A super-quick update today to let you know two BIG pieces of news:
- My new book, Auto CEO was published at the end of December – keep scrolling for a free sample!
- My new podcast, Letters & Numbers, is out – and season one focuses on BOOKS!
Listen on Spotify, Anchor, Apple, Google, Amazon, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, or Stitcher.
Hugh J. Richardson’s humanity is on trial.
CEO of one of the nation’s largest diversified companies, Hugh J. Richardson is looking forward to his biggest windfall yet after a career of cutbacks, layoffs, and sacrifice (of others). But on the eve of his fourth colossal raise in as many years, Hugh discovers his name is missing from all of the company reports. In his place is someone – or something – new. The AutoCEO.
In order to get his job and his pride back, Hugh must demonstrate something no one – not his family, his friends, and certainly not his employees – believes possible.
Can ‘heartless Hugh’ prove in court that he is more human than a machine?
‘Hugh J. Richardson spurs others on to greatness’ – Joe Joseph, attorney at law
‘Like royalty, or a god’ – Jai Kapoor, AutoAutomator NLC
‘All it takes is tenacity and grit… Hugh is peerless’ – William Marshall, attorney at law
Praise for Sarah Neofield’s previous novels, Number Eight Crispy Chicken and Propaganda Wars:
‘Neofield’s prose is flawless, with deep multi dimensional characters that capture your attention from the jump… ‘ – Wesley Parker, author of Coffee and Condolences
‘…thought provoking entertainment… five stars’ – Whispering Stories, www.whisperingstories.com
‘I couldn’t stop reading… The ending was very intense. Very 1984.’ – K.T. Egan, author of All You Hold On To
‘I have never been transitioned from hatred to empathy more skillfully by an author.’ – Dr. Joanne Sullivan
‘Super smart and funny… straddles social commentary and humour perfectly.’ – Ava January, author of The Lady Detective
Chapter 1 sample
It had to be at least an inch bigger. Thicker, that was. With gold lettering. And twice as many color inserts.
Replacing Noel Skum’s biography on its shelf, Hugh returned to the mess of photos spread across his desk.
Gathering pictures to fill the glossy color pages of his autobiography was about the only real work he’d done for the book.
Originally, Hugh was supposed to be writing a volume on leadership and management. His trademark ‘hands-off’ approach.
The sort of book that shot to the top of the bestseller charts (with a few thousand strategically placed sales at key bookshops, orchestrated by a team of paid buyers).
The sort of book that got plastered across the backs of buses, and talked about reverentially in business schools, with learned professionals reading his words aloud to an audience.
Hugh had put a lot of thought into getting his business philosophy down on paper. Know yourself. Honesty is the best policy. Be your own brand. You can’t please everyone.
He’d written down all his original thoughts, all his witty sayings. But his editor said that none of them were exactly original. ‘Cliches’, she’d said. What garbage.
There were more: Dare to dream. Call people by name. Take every opportunity. Learn to say ‘no’. Manifest your destiny.
That last one, Hugh admitted, made him sound a bit too much like some hippy-dippy new-age guru. Though, when his editor had pressed him to explain the success he enjoyed – in spite of his abysmal grades, lack of real-world experience, and the string of sexual harassment claims against him – ‘I manifested my destiny’ was the best Hugh could come up with.
After eighteen months of fruitless meetings and missed deadlines, Hugh’s editor had gently suggested he try his hand at an autobiography instead, mumbling something about a ‘small down payment’ to cover the ghostwriting and printing expenses, which Hugh thought was a funny way to describe what he could only imagine would be a six-figure advance.
In a sense, Hugh was relieved. Truth be told, he hadn’t done enough actual leading to fill up a page, let alone an entire book on management.
What Hugh really wanted, of course, was one of those books with “Unauthorized biography of…” on the cover.
‘Why would you want that?’ his agent had asked when he first suggested printing it on the front.
Hugh could hardly tell her the real reason.
He wanted one of those biographies that began with the writer describing how doggedly they’d pursued him. How many times they’d begged him to share his story before he finally, gracefully acquiesced – probably at an upscale seafood restaurant with a harbor view. He wanted to be chased. To play hard to get.
Paying someone to ghostwrite your autobiography because you couldn’t even write about your own life in a way others found authentic, let alone interesting, was shameful. But having someone write about your life without your permission? To probe every little detail of your personal life, noting every idiosyncrasy of taste, every deviancy? That was flattering.
Now, as he sat chewing – or attempting to chew – the end of one of his thick, engraved pens, Hugh was beginning to suspect he hadn’t lived enough to fill an entire book, either. At least, not if you were going to cut out all the bits that made him seem ‘unrelatable’, ‘selfish’ or – what was the other thing Maddy had said? ‘Spoilt.’
