Last month I read and reviewed Cash Crash Jubilee, debut author Eli K.P. William’s unique take on a futuristic Tokyo. I’m so happy to have him on the blog today answering some of my questions about the book and his writing practices.
Please welcome Eli to Books, Bones & Buffy!
BB&B: To start with, can you give us an idea of what readers can expect when they crack open the pages of Cash Crash Jubilee?
EKPW: 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’re 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.
Your idea of a digital-heavy future was so interesting, but also terrifying. How did your ideas for such a crazy future come about?
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 hard drive 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 that this one was dying to get out there as quickly as possible.
I understand you currently live and work in Tokyo. Obviously doing research for your series is much easier when you live in the city you’re writing about. Did you story idea come about because you live in Tokyo, or was it the other way around: did you move there to do research?
When I first came up with the concept behind Cash Crash Jubilee, my mind was brimming with visions of a futuristic Tokyo from such 1980s works as the anime Akira, the film Bladerunner (technically Los Angeles but inspired by Tokyo) and the novel Neuromancer (technically Chiba but 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. But I didn’t develop my world any further back then because, as I said, I abandoned the story for 7 years. Once I was finally living in Tokyo, amidst its 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 novel has 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.
If you were able to have or experience just one of the BodyBank digital functions that Amon has, which one would you choose?
The Mindfulator. There are so many distractions nowadays, it would be wonderful to have something there to remind me to pay attention to what I’m doing.
I lived in Tokyo for a year back in college, and to this day it’s still one of the highlights of my life. What are your favorite things to do or places to go when you aren’t working or writing?
One of my favorite places on the weekend is Yoyogi Park. I would describe it as Tokyo’s Washington Square Park but forested and 100 times bigger. Everywhere you look people are doing their own thing: picnicking, acrobatics, magic shows, hacky-sack, capoeira, skateboarding, drumming. Creative energy and good vibes float around all day long, giving you this nice, warm, tingly feeling. Then the sun goes down and suddenly an eerie darkness creeps out from the woods and you find yourself in Pan’s Labyrinth, unsure whether you’re dreaming or awake, but mortally afraid that some weird fascist fairy demon is going to come and cut your face open. But of course it’s Tokyo. So everything’s safe. No demons. Just portly little security guards on grandma bicycles. Hah hah.
Another place I love is my old neighborhood, Yanesen, because it’s one of the few areas in Tokyo that survived the American firebombing and has managed to retain its prewar streetscape. In the spring and fall, I like to go there and walk down the snaking narrow streets, just soaking up the quant traditional atmosphere.
My favorite thing to do when I’m not working right now is practice street dance. My suspicion is that I’m unconsciously compensating for the lack of androids in my novel by trying to master the robot.
Ha Ha! And you’ve made me curious about visiting Yoyogi Park at night…I always love hearing about an author’s favorite books. Can you tell us the last really good book you read?
The first book that comes to mind is Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami, an author known outside of Japan as “the other Murakami” or as I like to call him Ryu “The Dragon” Murakami (the ideogram for “Ryu” means “dragon”). Cases of mothers leaving their newborn babies to die in coin lockers were common in Japan around 1980 when the book was published, and this novel is the life story of two boys that miraculously survive. Murakami does his empathetic best to imagine what it would be like for them to grow up knowing how they came into the world. What he ends up with is a vile, surreal, episodic, sprawling bildungsroman with the craziest ending ever. To give you an idea, Imagine Alex’s droogs in A Clockwork Orange spliced with the cast of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then transported into the The World According to Garp, except it’s a near future Japan envisioned in the late 70s. Can’t picture it? Read the book!
I will! I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I bought a copy of Coin Locker Babies when it was released, but it’s been languishing on my bookshelves ever since.
What’s up next? Are you currently working on book two in your Jubilee Cycle, or do you have something else in the works?
As part of my contract with Skyhorse Publishing, I’m currently writing the sequel, The Naked World, which takes place in the same future Tokyo (albeit in a radically different district), and which should be out some time next year. I’m also happy to report that I have recently contracted with Skyhorse for the third and final book of the Jubilee Cycle. After I’ve finished this trilogy in 2017, I have several novel ideas waiting for me, none of which are SF. The first one I’m hoping to tackle takes place in present day Tokyo and is probably best categorized as slipstream or magic realism, but it’s far too early to give anything else away.
Aside from writing novels, I’m developing some short stories 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 although the translation is now finished, various issues (not connected to me directly) have blocked its publication. With any luck 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.
Please tell us three things about yourself that can’t be found on your website.
i) Although I wouldn’t describe myself as religious or even spiritual, I practice mindfulness meditation on an almost daily basis.
ii) Although I was raised in Canada, I am also a British citizen and want to try living in the UK some day.
iii) I have only ever lived in cities with names beginning “To” and ending with “o” (Toronto and Tokyo).
Awesome interview, thanks for joining me, Eli!
Eli K.P. William is the 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.
Read my review of Cash Crash Jubilee