Author of Cash Crash Jubilee, a cyber-dystopian novel published in May 2015 by Talos Press (an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing), Eli K.P. William was born and raised in Toronto, but currently works in Tokyo as a Japanese translator. He has written articles for publications like The Japan Times, The Pacific Rim Review of Books and Now Magazine, and is currently writing the second novel in his Jubilee Cycle series, entitled The Naked World (also for Skyhorse). Aside from absorbing his fair share of movies, novels, manga and philosophy, his main hobby is streetdance, and he is rare among sci-fi authors in being proficient at the robot.
Eli kindly answered a few of my questions about his debut novel, Cash Crash Jubilee
Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a little more about Cash Crash Jubilee and what inspired you to write it?
Eli K.P. William: Thank you!
Cash Crash Jubilee is a novel set in a near future Tokyo where all actions—from smiling to punching to net-surfing–are intellectual properties owned by corporations that charge licensing fees. The job of the main character, Amon Kenzaki, is to close the accounts of people who go bankrupt (to “cash crash” them), and banish them to bankdeath camps, where they are cut off forever from the action-transaction economy. The story follows Amon in his efforts to save money and get promoted until he gets charged for an action called “jubilee” that he never performed. Various unexplained events surround jubilee and when Amon starts to investigate, he finds the life and career he has built rapidly falling apart.
I came up with the concept for Cash Crash Jubilee just after graduating from high school (circa 2004). For various reasons, I didn’t get far in writing the story back then and the idea languished half-forgotten on my hardrive for about 7 years. It wasn’t until I graduated from university and moved to Tokyo to become a Japanese-English translator that I revived the novel and decided to finish it (though of course it had silently and secretly morphed into something very different by that time). I had several novel ideas at that point and spent a few weeks trying to decide which one to tackle. I settled on the idea that would become Cash Crash Jubilee because it seemed most related to what was going on in the world then (circa 2011) and is still going on right now. I felt that I could write stories based on the other ideas five, ten years later and they would still be just as relevant, but this one was dying to get out there as quickly as possible so I went with it.
KC: What do you think makes Amon Kenzaki a compelling character?
EKPW: At first Amon seems like a highly-capable, disciplined, ambitious, intelligent, focused but slightly obsessive and naïve cheapskate. He tells himself that he cares about nothing but cutting down on action costs and getting promoted, but we can sense that there is more to him than that. Deep inside he possesses more basic drives, like the desire for companionship, and more noble drives, like the yearning for truth and justice. As the story progresses, these hidden dimensions of his character become clearer and I think it is the ever-closing gap between how he appears and who he is that makes him compelling.
KC: The novel takes on corporate control run amok, which is very timely, and also takes place in a future Tokyo. Why Tokyo? What kind of research did you do for the book?
EKPW: When l first thought up the concept for Cash Crash Jubilee as described above, my mind was brimming with visions of a futuristic Tokyo from such cyberpunk classics as the anime Akira, the film Bladerunner and the novel Neuromancer (technically Chiba, not Tokyo, but it might as well be Tokyo), which I had absorbed as a teenager. So when I reached into the cellar of my imagination for a place to set my nascent SF tale, this Asian metropolis was the first thing I found. As I said earlier, I didn’t get far in writing the story back then and set it aside until about a year after I moved to Japan. Living then amidst Tokyo’s unbelievably vast cityscape, immersed in the culture and language of Japan, there were so many fresh experiences from which to draw inspiration and it was only natural that I would go with my initial instinct for the setting. However, even now that the book has finally been published, I’m not sure whether my decision to set the story in Tokyo all those years ago is what unconsciously brought me here, or whether coming here is what made me decide after all to set it in Tokyo.
As for research, I did all sorts. I read a whole bunch of dystopian literature to make sure I wasn’t stealing anyone’s ideas (or of I was, that I was doing it intentionally) and some literary novels to develop my prose style. I read up on cryptography, the Internet of Things, so-called “augmented reality”, “mediated reality and “diminished reality” (not a big fan of these terms), ubiquitous computing, portable computing, artificial intelligence, etc. In learning about these topics, the theories of cyborg-inventor Steve Mann, who developed the technology behind Google Glass long before Google got into the game, were particularly useful and informative (he teaches at my alma mater but I have never met him). In developing various futuristic neologisms, I researched the etymologies of English words. To add texture to the setting, I read up on Tokyo, its present and history, on Japanese politics. I also did research into different myths including the Fisherking, Plato’s allegory of the cave, and of course the Jewish jubilee tradition, all of which are woven into the narrative.
