As a writer with a subtle guile, Flora Collins knows of which she speaks.
Tuesday’s release of “A Small Affair,” a HarperCollins page-turner, is testimony to that. Part of a two-book deal with the publisher, this follows New York City-based Collins’ debut, “Nanny Dearest.” Intent on writing another psychological thriller, Collins said the initial inspiration for “A Small Affair” came from a documentary about the 2018 Chris Watts case. Watts killed his pregnant wife and two daughters “partially to be with his oblivious mistress,” Collins said. (After pleading guilty, he is serving a life sentence for the crimes.)
Recalling watching the true-crime film in 2020, she said, “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I wonder what it would be like to be her.’ She had no idea what was going on. She seemed oblivious that he was still married and taking care of his children.”
The documentary served as a springboard, and she only watched it once.
Most days Collins is working her primary job at a tech start-up, in the marketing department penning blogs and handling the company’s LinkedIn page Mondays through Thursdays. Fridays are saved for writing. Following a morning workout, a little procrastination and perhaps some lazing about, Collins hits the keyboard once she knows that she wants to start writing. She stashes her phone before breaking out the laptop and cranks out a minimum of 2,500 words — 10 pages or so — in her Brooklyn Heights apartment or at a nearby coffee shop.
Hinting at Nora Ephron’s adage that “everything is copy,” the main character in “A Small Affair” holds an integral social media and marketing role at a direct-to-consumer New York-based fashion brand and her former fling led a bro-loving start-up.
Collins’ mother, Amy Fine Collins, has long been a respected fashion industry insider and now helps to oversee the “International Best Dressed List.” Whether describing the fashion scene or the New York City-based tech start-up in “A Small Affair,” Flora Collins does so with an in-the-know levity that she chalks up to having grown up so close to fashion.
“I asked my mom a lot for advice or research regarding Vera’s job in the book. And [with] the tech stuff, I wouldn’t say that’s inspired by my job. I just know a lot of people, who worked in tech or who do work in tech. It’s just a normal Millennial job to have,” she said, adding that she made the tech references intentionally vague to avoid having to explain the nitty-gritty.
There is a prismatic element to the storyline where Collins satirizes how the main characters are mirrors of themselves, or more specifically, their ideal selves. The superficiality that surfaces is not by chance. “It’s kind of poking fun at these Brooklyn one-percenters. I live in Brooklyn Heights so I am always observing. I am always thinking and watching. It makes me sound creepy [laughs]. But I write creepy books,” she said.
While online dating and social media are threads that run through the book, Collins said she isn’t trying to convey any lessons. “I have a lot of experience being on Instagram and with online dating…I think too much of a good thing can be bad. But I’m not trying to make any kind of moral statement about anyone’s use of those applications. There are definitely parallels and dangers. But I would never tell someone, ‘Don’t use the dating apps.’ Or, ‘Don’t use Instagram.’ Because I love those things. I’m not a hypocrite in that way.”
Readers are meant to be clued in to how fashion is an art form that requires a lot of deep thought. Collins added, “There is also more gatekeeping that goes in fashion than in other industries. I don’t want to spoil my book, but that becomes more apparent as you get deeper into it.”
Another takeaway is that the person whose name is on the label isn’t always the individual who is making things happen for a brand. “That is very true. As in any industry, the are many people in the background working to make things happen. That’s often forgotten…staying in the background moving the puppet strings is more powerful in some ways than having your name on the door,” she said.
There won’t be an Instagram campaign for the book’s launch Tuesday, but Collins likes to reshare favorable reviews and DM with fellow authors like Hannah Mary McKinnon, Emily Freud and Clemence Michallon. Collins attended Chapin and later graduated from Vassar College, and has been big on storytelling and reading for many years — writing has always been her “shtick,” she said.
Her parents’ keep-at-it support has been a plus, as has rejection. “The more you are rejected, the thicker your skin gets. I wrote one manuscript that did not sell to publishers. It died on submission, as they say,” Collins explained. “That was a great learning experience. I was able to write ‘Nanny Dearest’ right after that.”
The writer, whose supporters include InkWell agent Stephen Barbara, is currently reading books by YA author E. Lockhart, Megan Abbott and many other thriller specialists. “I will say that I read almost exclusively in my genre. It’s my favorite thing to read. I learn a lot from reading other thrillers. Sometimes I venture out from that category, but for the most part that’s what I enjoy,” Collins said.
Highly social, she is out nearly every night of the week, having dinner with friends, going to parties, meeting new people and taking in some arts and culture. One hundred pages into her next book, which is not under contract, Collins is crafting a plot around an all-girls private school.
As for the inevitable is-anything-autobiographical question, Collins said “definitely not” with “A Small Affair.” She added, “It’s easy for me to set books in New York because I grew up in New York. But I wouldn’t say that I am any of my characters. There might be elements of me in some of them. But no one is a placeholder for me.”