Are you ready for the most cosy story imaginable?! Because Painting Flowers by Momo L. Washington delivers just that!! It’s like the “flower shop au” vibes that you see in fanfic, only this has original characters in a heartfelt, warm and sweet contemporary about the two owners of a flower shop falling for the two owners of a tattoo parlour across the street. It is gentle and low stakes and neurodiverse and queer affirming and so very character-driven. You will fit right into Mateo and Heather’s lives as they tentatively figure out it’s worth chasing after the people they love–they just have to find the bravery to do it.
Mateo and Heather are best friends who run a flower shop together, and when they meet Jamie and Parker it is NOT instant sparks-flying attraction. Well, for Mateo and Jamie there is a little something. But Parker and Heather clash hard 😂 I loved both couples. Also because they had such different romantic journeys! Love the gentle sweetness between Mateo and Jamie and the fire-and-ice collisons of Heather and Parker. It’s slowburn for all of them as they navigate their crushes blossoming into feelings. And I also loved the focus on friendship first!
It’s also beautiful to read books with positive and kind representation of neurodiverse characters. It was so amazing to see Mateo on page with social anxiety and selective mutism (ahhhh rep I needed so badly!). He communicates through spoken word sometimes, texting other times, and there is no healing arc or anyone looking down on him. He’s supported by his friends and this is really beautiful to read.
Other Things To Look Forward To This Book
🌸 achillean and sapphic main couples
🌺 super character driven
🌸 gentle vibes and low-stress story
🌺 characters in their early 20s
🌸 multiple POV
🌺 neurodiverse affirming
Hi Momo, so excited to have you here to chat about your lovely novel!! Can you tell us a bit about Painting Flowers’ publishing journey, from first idea to finished novel on our shelves?
Hi! Thank you for having me!! Painting Flowers started out as a simple exercise to get into writing again. During high school I mostly stopped writing stories and even after that, I was only writing some poems every now and then, but no stories anymore.
Then I stumbled across some fanfiction with the flower shop/tattoo studio trope and I loved it so much I just had to try it. It was meant to be a short story, just some exercise to get back into writing but I was quickly falling in love with the story and the word count went up and up. When I realised this could actually really become a novel, I started editing, made my friends read it and started looking for publishing options. I knew from the very beginning I didn’t want to try traditional publishing. This was a story I wanted to realise entirely on my own, so self-publishing was the way. This surely was the most work; figuring out layout, print sizes, font, multiple failed test prints… and all of that while working a full-time job. But it’s so worth it and I’ll absolutely do it again.
Tell us a bit about Heather and Mateo’s cosy little florist shop! What are their favourite flowers? (And what is your favourite flower!)
Oh, I love that question!! The flower shop is one of my favourite places. I imagine it to be really crowded with flowers and plants everywhere, filling up shelves and every free surface. There’s that wall where Mateo writes his poetry on and customers and friends can leave little notes and doodles. There’s a corner with pillows to sit on in front of a radiator. It’s supposed to feel like home, to be a place where you can come in and just breathe.
Heather’s favourite flowers are snapdragons! There’s always a vase in the shop with some of them that aren’t for sale but just for her. It’s one of the first flowers I remember my granny teaching me about and how they open and close if you squish them carefully. (little funfact! In German they’re called “Löwenmäulchen” which means “little lion’s mouth”)
Mateo’s favourite flower is whichever one looks like it needs the most love. He’s the kind of person to pick the tiniest and slightly damaged flower to put in a vase for his kitchen table. He takes every plant that looks a bit sick and looks after it until it’s healthy again.
My favourite flower…I should have seen that question coming and yet I am entirely unprepared! I love anything yellow, I think. Flowers that have many tiny blossoms instead of one big. But really, any flower will make me smile, especially if it is a gift.
I loved the way you wrote Mateo’s social anxiety — can you tell us your favourite thing about writing neurodiverse characters?
I’m so happy to hear that! It was probably one of the best and hardest things to write. A lot of what you read in Mateo’s point of view comes from personal experience, so it was easy for me to find inspiration but very difficult to have the confidence to write it down.
The funny thing is, back when I was writing this novel, I had no idea I’m neurodivergent myself. People were reading it and would tell me about the neurodivergent, mostly autistic, traits they saw in Mateo and Laurie and I remember thinking “Oh, that’s interesting, those things you mentioned are the ones inspired by my own behaviour!”
Well, past me. I have some news!
Having neurodiverse (again, especially autistic) characters in books and media has really helped me figure out my own identity around it, so I think that’s one of my favourite things about writing stories with neurodiverse and in general, disabled characters. Helping people feeling seen. Not only in stories about that neurotype or disability, but also stories where that’s not of any importance. Just having characters of all neurotypes and disabilities in all kinds of stories.
Another favourite thing about writing neurodiverse characters is figuring out how exactly to write this individual person with this specific neurotype.
With Mateo, I wanted the reader – neurodiverse or neurotypical – to really feel how Mateo’s heart starts beating faster in crowded rooms, how his thoughts stumble over one another, so his perspective has a lot of long paragraphs with almost no breaks, aside from some special moments (that I don’t want to spoiler here). It was also important to me that he doesn’t get ‘cured’ of his social anxiety and neurodiversity, doesn’t suddenly never go nonverbal again just because of ‘character development’. He’s still anxious in a crowd. He still can’t speak around strangers and when he’s overwhelmed. And that’s okay!
It is some of the best autistic and neurodiverse rep I’ve read!! 😍 Do you plot your novels or just write and see what happens?
With Painting Flowers, I just started out and kept adding to it. At the very beginning, I had nothing but the setting and the characters. One of the relationships wasn’t even supposed to be in it! Everything just kept developing on its own; I even wrote a lot of it on my phone during work (don’t tell my boss) when I had an idea for a new scene or a line I wanted to use.
With other stories too, I get the best ideas as I write and I’m not very good at planning to be honest. But sometimes I have no other choice but to plan, like with a murder mystery I’m working on, there needs to some sort of plan for the plot!
Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
There are some ideas for a Painting Flowers prequel sort of story that focuses more on Laurie and Austin who are only minor characters in Painting Flowers, but it’s really quite difficult to plot because I have to keep checking what I said in Painting Flowers…so it’s taking a veeery long time.
There’s also a Greek mythology retelling I started to write! The story of Orpheus and Eurydice, just with siblings instead of lovers. It’s on the more mysterious and kind of horror side of writing and I’m very excited to experiment with that!
So excited for all these projects! And lastly…what have been some of your favourite author moments so far?
First of all: This interview! I can give interviews about my book now, what!?
I also always get ridiculously excited when people send me pictures of my book on their shelf, it’s so wonderful to see that it really is out there, that people are holding this story, that people are reading it and falling in love with it.
And lastly, there’s a question I asked every one of my test readers and that I absolutely love to hear about when other readers tell me: who is your favourite character?
My test readers got a little mad they had to pick one, but in the end they all had their own little darling. It’s so special to me to hear why they love this character best. Sometimes it’s because people saw themselves in this character, sometimes it’s because they loved how I wrote them. Any way, it’s just really beautiful and incredible to hear people talk about my story.