KC: Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
EKPW: Although I have written for about as long as I’ve known how to read, my desire to become a writer only emerged about ten years ago. I’ve always enjoyed writing and sensed that I had a capacity for it, but I ran away from the idea of doing it professionally for most of my life, just like Orwell as he tells us in Why I Write (an essay that resonates strongly with me, like much of his writing).
I first started to think about writing seriously around the time I came up with the idea for Cash Crash Jubilee (I keep coming back to this, so I guess it must have been an important moment for me.) In my teenage years, I had tried to become a professional DJ but eventually realized that I have no talent for music, so I was searching around for something else to do with my life and just sort of gave in to an impulse that I’d been suppressing for a long time. I started publishing news articles in one of my university papers, which lead to writing for professional papers, and drafted several short stories/novellas for creative writing classes, which was a way of working myself up to a full-length novel.
A big turning point for me was when one of my teachers, a Canadian poet named Albert Moritiz, read some of my stories and basically told me I should give up on my grad school plans to become a novelist. Up to that point, I had wanted to become a writer but never really had the self-confidence to make the sacrifices that this path requires. Hearing these words of encouragement from a writer that I really respected like Professor Moritz made all the difference. His advice percolated in my mind for a while before I could fully accept it, but being able to draw on the memory of that day in his office helped me to go on in my moments of doubt and that is why I dedicated the novel to him (along with Lee Maracle and Maiko Takemoto).
KC: What are a few of your favorite books or authors?
EKPW: For the last few years, I have been alternating back and forth between reading a novel in Japanese and reading one in English.
The Japanese novel that made the biggest impact on me was Hardboiled Wonderland And The End of The World by Haruki Murakami, who is definitely one of my favourite authors. Also, Abe Kobo’s Woman of the Dunes, Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru and Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies are all masterpieces in their own ways.
As for the English side of things, some of my favorite authors and their books include: George Orwell’s 1984 as well as his essays; Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word For World Is Forest and The Left Hand Of Darkness; anything by Kurt Vonnegut; Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx And Crake, China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (and not the bowdlerized kid’s version, but the vile satiric original). Also, though this is literature written in German originally, anything by Franz Kafka but especially The Metamorphosis and The Trial.
If we’re talking philosophy anything by Plato but especially The Republic. Also, like Le Guin, one of my all time favorite books is the Dao De Ching.
KC: What are you currently reading?
EKPW: The Stranger (also translated as The Outsider) by Albert Camus, but I’m just getting started so I can’t comment yet. I recently read A Clockwork Orange, and thought that the slang lexicon Burgess invented just incredible. It reminded me of the dystopian section in Cloud Atlas, another book I read recently, where none of the SF terminology is defined or explained but the reader can still decode the meaning. Reading these books made me want to try my hand at writing a novel like this some day.
KC: What’s next for you? Are you planning to write more books in the world of Cash Crash Jubilee?
EKPW: As part of my contract with Skyhorse Publishing, I’m currently writing the sequel, The Naked World, and am also pleased to announce that we have just agreed on the contract for the third and final book in the Jubilee Cycle, so there will be two more books set in the same Tokyo as Cash Crash Jubilee (the series never leaves Tokyo broadly defined).
I also have an idea for a very near future prequel and a postapocalyptic tale that takes place hundreds of years later. However, it will probably be at least a decade before I get around to writing either of these (if ever), as I have outlines for two different novels set in present day Tokyo that I plan to write first. I would describe these as magic realist or slipstream, but it’s far too early to give anything else away.
Aside from writing novels, I’m also trying to get some short stories published and hope to break into literary translation (most of the translation I do now is technical). Last year, I was hired by a Japanese publisher to translate a coming-of-age novel by one of Japan’s leading writers, Ryo Asai, that I’m tentatively calling On The Cusp, but various issues (not connected to me directly) have blocked its publication. I’m hoping these will be sorted out soon, so my finished translation can be released as an ebook as planned. Either way, I plan to get my story translations published in the near future.
These various projects should keep me occupied for about the next decade if all goes as planned (which I’m certain it won’t, hopefully for the best).