While most local Utah authors have heard parts of this emotional story, there are many of us out there that haven’t heard all of it. I’ve asked Paul Genesse to come to the blog today to share about his experience bringing Zachary Hill’s vision to life.
Paul has generously allowed me to share the preface to Sakura: Intellectual Property with you.
From Paul –
Completing the Sakura novel for my deceased friend, Zachary Hill was a once in a lifetime project. Patrick Tracy and I took on this monumental task out of love for our friend. Below is the six-page preface I wrote. It’s the hardest five hours of writing in my life.
Preface to the Sakura: Intellectual Property Novel
by Paul Genesse
Zachary Hill will live forever in our hearts. He will also live on the pages of the many books he wrote and illustrated, and on the canvases he painted. Knowing him was an incredible blessing, and his sudden passing January 15, 2016, left his friends and family devastated and heartbroken.
Zach had so much to live for. He had finally met and married the love of his life, Mackenzie. Only a few days before their one-year wedding anniversary, he collapsed soon after arriving at work. CPR was performed, but he did not survive. A large blood clot had formed in his leg and traveled to his lungs. The pulmonary embolism took his life.
None of us wanted his story to end. There was so much more that was supposed to happen. He was only thirty-eight years old, and the best years were ahead of him. He was called back to his celestial home far too early.
At his wake, with tears in my eyes, I stood beside his open casket and made a vow to friends and family that his last book would be published. Six days before he left us, Zach told me he had finished the first draft. I agreed to be the editor, and together, we were going to develop Sakura into the best novel he’d ever written. He was so excited about this book, and his idea was brilliant. Set in a dystopian future Japan, Sakura, a heavy metal–singing android is hacked and turned into an assassin. She fights her programming, trying to stop a secret cabal who is taking over the world.
Creating Sakura’s unique character was arguably Zach’s greatest literary accomplishment, and her story needed to be told. Eight months after Zach’s death, Joshua Hill, Zach’s twin brother, completed a light edit on the manuscript and sent along the file, which was 378 pages (92,000 words) and had the working title Intellectual Property.
I couldn’t muster the courage to read it for some time. The pain was too raw. Every time I opened the document, I got choked up and was only able to read a few pages, which was Josh’s experience as well.
Also, I was in the middle of finishing book four and five in my Iron Dragon series and used that project to distract myself from the grief. Zach was a fan, and to keep myself going, I would think, “Zach would want me to finish.” I eventually completed book four and was 45,000 words into book five when I realized I needed to stop my project and work on Zach’s novel. If I didn’t, it would be more than three years before Zach’s last book came out.
I finally read the first draft and began the rewrite on March 5, 2017, finishing my first draft on December 31, 2017. I incorporated Zach’s prose and wrote a lot of my own, expanding the summary chapters he wrote into full-fledged scenes. The final novel grew from 93K to 156K. I had recruited my best friend, one of Zach’s great friends, Patrick M. Tracy to help. Pat is an expert on heavy metal, a guitar player, and an amazing writer who writes incredible emotional punches.
Pat and I were in a gaming group and writers’ group with Zach, and we bonded over many hours at Larry Correia’s house, playing samurai in our Legend of the Five Rings role-playing game campaign. Larry has written the foreword and I’m so grateful for his help getting the word out about this book.
I could not do this project alone. Patrick and I forged ahead with the full support of Josh and Zach’s extended family. We read that original draft and brainstormed about our approach to an early version of the manuscript, which explored the meaning of life, artificial intelligence, philosophy, theoretical computing, value higher than self, rebellion, and the true meaning of heavy metal.
The character and story were awesome, but it needed to be fleshed out, expanded, and structured. Zach’s process would have seen him rewrite it multiple times, and we had to imagine the directions he would have taken. Over the course of twenty-one months, Pat and I spent hundreds of hours brainstorming and working on the novel as we sent it back and forth to each other.
