of the opinion that she is very likely Mrs. Tom Holt, or at least that is the most likely possibility, and that she has probably (under a totally different name) written in another genre where the revelation would be a surprise.

I've also been told by Orbit reps (whilst they were laughing about it) that she's not JK Rowling :-)

I doubt very much Parker is Salvatore on the grounds that Salvatore hasn't written a good book since about 1994. If Salvatore could write as well as Parker, why not use those skills to improve his Drizzt fiction or other books? Is a frustration at not being able to swear or use sex really responsible for Salvatore's FORGOTTEN REALMS work sucking continuously for 18 years? I doubt it. And having read 4 Parkers and about a dozen Salvatores, their writing styles are completely and totally different.

Another issue with the theory that Parker is either Holt or Salvatore is that they are both very prolific authors. It seems unlikely they'd have time to thrown in a Parker novel and novella on a near-annual basis as well.

Adam Whitehead said...

Oh yeah, she's almost certainly female because of an old interview on the Orbit website (since removed) where she talks about being a 'tomboy' and playing with toy swords rather than dolls houses.

However, the possibility that Parker is a man was refloated last year when Orbit started using a new author bio that says 'he'. And the theory is that the issue has to remain a mystery because there would likely be a strong and angry backlash about a male writer using a female pseudonym and pretending to be female.

I think Orbit actually did that to further the mystery (which is actually a marketing tactic as well, like that American author who has a Native American pen-name - which I forget at the moment - and who sends minions to book signings for him). Mrs. Holt remains my guess.

Jared said...

John Twelve Hawks! God, I had forgotten about all that silliness.

I'm familiar with Holt's work, but I don't find his stuff convincing one way or the other - I think his fiction reads like someone completely different to Parker and his non-fiction (book reviews) as quite Parkerian. (Parkerlike?)

Honestly, the Mrs. Tom Holt theory makes a lot of sense, but I still think Parker published under another name somewhere (and not as Tom Holt).

The whole "masculine/feminine" writing style is an enormous red herring. See: James Tiptree Jr.

I find absolutely no similarities at ALL between Parker's style and that of King, Bakker, Salvatore or Lawrence. Or Rowling, for that matter. (Although the insane Rowling theory is [slightly] aided by Rowling's new deal with Little, Brown... but no.)

James said...

Salvatore has discussed wanting to write outside of genre under a pseudonym and has hinted at possibly having done so already. So K.J. Parker would be out unless one considers the work non-genre.

Antoine said...

On french blurbs, KJ Parker is described as some sort of lawyer. It also says that she is a woman. I'm not sure if it's totaly reliable but anyway.

Anonymous said...

Knowing absolutely nothing about this; here is my guess.

KJ Parker is two people, male and female, and possibly even husband and wife. KJ could even be their initials. Kevin and Jessica.One if probably European the other American, which would explain why KJ Parker understand both American and European idioms.

KJ Parker is a hobby while one work/worked as a lawyer. The other half, probably the male is the author; however, he is not a genre writer.

He would want to keep his identity secret because he feels that fantasy would discredit his other main work. Possibly a writer of children's books, but I'm guessing that he's a military historian (why I think he's a male*), or a biographer. After all, who would want their biography written by a fantasy author? A historian would also have a wealth of information from the topic he would be researching, so they could, hypothetically, have 5 or 6 different outlines for a book a year.

In the end, my guess is, European Lawyer marries American military historian.

*Not aware of too many female military historians.

Anonymous said...

I loved this whole article, after randomly stumbling across it in a search for more info.

I find it hard to believe that Parker is Holt, Salvatore, or god help us, Rowling, mostly due to instinctive feelings on writing styles, but I could be loosely open to the possibility.

I am, however, highly intrigued by the analysis "her" being TH's wife. After all, there is still some stigma in literature, arts and the media about playing off a friend or spouse's name, and it could have been a deliberate choice from the outset to let the novels stand on their own feet, without connotations from a shared surname and so on.

I suspect this is a mystery I may come back to time and time again until it's solved, as a rabid fan of all the books, but I can't offer much additional thought at the time.

However, the worlds of law and independent coin dealing are sometime suprisingly small, especially the latter, and I wonder how hard it would be to find a crossover name, particularly combined with the blacksmithing clues, and other details. For that matter, there can't be that a particularly large number of blacksmithing courses around, can there?

I doubt the internet has all the answers, but at the risk of sounding a little stalkerish, some real life leg work might pay dividends in solving the mystery.

Anonymous said...

Neal Stephenson. When I read Parker's first novel, I immediately couldn't help but think it was Stephenson.

Virgil Oliver said...

I guess we will never know untill she or he, or even they tell us.

Adam Jorgensen said...

No clue who he/she is but very much looking forward to the next book from him/her.

One thing noted between reading the Fencer trilogy and the more recent Engineer trilogy + The Company is that his/her writing style seems to have become a lot less onerous in the newer works...

Claudia Putnam said...

I've always thought she was female. Otherwise why bother with the pseudonym? The books are so male--it would be no surprise if a male wrote it, but the fact that they've kept this secret for so long to me says that the wow factor has to do with a female writing such ruthlessly tactical, war-oriented books that focus so much on male camaraderie and rivalries. It's not surprising to me or to other women writers, perhaps, but...usually a female writer would throw in a romance or two, such as with Mary Stewart and the Arthurian trilogy. But these books don't have that, or at least the several I've read haven't. So I'm with the person who said it's a military historian... I agree, but it doesn't have to be a male historian on the grounds that most military historians are male--she might be an amateur, or someone who studied ancient Greece and Rome in college. It could be some political campaign manager who studied Rome in college... You just need to understand tactics and men. I think the JKR theory probably derives from similarities in plotting, rather than in writing styles. Both writers have a huge grasp of a complicated world, and it's clear that JKR knows a little about tactical thinking and also about history/classic literature. I don't think they're the same person, but I entertained the idea for a while (also, I really don't think someone had time to write both--JKR struggled as it was to finish the HP books). Stephen King isn't as tight a writer as Parker is.

Anyhow, I don't have an idea who this might be, don't know enough of "the genre." But. As far as fantasy goes, this is fantasy like Octavia Butler, or Ursula LeGuin... or guess who, whosiwhats, the Game of Thrones guy. Though again, he is much more bloated as a writer. Anyhow, it's not high fantasy, just a change of geography and dates for the author's convenience. It might as well be Rome, IMO, and sometimes I wonder why it's not, except to get around the "historical fiction" label (hey, what about Robert Harris? If it's male. He knows that world and isn't SO prolific he couldn't possibly get it done. Or someone else along those lines, the lines of IF Stone and Irving Stone, but obviously they're dead) and also to avoid the hassle of making things historically exact.

Anonymous said...

K j Parker's style is not totally dissimilar to Thomas Holt (Tom Holt's historical fiction alterego ego)... But very different to comic fiction Tom Holt.

Claudia Putnam said...

So now I'm reading Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, and woowee is Parker almost dead on with JMC's tone and settings... Seems improbable, but. You can see why a Nobel Prize winner might want to make only limited forays into "fantasy" writing (JMC verges quite a bit). and maybe hide his or her more genre-specific efforts. Of course, then you'd have to throw out the "bio" info we supposedly have about KJP. JMC attended school in both the UK and the US, btw.

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