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Q&A with Melissa Rivero - Flores and Miss Paula



By Elle Summers


We are excited to welcome Melissa Rivero to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Flores and Miss Paula, released on the 5th December 2023.


Thirtysomething Flores and her mother, Paula, still live in the same Brooklyn apartment, but that may be the only thing they have in common. It’s been nearly three years since they lost beloved husband and father Martín, who had always been the bridge between them. One day, cleaning beneath his urn, Flores discovers a note written in her mother’s handwriting. Perdóname si te falle. Recuerda que siempre te quise. (“Forgive me if I failed you. Remember that I always loved you.”) But what would Paula need forgiveness for?


Now newfound doubts and old memories come flooding in, complicating each woman’s efforts to carve out a good life for herself—and to support the other in the same. Paula thinks Flores should spend her evenings meeting a future husband, not crunching numbers for a floundering aquarium startup. Flores wishes Paula would ask for a raise at her DollaBills retail job, or at least find a best friend who isn’t a married man.


When Flores and Paula learn they will be forced to move, they must finally confront their complicated past—and decide whether they share the same dreams for the future. Spirited and warm-hearted, Melissa Rivero’s new novel showcases the complexities of the mother-daughter bond with fresh insight and empathy.



Hi Melissa, I just wanted to start by thanking you for the opportunity to read Flores and Miss Paula! I thoroughly enjoyed the way the novel examines the mother-daughter relationship and cannot wait to learn more from you about the process of crafting this book.


Thanks so much, Elle! Glad you enjoyed it.

 

From my research, I found that you were born in Lima Peru, a striking similarity to the heritage of the main protagonists in your novel. Can you please tell us a little about how your own experiences shaped these characters, and were there any particular important elements of identity that you wished to explore through this text?


I was born in Peru and my family is from there as well. I grew up in New York City, but I was always surrounded by my culture. We ate Peruvian food at home, celebrated Peruvian holidays, and remained close to our community here. Growing up, I loved reading, but never saw depictions or read stories about Peruvians in the United States. As a writer, it’s important for me to include my culture in my work. I honestly can’t imagine writing without including some aspect of my community and culture.


That being said, I think the experience that most shaped the characters in Flores and Miss Paula was the death of my father. Like Flores, I also lost my dad to cancer.

 

By having chapters from both Flores and her mother Paula’s perspective the reader can better understand the different challenges faced by varying generations. How did you find balancing your novel between two perspectives? When writing your novel did you follow one perspective the whole way through, or chop and change between characters?


I chopped and changed between the characters. I actually found this to be the most enjoyable part of the process. At first, I wrote from Flores’s perspective, but after several scenes, I found myself hearing Paula. Her voice became much more prominent, and I knew she’d need to have more space on the page than I originally thought she’d have. Once the writing took off, I went back and forth between the two. That made it easier to balance out my time between them as a writer. I found this especially helpful when I was working on a particularly emotional chapter with a character.

 

 Having lost her father, it is clear that the mother-daughter relationship in this text is important for Flores. But this doesn’t mean it comes without ups and downs! I found Paula’s commentary very reflective, and felt that one of her lines encompassed this continued difficulty when she says “I thought his death might bring us closer but there is still a distance.” How is the bond between these two characters important to you as their author?


It was important for me to show how complicated loss is. Neither Flores not Paula was prepared to cope with this particular kind of loss. In some ways, they wanted to simply move on without addressing their grief. That is something we can’t do: ignore grief. At least, not forever. Grief doesn’t go away if we don’t think about it. We have to learn how to live alongside it.

 

I can imagine that writing about loss can be somewhat all encompassing. How did you make time for yourself whilst tackling such a heavy subject within your novel?


Yes, it was very heavy to write about loss at times, especially because I wrote much of the book during lockdown. My usual mode of self-care is taking a dance class, going to a museum, or a coffee date with a friend. But there weren’t many places I felt comfortable going to during this time. So, whenever I had an emotionally demanding writing day, I’d go for long walks, cook, listen to a podcast, or catch up with friends over the phone.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed how Paula’s chapters clearly spoke directly to Flores. What does this say about their relationship, and why is it so important that Paula is almost explaining herself to Flores?


Paula found it difficult to vocalize much of what she wanted to tell her daughter. Writing was the best way for her to communicate with Flores. It gave her freedom to tell her daughter things she might not have otherwise been able to say, but it also allowed her to reflect and be honest with herself.

 

Why did you choose two female leads for this novel, and how do you think their shared loss shaped their relationship?


I started this book thinking it was only Flores’s story. When Paula’s voice became clearer and louder, I realized the book was really about their relationship. Losing Martín meant that mother and daughter had to redefine that relationship. It’s something that many of us go through when we lose someone we love. Sometimes, these relationships end, but other times, they transform—whether that relationship is with our surviving parent, our children, our partners, our siblings, and, most importantly, ourselves.

 

I was intrigued about Flores’ job at Bowl. What made you choose the setting of a fish tank company for Flores at the start of the novel?


I wrote most of the novel during lockdown. I was working full-time from home, doing virtual school with my kids, taking care of the household, and dealing with the intensity of the pandemic in New York. Family in Peru and family friends in NY passed away. It was challenging.

 

I tried to find a sense of grounding and some form of levity by writing. So, I “went to the office” so to speak whenever I worked on scenes at both DollaBills and the Bowl. The novel itself takes place during a time when there was a lot of money being invested in the tech and e-commerce space, sometimes for ideas that didn’t really seem sustainable to me. I thought about what might be both a realistic and arguably ridiculous idea for an e-comm business, just so I can have something to laugh at whenever I went to the page—and fish came to mind.


Where can our readership find a copy of Flores and Miss Paula?


You can find it your local bookstore, at online booksellers, and on HarpersCollins.com. You can also check out my website, www.melissarivero.com.







Melissa Rivero is the author of The Affairs of the Falcóns, winner of the 2019 New American Voices Award and a 2020 International Latino Book Award. The book was also longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Her most recent novel, Flores and Miss Paula, was published in December 2023. Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Brooklyn, she is a graduate of NYU and Brooklyn Law School, where she was an editor of the Brooklyn Law Review. Melissa still lives in Brooklyn with her family.




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