We’ve never worked harder or longer on a book. This was a big deal for us, and we felt our self-imposed pressure to capture Zach’s vision. Some of Zach’s original prose is still in this novel, and the overall story is his, as are the characters, but we had to redream the dream, figure out what Zach would have done, and stay true to his vision as we took first-draft scenes and polished them. We had moments of self-doubt, but we persevered in the end.
We took on this project because we love Zach and wanted to honor him. It was also a way for us to grieve and come together and bring hope to his family and friends. We did it for them, and we did it for free.
All the profit from this project goes to Mackenzie, Zach’s widow. Zach’s father, George Hill Sr., Patrick Tracy, and I funded this. Many others donated their time and energy to help complete the book, as it takes a team. We were able to hire an amazing artist, Sarah Steigers, who did the cover and interior illustrations, and who spent so much extra time getting things just right. She made Sakura and the characters come to life, and her work is stunning.
Devon Dorrity’s cover design is also incredible, and we are so fortunate for his support, guidance, and expertise. Bradley Beaulieu’s development editing took this to the next level, and Jennie Stevens’s copyediting was awesome. The layout by Caryn Larrinaga in the high-quality, limited edition, signed, and numbered hardcover will make the entire book a work of art.
The support we’ve received has been wonderful, and this is the best and most important project of my life. We believe that Zach would love all of this, and we’ve felt him encouraging us along the way. He’s probably looking down on us, wearing his trademark “Elvis glasses,” which he wore in Iraq and for years upon returning home. He led a fascinating life, and his experiences led him to this story. His gentle soul and big heart are embodied by the title character of his novel, Sakura. As you read, you may see some similarities.
George Hill IV, Zach’s eldest brother wrote this passage: “He was an artist, a historian, a teacher, a two-tour combat veteran, and a prolific writer. He was a true warrior poet who always sought peace. He loved to play games and spend time with his family and friends. Zach was also a traveler. He adventured in other countries. He served his two-year mission for his church in Mexico, and he taught English in Japan and spent time in Italy. He served his country in the darkest places in Iraq and was a legitimate war hero. Now he’s gone to the Undiscovered Country. While he’s away from us for the time being, we know we will see him again.”
Until then, we celebrate his life and his final creative work. Sakura: Intellectual Property is a project born of love. This novel brings together fiction and music in a unique way. This is a love letter to heavy metal, and Sakura is always thinking about music. The playlists at the beginning of each of the chapters contain songs by bands that Zach loved. We also added tracks that resonated with the story and helped us see the way forward.
Fans of heavy metal who are immersed in the culture may understand this at a deeper level, but casual fans will also read the song titles and album names and understand the relational meaning in the text. There are so many little nuggets hidden in this book that relate to Zach’s life, including the numeric designation of the army units he served in, along with music and movies he loved.
Follow the link to the Sakura channel on YouTube (link here) to listen to each of the playlists for the chapters. As you read, you can listen to the corresponding playlist. Many of the songs are mentioned in the chapter and go along with the text in tone and meaning. For copyright reasons, we were unable to use any of the real lyrics in the book, but we wrote parody lyrics of some songs if they are mentioned at all. We also wrote songs, and Callie Stoker recorded one of them in the studio of the legendary Craig Nybo. Please listen to it when it occurs in the book.
So many people have given their time and energy to this project, and we are determined to make it an artistic and commercial success—for Zach, for Mackenzie, and all his friends and family. We would love to sell the rights for this to be made into a manga, an anime, or a live-action movie. Any profit would go to Mackenzie. Please get in touch if you can help us or have contacts who could.
Thank you for your support and for reading this book. We need your reviews and especially need you to tell your friends about this. We want to get the word out to everyone who might be interested, anyone who wants to rock and go on a heavy metal thrill ride.
Through his writing, Zachary Hill will always be remembered. We invite you to take this journey to future Japan to find out, once and for all, if rock ’n’ roll can save the world. We believe it can.
December 2, 2018