Excalibur Books presents an exclusive interview with the co-creators of the best-selling Cyberpunk SF phenomenon “Sakura: Intellectual Property” – Paul Genesse and Patrick Tracy!
How did this project come about?
Patrick: Our dear friend, Zach Hill, had been working on a novel he hoped to be his big breakthrough, a story he felt would be his best work to date. Paul and I had been friends with him for years, and we were both committed to helping him out with this project. I had read the first few chapters for early critique and fallen in love with the story. Paul had agreed to be a development editor for the manuscript, to make sure that it got all the attention it needed.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Zach collapsed at work, passing away soon thereafter from a pulmonary embolism. Our whole group of friends were devastated, crushed. While we couldn’t do anything to heal the wounds of his premature passing, we knew we had to do something. Zach was only 37 years old.
We swore to take his exploratory draft, Intellectual Property, to fruition. We’d make it an epic last novel, pouring everything we could into the project. I don’t think Paul or myself knew what the journey would be like when we agreed to undertake it. We didn’t know how tough it would be, or how wonderful the experience would end up being. We’ve been able to work with so many wonderful artists. The team that brought this book to print are all legends, all brilliant badasses. We can’t always control what happens in life, but we can control how we react to those events.
What originally inspired Zachary to start the Sakura novel?
Patrick: Zach had always been a big fan of Japanese culture. We played together in a roleplaying game called “Legend of the Five Rings”, where we took the part of samurai in a fantastical version of Japan. One of his favorite fandoms was the kaiju movies, like Godzilla. He actually spent time in Japan, teaching colloquial English. His experiences there led him to want to create the manuscript that would end up being Sakura. He wanted to roll the zeitgeist of vocaloids like Hatsune Miku together with his beloved hard rock and heavy metal music. For the “meat” of the plot, he envisioned an android heroine discovering her individual initiative while fighting for her freedom.
Who exactly is the main character, Sakura?
Sakura is a purpose-built android whose primary programming allows her to be a brilliant musician and singer. At the same time, she’s been given the power of a whole server farm filled with supercomputers and a battle-hardened chassis built of carbon fiber and high-tech alloy. Still innocent and idealistic at the beginning of the story, the challenges and heartbreak that befall her allow her to become a fully-realized artificial intelligence. Not human. More than human.
What are your personal opinions on the Cyberpunk genre?
Patrick: Cyberpunk and its related genres have great emotional strength, because they are believable futures. Scary futures. They aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams. They’re places where a lot has gone wrong, and the heroes begin with the odds stacked against them. On the other hand, they can sometimes be joyless and depressing. As we tuned Sakura: Intellectual Property, we had to constantly find a balance in tone. Keeping things difficult, but letting a little light and hope seep in.
The novel has a scarily authentic portrayal of a near-future Japan: rebuilding after a war with North Korea, areas such as Shibuya declining into slums, a population hypnotized by VR entertainment. How did you manage to get the feel of Japan right?
Patrick: One thing we did was have literally hundreds of hours of strategy sessions and brainstorming during the process. We’d talk all evening sometimes, thinking of the broader scope of what the big world events might be. Paul did a great deal of reading about Japan, its shrinking population, its culture. We talked about technology, thinking about what amplifications of what is occurring now. Everyone’s more isolated by digital involvement now. In considering where that would lead, we just tried to cook all of that into the dystopia we were portraying.
Paul: I visited Japan once for two weeks and went to many of the locations in the novel. I have always been fascinated with the country and people, and have done a lot of research. Zach and I would talk about Japan often, and he shared his thoughts with me. He also visited many of the locations in the book. Patrick and I used his rough draft to flesh out the story and my firsthand experiences helped a lot. It’s shocking to think of a future post-war Japan and to consider the population decline, but also to think of currently vibrant areas falling into impoverished slums.
Artwork by Sarah Steigers
How do you explain ‘Vocaloid’ to someone who’s never heard of it?
