Interview with Sarah Neofield

Published 2019-11-09.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have wanted to be an author ever since I can remember. When I started school, my class was tasked with creating fabric representations of ourselves in the future for a quilt. I created a rather detailed rendition of myself as an author, painstakingly drawing in all of the individual pages in the stack of books my future self had apparently written. Unfortunately, one of the mums helping the class deemed it 'too fiddly' to cut out of cotton, and suggested something easier, like a checkout operator at Target instead.
As things go, I didn't end up working at Target (which is probably a good thing, considering the only Target in my hometown closed down!). But I did end up writing a book. Several, actually. After completing my PhD in Linguistics, I wrote and edited a number of academic books, book chapters, and journal articles. While I still love research, my heart still lie with fiction, which was why, after a number of years of hard-core saving and investing, when my husband and I finally quit our jobs to travel the world, I returned to my first love, creative writing.
As for why I became an indie author specifically... Like many authors, I began by sending my manuscript out to publishers. I knew I didn't want to send my work to a large publisher from the start, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of even a small publisher having control over my work as time went on. While I completely respect the work of those in the publishing industry, I wanted to write something a bit different. It was a feeling I'd experienced before, and I knew that I had to be brave and go down the indie path.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Coming across Smashwords and reading Mark Coker's books and blog posts about the philosophy behind the platform was like a breath of fresh air. The publishing industry has undergone a lot of change in the past couple of decades. Some of these transformations have been wonderful for both readers and writers, like the growing acceptance of ebooks. Others have been disastrous - like the price fixing of electronic editions, restrictive digital rights management that doesn't respect user's rights, and publishers penalising libraries that try to make books more accessible. Big names in big publishing have attacked the quality of indie work in the press, all the while cutting marketing and even editing budgets for the books they produce, which means either bigger costs for authors, or a worse product for readers.
Smashwords provides a way for authors to get their work into the big online stores in a way that doesn't require them to have a whole team of assistants, and which respects the rights of the readers, allowing authors to offer their books to libraries, and to make them DRM free.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The goal of my writing is to influence people. To make them laugh, and then think.
My greatest joy is when someone tells me that my book made them laugh - or cry.
I hope to bring joy to others with my words, but more importantly, I hope to use humour to get readers to engage with the kinds of topics that are hugely important, but which we might otherwise ignore.
Sometimes the world's problems can seem insurmountable. Like there's nothing we can do, so why even bother.
That's why hearing that someone read my book, and changed their mind even a little about, for example, treating our fellow human beings with compassion, brings me great joy.
What do your fans mean to you?
I am so appreciative of everyone who has taken the time to read my books and spend time with my characters. As an avid reader myself, I know as well as anyone how many books there are on your ereader, on your nightstand, on your 'to-be-read' list, or just out there in the world. So I truly appreciate your time and your support. I hope that my words resonate with you, and that you'll pass them on to others who will relate - or who need to hear their message.
What are you working on next?
I've got a number of projects on the go (I've always been a hopeless multitasker!) but the project I'm most excited about is called Propaganda Wars. It's about cousins who, growing up in a city separated by ideology, split into two opposing countries by a formidable wall, one day meet - and how they perceive life on the other side.
It's inspired in part by my travels through the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and modern-day socialist Asia, and in part by the surreal world of today's fake news, 'reality' shows, 'social' media and hyper consumerism.
Who are your favorite authors?
I'm a fan of almost every genre, but I especially love books with a message - in particular, those categorised as 'social novels', of which Robert Tressell's 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' would have to be my favourite.
I also love pretty much everything George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Max Barry, John Kennedy Toole, Jodi Picoult,
There are certain humourous books that invariably bring joy to my life, my ever-constant companions I can pick up and read whenever I feel sad, and they invariably bring a smile to my face. Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and P.G. Wodehouse are all in this category (I love British humour!)
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Life is short. There is so much I want to do, and I already know that, no matter how many more days I'm blessed with, I will never have enough time to do everything I want.
For most of history - up to and including the early 19th century - chances are, I'd be dead by now.
I don't want to waste a second.
(Also, I enjoy hot places where the sun wakes me up naturally in the morning!)
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Since quitting my job teaching and researching linguistics and computer-mediated communication a few years ago, I've been traveling the world with my husband, volunteering, sightseeing, and working on various projects. I continue to write non-fiction language-related stuff, and I maintain a blog about language and money at enrichmentality.com.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Since I started travelling full-time, ebooks have become more important to me than ever. While I still love browsing bricks-and-mortar bookstores, most of the time I do so now, it's to find books that I later want to download electronically! I'm extremely lucky that my local libraries (I have an obscene number of library cards!) back home let me access their catalogues via Libby, Overdrive and Cloud Library from anywhere in the world, and I've discovered lots of new indie-published ebooks through these apps, which has been fantastic.