Without enough achievements to crow about, Maddy, the ghostwriter Hugh had been assigned, had suggested he pad the book out with glowing endorsements from his rich and powerful friends.
So far, he’d amassed six pages of salivating nonsense – seven, if the publisher agreed to use the font size Hugh always used for his annual reports in the years the company’s achievements were similarly thin. The size – 12.3 points – was just large enough to boost the page count, but to the untrained eye, the difference was imperceptible. A trick Hugh had perfected back in his school days.
It served him well, at least until St Lucre’s started requiring electronic submission of essays, and the teachers wised up to his low word count. Hugh had been mistrustful of computers ever since.
Hugh’s story wasn’t especially inspiring to what Maddy called ‘real people’. ‘Real people,’ she’d said ‘can’t relate to a CEO whose job was handed to them because their father was friends with the guy who used to run the company.’
Nor was his life story particularly admirable. Hugh had neither overcome any particular adversity, nor achieved anything extraordinary. Unless you counted having amassed the country’s largest collection of belt buckles. Or winning CEO Magazine’s Best Dressed Manager of a B&S 500 Company. Of course, that was back when his wife had insisted he hire a personal stylist. Ex-wife, Hugh corrected himself.
At any rate, you needed one of those two things to sell a book. Guts or glory. And, in spite of Maddy’s best efforts to extract something resembling either a human or a superhuman side from him, Hugh had neither to offer.
Still, he had heard that writing could be a reflective process, and indeed, writing the book – or having the book written for him – was making Hugh reassess his life.
Important men, Hugh knew, had mistresses. Finding one had been at the top of his to-do list for years. Although, technically, he realized, any female companion he did manage to find would be a girlfriend rather than a mistress, now that his second divorce had been finalized. If he wanted to find a mistress, Hugh needed to find another wife first. Preferably one that didn’t call him an ‘emotionless robot’.
His former assistant Alyssa, at a stretch, might have been a suitable candidate for the mistress category, but she was a long way short of wife material.
For a time, Hugh had cultivated a variety of little habits that set him apart from his peers specifically in the hopes that they would one day provide some simpering young writer in a short skirt with ample fodder to pen a glowing account of his quirky eccentricities.
He’d even taken to wearing black shirts and jeans for a while, tossing out all of his suits in the hopes of cultivating a recognizable ‘look’. That had only lasted for the three days Bambi was out of town. As soon as she returned, the t-shirts were in the trash, and Hugh had his first appointment with Ken the ‘personal stylist’. ‘If you want to make a statement,’ Bambi had said, ‘at least let a professional tell you what to wear.’
She had a point, really. After all, he’d only started wearing the black shirts after Dan mentioned in an interview that he wore the same thing each day because it reduced the number of unimportant choices he had to make each day, freeing his brain cells for more important choices. Of course, as Bambi had pointed out, the most important decision Hugh made each day was what to have for lunch.
For a time, Hugh had taken to eating at McKing’s every time the company made a new acquisition, even though he could afford far better, and the company undertook so many takeovers and mergers that the tradition had fallen by the wayside. Hugh’s digestive system couldn’t handle the rapidity with which the company swallowed up other companies.
Besides, Bambi was right. Nobody at the company ever sought his opinion on anything, save for his assistant asking what he wanted for lunch. Hugh could easily while away several hours of a morning pondering menus – on the days he came into the office. Without that task, he was lost. In fact, he felt as if he wasn’t contributing at all.
What was the point of cultivating a distinctive personality if nobody was clamoring to write an unauthorized biography about him? If he was going to have to pay someone to do it?
Writing a life story was a lot like sex, Hugh thought. He much preferred his partner to comply out of admiration rather than in exchange for cash. In fact, the analogy gaining traction in his mind, it was exactly the same. You couldn’t brag about having your life immortalized by a ghostwriter any more than you could brag about bedding a prostitute. Although, on reflection, Hugh realized, several of his friends did. Maybe, he gulped, hiring a ghostwriter was worse. After all, the whole idea of a ghostwriter was their invisibility.
Ostensibly, it was Hugh writing the book – not Maddy. Even though in reality, he had written just as much of his “autobiography” as he had written of his chairman’s letters over the last decade, which was to say not a word. It was all well and good to have some dewy-eyed sycophant write rapturously about your eccentric sense of style or charming little rituals. But if Hugh was seen to be exposing these details about himself – well, he’d just look like a lunatic.
No, the best thing to do was adopt the strategy he’d so often relied upon throughout the years – to lie low, say little other than carefully crafted, empty platitudes, rely on the endorsements of his friends, and turn up at the book launch wearing whatever suit his stylist recommended, to sign his name on yet another stack of pages he’d never read.