Today, I’m so very excited to feature Stefanie Simpson and her upcoming release, NEON HEARTS. She is without a doubt one of my top romance authors of all time. Everything she writes makes me reflect on life, people, society. Her books are thinking, feeling books, couched in her insightful perspective on modern romance.
Love isn’t neat. And Stefanie Simpson’s work captures this so very well.
An interview with Stefanie Simpson
JL PERIDOT: Stef, I understand your writing journey is more like an odyssey. Tell us a bit about that.
STEFANIE SIMPSON: Thank you for having me on your blog, JL! I’ve been disabled for about 20 years, but ten years ago I had a TIA. Up until then I’d been a painter as well as working full time. I had to listen to my body and change how I lived and stopped fighting it.
What happened creatively was I could no longer paint, and as I recovered, I was flooded with ideas. I think my creativity shifted from a physical visual medium to one of words. I went back to work part-time and started writing.
In 2015 my health deteriorated to the point I thought I was possibly not long for the world. I had a real impetus through that to finish and publish something to leave a record of my existence in the world.
I made every mistake possible but through the last six years, I’ve learnt a lot. My approach is that I sit with an idea, think about it almost obsessively, and work through the scenes, all in my head on repeat, then churn out a messy draft. I do endless rounds of edits from big dev to line edits. Often I’ll sit on books for several months, rotating projects depending on how I’m feeling and how well I am.
JL: Tell us a bit about your latest book.
STEFANIE: Neon Hearts is pretty special to me. Writing disabled characters, especially ones that I share a commonality with, has been a long process to feel able to articulate that truth, and I’ve been working on Neon Hearts on and off for about four years. It’s taken on many different versions until I realised what I’d never done was explore acquiring a disability, in particular, a brain injury.
So I shifted the focus from being full suspense to suspense lite, where the action mainly takes place off-page. And what we see is a character exploration of self-love and acceptance through the dynamic of romance.
The hero is also disabled, to a point, and has facial differences through surviving a fire. This trope is not uncommon in romance, and I don’t like how it’s generally treated. It falls into a twisted beauty and the beast mentality, and that backwards superficial concept is usually dehumanising. So I wanted to have this guy who is very scarred and really handsome. He understands trauma and medical trauma, and I think it falls into hurt/comfort in many ways, where he supports the heroine.
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Most of the book is drawn from my experiences and existing knowledge of working in the medical sector for a decade, but I tried to get a relatively accurate approximation of how the UK legal system works regarding impact statements and liaison officers and how survivors move through and navigate the system. It makes people relatively inactive. The agency is in the choice to participate.
Bea often finds herself as an inactive protagonist because people have to do things for her, medically or legally, and she’s within a well-developed system one uses rather than dictates. It goes against most writing conventions, so articulating her form of agency within that was a challenge.
JL: NEON HEARTS is part of a bigger body of work, isn’t it? Actually, you have two main bodies of work. What should new readers know about them, and do you have a favourite book of all time?
STEFANIE: The key difference is that NEW CITY SERIES are novels or short novels, in third person and dual perspectives.
I started writing in first person as an exercise and ended up with a bunch of shorter works in single POV. I felt the need to distinguish them as slightly separate but akin with lots of character crossover, so went with A NEW CITY STORY as a spin-off series which also works completely standalone. They felt more immediate, and I think they work out kinkier as a whole series, though that wasn’t intentional.
I can never pick a favourite, it’s usually whatever I’m closest to at any given moment. So that’s NEON HEARTS right now.
JL: So, you’ve had these incredible stories in the works for years and if I’ve heard right, you’re nearing the end of the books you had originally planned? How are you feeling at this point?
STEFANIE: This has been increasingly difficult for me to be honest, my health peaks and troughs and this is the last book in this series, and there are some things I want to do for A NEW CITY STORY if I’m able. I say I’m retiring, but I don’t think I will, what I’m doing though is stepping back from this cycle.
I intentionally chose self-publishing because trad and many presses are not accessible to me. The accommodations I might require, and my health’s instability mean that I have to be flexible for my wellbeing. There’s a lot I can’t do that I’m told I’m supposed to, and it keeps my reach small, and that’s fine with me.
What’s difficult is that I’ve struggled with each publication’s stress versus returns ratio and taken steps back or paused or taken pressure off myself throughout this process, and I’ve been burning out for just over a year now. So to preserve my health, I’m getting off that roundabout.
I might get back on it, and I’m definitely going to keep working, but I’ll have to decide what that looks like when this is finished, but I want to see it out to say, this is what I’ve achieved. I’ll feel disappointed if I don’t.
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JL: Now, I have to ask—what has writing been like for you throughout lockdown?
STEFANIE: Pretty much the same as before! I’m housebound and require assistance if I need to go anywhere, and my husband is also my carer. He’s made the garden accessible for me so I can be outside more now.
Usually, we’ll take short trips to places, so obviously, we’ve not been able to do that. Being at home for very long periods is difficult, and the stress that goes with the circumstances is probably the biggest factor. I have lots of coping mechanisms for it, such as designating a weekly routine versus a daily one and keeping it flexible depending on my health.
JL: Finally, what is one thing you hope readers will take away from NEON HEARTS?
STEFANIE: That being disabled is normal. It’s ok. Disabled is not a dirty word. That we deserve love and happy endings. Disabled people are people.
Anyone can become disabled, and society is so fixed on its narrative of us, we’re immediately dehumanised and reclaiming that and making us visible and mainstream is monumentally important.
We’re often reduced to an inspiration meme to make non-disabled people feel better and what I hope comes across in NEON HEARTS is that finding our new normal and the best quality of life we can is important. How that manifests, and accessibility is a struggle, but nobody needs to overcome anything, other than ableism. We are not the villain, we’re not better off dead, and we don’t exist to teach non-disabled people a lesson.
I didn’t write this book with an abled gaze, it’s not important to me, I wrote this for me and other disabled people because giving disabled people a happy ending is radical.
Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson
Danger brought love, but hope?
Bea strikes up an online friendship with Josh, the mod of her disability support group, as she adapts to her new disabled reality after a serious accident. When the danger that’s dogged her for months closes in, she flees to Josh’s home during a terrible snowstorm, knowing he’s the only one she can go to.
Josh needed to cut ties with his security job and life in Chadford, to seek solace in the hills and valleys of home. His intense connection and friendship with Bea made him second guess his isolated life. He could protect her, but it would take him back to a dark place. Yet letting her go is impossible.
Being apart only makes them see how much they need each other, finding that they don’t have to be strong or alone. They are enough, disabled and scarred, and beautiful.
This romance contains a happy ever after.
Content warning. Depictions of medical care, including coma. References to past medical trauma. References to and a brief description of a car accident. Moderate threat and peril. Suspense-lite, mostly off-page references to crime. PTSD. Brief court case appearance. Challenged ableism. Strong language. Explicit sexual content, including a soft femdom dynamic, masturbation, oral, penetration including pegging.
Available 29th March. Preorder NEON HEARTS.
About Stefanie Simpson
old goth. 5 raccoons in a trench coat. anxiety. disabled. she/her. bites. taken. switch. smol dragon. TYPOS #romance #author. Filthy deviant harpy ♡