New York City native and author Flora Collins has surely had a thrilling life of her own; she is, after all, the daughter of former art historian and noted journalist Amy Fine Collins, so undoubtedly Flora grew up attending some of the most interesting events and fantastic parties the jet set crowd can throw.
But it’s a different thrill she’s in search of through her novels — first in the her buzzy debut “Nanny Dearest,” a domestic noir about reconnecting with a childhood nanny, and now in her second book, “A Small Affair.” The sophomore effort follows Vera, a beautiful and ambitious young woman who gets more than she bargained for when she takes up with an older, wealthy gentleman who claims to be separated from his wife. Mere days after she ends things, the ex and his wife turn up dead — and somehow, that’s only the beginning of Vera’s troubles. As is the case with all the best novels, “A Small Affair” is about more than just Vera: It’s an examination of how our society treats women in scandals, a reflection of how trending on Twitter can do more than a day’s worth of harm.
Thankfully, no such danger was in sight at the book signing and luncheon hosted for Flora in Palm Beach by Cameron Silver and The Colony Hotel‘s Sarah Wetenhall earlier this January — only offers of personal styling sessions with Cameron and Amy, as well as skincare treatments from Dr. Barbara Sturm.
We asked Flora a few (spoiler free!) questions about “A Small Affair” to get her take on the pressure of writing a second novel and why unlikeable women like Vera are fun on the page — if perhaps less so in real life.
PALMER: Tell us about Vera: When did you first think of her, and how did you come up with her story?
Flora Collins: I was really interested in the idea of writing from the point of view of a “grown up mean girl.” How would she act at work? How would she treat her friends? I love to write “unlikable” women characters, but usually they’re “unlikable” in less explicit ways — they generally have a good moral compass, but are unreliable narrators, for example. Vera is ambitious and independent, but she can also be cruel. I wanted to explore that type of personality, since I try to stay as far away from “mean girls” in my own life!
How do you feel the events in “A Small Affair” reflect what’s happening in our society today?
I think in our late-stage capitalist culture, many people are forced to hustle and scam in a way that hasn’t been as apparent, at least in my lifetime. And, partially because of a wealth gap, many of these scammers are celebrated. I like the idea of subverting the (somewhat toxic) notion of the #girlboss — what are these women in power actually doing to get ahead? How are they using capitalistic notions of work ethic to their advantage? “A Small Affair” definitely explores these questions.
Vera’s story is like so many other women who have been vilified in the press. What takeaway do you hope readers have about how we treat these women?
The more things change, the more they stay the same, unfortunately! Despite feminism becoming more mainstream, the media loves tearing down women, especially women who get caught in the crosshairs of men’s bad behavior. I’m not sure there is any one takeaway that I hope readers have after reading, except to maybe critically think about whom they’re disparaging on Twitter and in everyday conversations, especially with other women, and whether they would complain about a man in the same way.
This is your second book. After the success of “Nanny Dearest,” what kind of pressure did you have writing a sophomore novel?
So much pressure because I only had a year to write this book, due to my publishing contract. I wanted it to be juicier and a little more chaotic (more “me” in some ways!) than “Nanny Dearest” is. I hope I achieved that goal!
On a different note: Your outfit for the Palm Beach event was so fun! How would you describe your approach to dressing?
Thank you so much! I like to look sexy and comfortable; those are the most basic adjectives I can think of to describe my style. I’ve been strength training two to three times a week for the past five years, so anything that shows off how jacked I am is a plus!