Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Interview with Eli K. P. William, author of Cash Crash Jubilee, and Review & Giveaway - May 5, 2015

Please welcome Eli K. P. William to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Cash Crash Jubilee is published today by Talos Press. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Eli a Happy Publication Day!

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Eli:  The first time I can remember writing fiction was in the fourth grade. The teacher asked us to do some sort of assignment in our class journals, and as a way of slacking off I wrote a story. My only memory of this story (no copy survives that I'm aware of) is of men leaping about on dusty cliffs shooting each other with plasma blasters, surely some cliche pastiche of the cartoons and comics I was absorbing at the time. This was around the beginning of the school year and I was expecting my new teacher to react angrily, as my third grade teacher always had when I broke the rules, but he was surprisingly encouraging, seeming to approve of my creativity. So, seeing that I could get away with it, I went on to fill my journal with fictional scribbling for the rest of the year. And I continued to submit stories, surreal gags and other silliness right up to my final year of high school whenever I didn't feel like doing a bit of homework or didn't have the answer to a question on a test. Some teachers were similarly encouraging or just found it amusing; most were indignant and vengeful.

So I guess I started writing as a form of juvenile disobedience, inspired by fictional characters like Bart Simpson. It was a way for me to defend my imagination from the stifling power of standardized education (my favourite song at around the age of ten was Pink Floyd's Brick In The Wall, which I now sing occasionally at karaoke in my more rebellious moods) and prevent my spirit from being squashed by teachers, the basis for whose authority no one could ever persuasively explain.

My first stab at serious writing, however, wasn't until the end of high school, but that's a whole other topic.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Eli:  Neither or both. On the one hand, when I try to write outlines, my scenes begin to develop without my planning them, as though writing themselves. On the other hand, when I try to write without an outline, I'll find myself seeing into the future, as it were, of my fictional world, which sort of gives me my plot out of nowhere. In the case of Cash Crash Jubilee, the writing process was complicated. I started with a concept, then wrote scenes, then developed characters, then outlined, then did research, then redeveloped the concept and characters, then went back to the plot, then wrote scenes, then did more research, etc., etc. I was inching along on this circular course until one day the ending to the whole series came to me in a flash (though at this point I still believed it was a single novel, not a series, and it would be several months before I looked up average word counts and saw that I was already way over. The naivety of first time novelists!). For the book I plan to write after the Jubilee Cycle, I’m hoping to work without an outline and instead improvise off the characters, concept and setting, but sudden insights into the plot may overturn this plan and, in the end, I suspect it will unfold in a similarly haphazard fashion.

I think I write best when the story grows organically, but unfortunately that isn't something within my control. It either comes or it doesn't and all I can do is write everyday and hope.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Eli:  Being concise. Whether it’s newspaper articles, short stories or novels, I pump out first drafts quickly, but they're always too long. After this follows an excruciating process of "murdering my darlings", that is, of cutting out unneeded sentences to meet the editor's word count. To put a positive spin on my weakness, I just have too much to say.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Eli:  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. Although the subject matter and structure of this novel are entirely different from Cash Crash Jubilee, I tried to adapt its style of storytelling, where the reader is dropped into a state of intrigued bewilderment and then gradually shown what's going on. 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.

On the English side of things, I think some of my influences will be obvious from reading the book: Orwell, William Gibson, Phillip K. Dick. Also Kafka of course. Other less obvious influences include: Ursula K. Le Guin, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, Jonathan Swift and Plato.

TQ:  Describe Cash Crash Jubilee.

Eli:  In a near future Tokyo, all actions, from laughing to scratching an itch, are intellectual properties owned by corporations that charge licensing fees. The protagonist, Amon Kenzaki, works as a Liquidator for the Global Action Transaction Authority, his job being to cash crash bankrupt citizens and banish them to Bankdeath Camps, where they are cut off forever from the action-transaction economy. In the beginning, he is obsessed with frugality and job promotion because he’s trying to save enough money to visit a mysterious forest he sees in his dreams. But his plans are disrupted when he is assigned to cash crash an upstanding politician he admires, his best friend disappears, and, worst of all, he is charged for an exorbitantly-priced action called “jubilee” that he never performed. Soon, he feels compelled to investigate, but this forces him to confront the bewildering bureaucracy he serves and many of his cherished beliefs about the world he inhabits begin to unravel.