I think that pop stars, even altogether organic ones, are fabricated personae. What we see up on stage is carefully crafted, a façade, a mask. A vocaloid just takes things one step further. In the current technological landscape, they are animated characters that present the songs. In the future, imagine being able to build your pop stars from scratch. Creating your own aesthetic ideals, telling your chosen story, singing your chosen sort of songs. And in Sakura’s case, actually incarnating into a Heavy Metal Goddess.
Why did you decide to make this an illustrated novel?
Early on, we knew we wanted to cook as much multimedia into this book as we could. We wanted it to be an EXPERIENCE. Maybe we can’t bring about the technical wizardry we talk about in the book, but we knew it had to be special, more than just a bunch of pages with text on them. We are fortunate enough to know some wonderful artists, and Sarah Steigers agreed to do the portraiture for us. And she absolutely killed it. We couldn’t be happier.
Paul: Sarah Steigers is a brilliant artist and her cover and the twelve interior portraits are stunning. I worked as the art director and we spent two years on the illustrations and cover. I first worked with Sarah on my Iron Dragon novels and I’m so thankful to have met and become her friend.
You’re both acclaimed novelists in your own right. What genres do you work in?
The first love for both of us has to be fantasy. Paul and I are of the generation who were weaned on Tolkien. Swords and dragons and all of it. We’ve worked in horror and sci-fi, as well. Paul’s orchestrated big musical productions. We’ve both done some lyric writing. I’ve been known to write a poem now and then. I’ve recently begun doing some game design, as well.
What literary works have inspired you?
Paul: Both Patrick and I are inspired by Lord of the Rings and J.R.R. Tolkein. We are also in awe of the American novelist, James Lee Burke. His prose is brilliant. Dune by Frank Herbert had a big impact. As far as style, we each very different styles, but blend them together to create something more engaging than we might be able to do alone. My style is more akin to Michael Stackpole, who has written both sci-fi and fantasy with thriller elements.
What books are you reading at the moment?
Paul: Patrick and I are almost always listening to or reading something by James Lee Burke. I’m reading “Rain Gods” by him while Patrick is reading “The Jealous Kind.” We also have a ton of writer friends and are often reading their books. I’m a big fan of Michaelbrent Collings, and I’m reading his novel, Predators. Also, I’m reading Zero Sum Game by Cody L. Martin.
How are your working days structured? Do you have a special time of day for writing?
Patrick: For me, it’s typically after work. Evenings and late nights.
Paul: I work at night and then on weekends during the day. I’m a sprinter, not a “few pages a day” guy. When I’m in the thick of a book, I’ll work for many hours day and night.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Patrick: I began as an exploratory writer, but I typically use an outline for larger works now. That being said, every project works differently. Sometimes, you need the freedom to pivot. The less structure you begin with, the more rewrites you’ll have to do. Paul’s an outliner. He plots everything with an intricate hand.
You put an extensive playlist into the chapters, as pop & rock music is an integral plot point and theme in the novel. What are you listening to at the moment?
Patrick: At this actual moment, I’m listening to Battle Beast’s new album, “No More Hollywood Endings”. Both Paul and I are going to a live show tonight with Wolfheart, Swallow the Sun, and Children of Bodom. I’m afraid I’ve turned Paul into a metalhead during this whole venture. I just got him hooked on Swallow the Sun’s “When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light.”
If the novel was adapted into a live-action film, which actors/actresses would play the leads?
Paul: We would have to find the two most brilliant Japanese actresses to play Sakura and Kunoichi. I don’t know who exactly, and would love to hear recommendations.
How do you relax, if you ever get time to relax?
Patrick: I play the guitar and the bass. I also do traditional archery and lift weights.
Paul: I binge on TV shows watching entire seasons. Lately it’s been Mr. Robot, about a hacker, and Humans, about androids.
How can readers find out more about your works?
Patrick: Please check out pmtracy.com, which has links to all my malarkey.
Paul: Visit the official Sakura page on my website to learn more about the book, and all my other works, including my bestselling Iron Dragon series, short stories and anthologies I’ve edited. Thank you for reading. Rock on!
Artwork by Sarah Steigers