I love the #bookstagram community on Instagram and find lots of wonderful books to read that way. I'm also a big fan of just browsing the pages of sites like Smashwords and other retailers to find out what's new.
Then, of course, I have a select group of friends whose advice on books I trust implicitly, and I'll buy pretty much whatever they say!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Although I can remember sitting in a corner at kindergarten making books out of construction paper, taking extreme care to ensure the thickness of the spine and the cover dimensions seemed to be proportional, I don't recall the first story I ever wrote. I do recall one I wrote not long afterwards, however, which I discovered on an old hard-drive many years later: it was about a planet which had been completely hollowed out due to mining, and only existed in the form of the great tubes people lived in which had once been wrapped around the soil like a ball of yarn.
What is your writing process?
My writing process varies a lot depending on the story I'm writing. Sometimes I will begin with an idea in mind, and work out a plot from that, other times, I'm more intrigued by a character or a place, and have to write the first draft to discover what it's 'about' for myself. But always, I need a message of some description. A touchstone to come back to, and against which every decision I make will be assessed.
Usually, I write on my laptop, but if I'm travelling, I type on my phone (large chunks of Number Eight Crispy Chicken were written while I was actually stranded at the airport that inspired the story!) When I get stuck, I go for a walk with my husband or alone, and talk my way through it, recording the conversation or monologue to type up later (I used to work as a transcriber, so that kind of thing is fun for me!) And of course, I carry a journal everywhere to jot down ideas by hand.
All of my fiction is based in part on real-life facts and statistics, so my writing process inevitably includes a large amount of reading and research. I would estimate that I read or listen to well over 100 books and articles and documentaries and podcasts in the course of writing a novel. The bulk of my 'writing process' is probably actually reading!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first book I remember reading was, aptly enough, a book about reading - Matilda, by Roald Dahl. I can't say for sure that it was the first story I read, as I certainly read many thin little 'booklet' style books that (even then!) in my view, didn't really count as books, but it was certainly among the first 'real' books I recall reading. I remember this quite distinctly, because it was a big deal that I was being allowed to read one of the books for 'older' children (even though the character was only five-and-a-half).
Attending a school at which it certainly wasn't 'cool' to read, I cannot overstate the influence that Matilda had on me - a book about a girl who was smart and kind. Her reading and mathematical abilities were far more enviable to me than her supernatural powers.
How do you approach cover design?
In short - I don't! While I'm very interested in cover design, it's something I leave to the professionals - not only because I get frustrated easily editing images, but because I think having the emotional space is useful (as the author, it can be tempting to put too much of ourselves and our story onto the cover, instead of being able to view the book with the eyes of a reader who has not yet read the whole story).
That being said, I have written quite extensively about cover design on my blog - one of my personal bugbears is those 'pretty little liar' book covers that promise one thing, and deliver another - like one book I read which promised to be a lighthearted poolside read and turned out to be a very disturbing account of abuse. I'd prefer an unattractive self-made cover over one that looks great but sets up false expectations any day!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
In no particular order...
A Confederacy of Dunces. From the first page I was hooked.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This book opened my eyes to a whole new way of getting a message across.
Catch-22. No other book has made me laugh out loud in one line, and then cry actual tears in the next.
Slaughterhouse Five. What an illustration of absurdity and fragmentation?
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The first line alone never fails to make me smile.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read both fiction and non-fiction books for pleasure - more non-fiction than fiction, probably. I usually have an assortment on the go, of around six books at a time.
Or at least I did, until I was introduced to the very dangerous library app that allows me to both borrow 10 books and have 10 on hold simultaneously...
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a long and checkered history with e-readers...
Following my first writing competition win (for a story about, if you can believe it, the joy of budgeting spreadsheets!) I decided to purchase a Kobo. We got along just fine... Until I dropped it, from a low height, onto a pile of towels.
And it broke.
The second one developed a problem with its screen.
Returning it to the store, I paid the extra to swap it for a Sony Reader I got along well with for many years.
Nowadays, I'm using a hand-me-down from my brother - a Boox which runs on Android.
As you can probably tell, I love the freedom to upload and modify books myself, and use Calibre for this.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.

Books by This Author

Number Eight Crispy Chicken
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 77,560. Language: Australian English. Published: January 19, 2020. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire, Fiction » Literature » Literary
Minister for Asylum Deterrence & Foreign Investment, Peter Ruddick, is en route to the remote Pulcherrima Island, the site of his latest privately-run, fast food chain-inspired detention centre. But when he leaves the centre's blueprints on the plane, Peter misses his connecting flight and finds himself confined to the visa-free zone of the Turgrael airport.