TQ:  Tell us something about Cash Crash Jubilee that is not in the book description.

Eli:  This is not merely a story of man versus bureaucracy. It is also about the relationship between three friends, Amon, Rick Ferro and Mayuko Takamatsu, and how they cope with existence in a hypercapitalist, info-saturated world.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Cash Crash Jubilee? Did you always plan to write a Science Fiction novel? Are there additional genre(s) in which Cash Crash Jubilee might fit?

Eli:  In the 2003 Canadian documentary The Corporation, there's a section about how the World Bank forced Bolivia to privatize its public water infrastructure as a condition for a loan. The American multinational corporation, Betchel, then gained ownership of all water in the city of Cochabamba, including even rain, and began to charge citizens what was in some cases a quarter of their income just to drink it. This got me thinking: if such a basic necessity as water could be commodified, then what about air? Or pieces of sidewalk? Or sunlight? From these ruminations, I was lead to the idea of a world in which literally every molecule is private property owned and traded by different companies. But as I was fleshing this out, I realized that there had to be some practical way for the authorities to ensure that people paid for using such commodities. So I came up with the concept of defining property in terms of actions. It wouldn’t be the air as such that was owned but the act of breathing it and so on. Part of the reason I eventually settled on this second version of my idea was that it connects more closely to the basic tension between free will and fate (or determinism) that runs through world literature (and philosophy) and so makes for a more interesting story.

As far as I can remember, I never thought about writing a novel until after I had graduated from high school and this was when I came up with the idea just mentioned, so the first novel I thought of writing happened to be SF. However, my short stories and the ideas I have for future novels are closer to magic realism, surrealism or slipstream.

In addition to the labels dystopian SF, cyberpunk and postcyberpunk, I think Cash Crash Jubilee can be read as a satire, a thriller, an allegorical mashup, and as an incredibly drawn-out thought experiment.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Cash Crash Jubilee?

Eli:  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 relevant (he happens to teach 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 myth of Gyges, and of course the Jewish jubilee tradition, all of which are woven into the narrative.

TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Eli:  Amon was the easiest because he’s kind of like me.

The hardest was Mayuko because she was my first ever prominent female character.

I know you didn’t ask me, but the funnest to write was Amon's boss, Sekido, because he’s so nuts.

TQ:  Which question about Cash Crash Jubilee do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Eli:  You are a Japanese-English translator. Did this have an influence on how you wrote Cash Crash Jubilee?

Yes. Absolutely. I’ve used my knowledge of the Japanese language and culture extensively in writing this novel. For example, technically the characters are all speaking in Japanese and much of the advertainment I include was inspired by Japanese media. Also, as I was writing the novel, some of it came into my head in Japanese first, at which point I had to translate my thoughts into English before putting them into words on the page, and I often translated the English text into Japanese in my head in order to make sure that it made sense in its ostensible linguistic environment. This means, in my way of thinking at least, that Cash Crash Jubilee is partially a translation already, and I’m looking forward to having it translated into Japanese (or perhaps "back-translated" is a better way to say it). As my understanding of Japanese and the craft of translation deepens further, I’m hoping to develop this mental translation approach in my future writing.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Cash Crash Jubilee.

Eli:  Here's one from the climax:

"With fading inertia, the merry-go-round gradually slowed, like a roulette wheel before the decisive moment."

And how about a silly line from Sekido:

"Very observant, Kenzaki. As always I applaud you inwardly, with tiny imaginary hands."

TQ:  What's next?

Eli:  Well, I’m working away at the sequel, The Naked World, as part of my contract with Skyhorse Publishing. I’m gradually developing two novels set in present day Tokyo that I would classify as magic realist and that I’m planning to write after I've finished the Jubilee Cycle. I’m trying to get some old short stories published and writing new ones. Hopefully I can squeeze in a few newspaper articles too.

I also hope to break into literary translation (most of the translation I do now is technical or business related). 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 am 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).

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Eli:  Thank you very much for having me.

Cash Crash Jubilee
Series:  Jubilee Cycle 1
Publisher:  Talos Press, May 5, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 392 pages
List Price:  $25.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781940456270 (print)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

A cyber-dystopian world unlike any other

In a near future Tokyo, every action from blinking to sexual intercourse is intellectual property owned by corporations that charge licensing fees. A BodyBank computer system implanted in each citizen records their movements from moment to moment, and connects them to the audio-visual overlay of the ImmaNet, so that every inch of the metropolis crawls with information and shifting cinematic promotainment.

