Q&A with Author Flora Collins on the Craft of Writing and the Inspiration Behind ‘A Small Affair’

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A harbinger of things to come — Flora Collins with fellow authors Amy Fine Collins (aka mom) and Jill Kargman. Photograph by Patrick McMullan

This week HarperCollins/Mira releases A Small Affair, the second psychological thriller by Flora Collins (and yes, she’s still under 30!).

Click here to buy A Small Affair and Flora’s first novel Nanny Dearest, published last year.

Here Flora and her mother, Amy Fine Collins, chat for New York Social Diary about what made her become a novelist, why she gravitates to dark subject matter, what it was like growing up as a deep-dyed New Yorker and being the only child of a “larger-than-life” mom.

I describe A Small Affair as “dark, twisted, sexy.” Would you say that is correct?


If you can judge a book by its cover, or by its title — A Small Affair — what does yours mean?

I adore the cover; I think it conveys exactly what you just said — a dark, twisted, sexy tale. The title is a little tongue in cheek, of course. The happenings in the novel are no “small” affair!

You were born a storyteller, a writer. I remember you telling stories even before you could read or write, either telling stories to yourself or dictating your stories for your parents to transcribe. Where did this inborn urge come from? Do you ever remember a time in your life where you were not telling, writing or reading stories?

Mother and daughter at the beginning.

I have no idea where this urge came from and I’m not sure if I remember a time when I wasn’t thinking up stories. I guess you and my dad fostered this interest in me from a young age, so there was never any doubt that this was a craft I wanted to pursue.

You were always easy to take anywhere as a child as you’d sit anywhere with a book and read. You still carry one with you wherever you go. How many books do you read a week/a month?

It really depends how busy adult life gets. I will say that I’ve rediscovered my voracious appetite for reading. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always adored reading, but up until recently I found myself becoming too distracted. I’ve started locking my phone away and taking a few hours to myself as often as I can to read. And it’s done wonders.

Like mother like daughter.

You were so quiet for so many years; and a late talker. Do you think this delay in your speaking relates to your gift for writing? They seem at odds with one another.

I think being quiet or shy allows for a degree of observation that isn’t inherent in people who wish to be the loudest in the room. I think observing people is at the core of being a good fiction writer!

As a journalist I need to describe what exists in the world, and look for facts. Fiction writers invent freely, rely on their imaginations. How do you think these 2 disciplines differ and what does the difference in our métiers say about each of our personalities?

I often think about how difficult I find non-fiction or journalistic writing to be because of all the parameters you all must adhere to — fact-checking, for one. I think the main difference in our crafts is that your “characters” are real while mine are not. We’re both telling other people’s stories, but there are no real-world ramifications for my “characters.” Personality-wise, I think being a good journalist and a good (character-driven) fiction writer require a few shared qualities that we both possess: good listening skills, empathy, and high emotional intelligence.

Daughter taking charge.

What about A Small Affair rings most true to you?

The social satire aspect of it. I think many readers will see themselves in the characters, whether they like to or not.

You don’t love the characters you create, though you love creating them. Which ones do you detest the most?

The most passive ones!

Why do you love writing “mom” characters?

As the daughter of a larger-than-life mom, I find the mother-daughter relationship to be excellent fodder! Not to get too Freudian, but I do believe that one’s general relationship with their mother does inform at least a speckle of their personality.

Library Journal said that you are better than any other psychological thriller author writing today at getting inside the heads of your characters. How on earth are you able to see the world so convincingly through a toddler’s, a tech bro’s, and a fashion bitch’s eyes?

Empathy!!! I cannot express this one enough. Everyone always has a story and a reason they act the way they do. I really tried from an early age to remember that. Reading a lot from a young age and watching great children’s TV programming actually helped a lot with that. I saw or read all these different characters going through struggles that I hadn’t experienced myself.

I do have a favorite character in A Small Affair — the one who is the darkest, most manipulative, most cunning, and rose highest from the lowest start in life. Do you know which character I mean? Not that I like her but it is so much fun to see this sexy villain at work, getting what she wants.

She was very fun to write.

We never protected you from evil, creepy stories, either true ones in the news or fictional ones in movies or books. Did this help form your predilection for writing sinister tales? And as a rule, do you think it is better for children to read bowdlerized versions of fairy tales or to be exposed to the horrors of the original ones? I mean, we know Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their toes in their efforts to fit into the glass slipper — Sondheim clearly shows that in Into the Woods!

Yes, it definitely helped form my predilection. Regarding, bowdlerized versions — I think it depends on the child. For whatever reason, I didn’t get super scared by creepier movies and stories. But if your child is having nightmares, then it might be wise to wait to show the unsanitized version until they’re a little older. However, I’m firmly against actively censoring what your kids reach or watch!

You are as New York as a New Yorker could be — your antecedents here go back to the very beginning. How do your deep roots in New York inform your writing? NYC is always both a setting and character in your work.

New York is just always bustling with activity and characters. You literally can’t walk out your door without seeing something brazen or bizarre. I’ve also never lived anywhere else! And we’re supposed to write what we know.

The usual parlor game: whom would you cast in the lead roles of Vera? Peri? Tom? Odile?

Okay, I’m famously horrible at answering this, but let me take a stab:
Vera: Victoria Pedretti or Margaret Qualley
Peri: Ana de Armas
Tom: one of the conventionally attractive Chris’s (?)
Odilie: Kaitlyn Dever

Who have been the biggest influences in your life?

I’d say the people around me — friends and family, and also my favorite authors!

Top five favorite authors?

Megan Abbott, Lois Duncan, Courtney Summers, Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough.

Your most distinctive character trait?

My excellent memory for conversation. Ask me what I learned in my twenty years of schooling and I could barely tell you. Ask me the life story of the person I met for the first time three months ago at a party while I was tipsy and I can give you a play-by-play of their entire life story.

If you hadn’t become a writer, what other profession might you have pursued?

I’ve always had an interest in people and how they tick so maybe I’d be a psychologist.

Because people ask me all the time about your sense of style — can you describe your look, how you developed it, who your go-to designers are?

I generally like looking sleek, sexy, and comfortable. Honestly, having a distinctive haircut and red hair is half of it for me. Now that it’s winter, it’s fun to let my hair pop against more neutral or darker tones, but during the other seasons I adore more color. Designer-wise, I love Alice + Olivia, but at this point so many of my statement pieces are your old clothes!

Photographs by Patrick McMullan and BFA.com

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