Amon Kenzaki works as a Liquidator for the Global Action Transaction Authority. His job is to capture bankrupt citizens, remove their BodyBank, and banish them to BankDeath Camps where they are forever cut off from the action-transaction economy. Amon always plays by the rules and is steadily climbing the Liquidation Ministry ladder.

With his savings accumulating and another promotion just around the corner, everything seems to be going well, until he is asked to cash crash a charismatic politician and model citizen, and soon after is charged for an incredibly expensive action called "jubilee" that he is sure he never performed. To restore balance to his account, Amon must unravel the secret of jubilee, but quickly finds himself asking dangerous questions about the system to which he's devoted his life, and the costly investigation only drags him closer and closer to the pit of bankruptcy.

In book one of the Jubilee Cycle, Cash Crash Jubilee, debut novelist Eli K. P. William wields the incisive power of speculative fiction to show how, in a world of corporate finance run amok, one man will do everything for the sake of truth and justice.

Trinitytwo's Point of View

Imagine a world where you are charged a fee for every breath, blink and sigh. Where corporations control the rights to most of your bodily functions and the basics you take for granted like chewing, sitting, and talking, cost you money. In this world, when a person comes of age, an internal body bank CPU is installed. The BodyBank, a nano computer system, records and tallies the majority of bodily functions and payment is then made to the corporation who owns each function’s license. At this time citizens are also fitted with contact lenses that superimpose a 3D digital world over their mundane reality. With these special lenses everyone and everything has a digital overlay so for a price, flaws can just be programmed away. Everyone, except those unfortunate bankrupts who have “cash crashed” and are exiled to bankdeath camps in the District of Dreams.

Amon Kenzaki is an exceptionally frugal citizen. Amon is proud of pinching pennies by texting instead of speaking, blinking less, and constantly controlling the urge to scratch or massage his forehead. He works as a Liquidator; his job is to highlight potential bankrupts for counseling and, with the help of his partner and best friend Rick, to incapacitate the newly bankrupt until they are picked up by Collection Agents. Once collected, the bankrupts are taken to the Archives where all their information is uploaded and stored before they are stripped of their BodyBank and taken to a bankdeath camp.

Cash Crash Jubilee is the first book in the Jubilee Cycle series. Eli K. P. William meticulously constructs a future where people have become so attached to technology that it has destroyed the importance of human relationships. This “free world” is a dispassionate place where children have no parents or family, they grow up in places called BioPens and a SubMom watches over them. Thinking is still free but it seems to me that Amon spends little time using his mind to do more than to find new ways to save money. He lives in a solitary bubble of his own making, relying on technology over social interactions. His lifestyle seems like a commentary of our current generation’s addiction to texting, videogames, and the internet. However, due to this, I felt as if Amon was practically bereft of personality. I looked at this world through his detached point of view and wasn’t hooked, partially due to the fact that Amon’s character develops so slowly. It isn’t until the ending that the protagonist begins to wake up which made for some sluggish reading.

William does a phenomenal job laying out the ground work with his rendering of this cyber world. His dystopian Tokyo is fascinating and his vivid description is truly impressive. If you’re looking for first rate world building or an inventive and thought-provoking view of humanity’s potential future, I would recommend this book. Its warning of relying too much on technology is an eye-opening cautionary statement.

About Eli

Eli K. P. William is the author of cyber-dystopian novel Cash Crash Jubilee, published by Talos Press (an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing). Originally from Toronto, he now works in Tokyo as a Japanese-English translator and has written articles for the Japan Times, the Pacific Rim Review of Books and Now Magazine. In addition to absorbing his fair share of literature, philosophy, movies and comics, he also practices streetdance, and is one of those rare SF writers who is proficient at the robot.

Twitter @Dice_Carver

The Giveaway

What:  Five entrants will each win a copy of Cash Crash Jubilee by Eli K. P. William from the publisher. US ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on May 15, 2015. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thanks for this fascinating feature and wonderful giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  2. This sounds fascinating. What a horrifying but totally plausible world. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.