This week’s interview is with Mia P. Manansala, a fellow Berkley author of Deb Lyn Liao Butler. We are so excited to have Mia here because her debut, Arsenic and Adobo is not only about solving a mystery, but has the most delicious Filipino food descriptions ever. If you’re not craving Filipino food as you read the book, then you’re not getting the full experience. Booklist gave it a starred reviewing, saying, “Along with Lila’s funny and feisty voice, there is a lot to love here: complex clues, mouthwatering food descriptions, and a diverse cast of characters.” And there’s a dachshund on the cover! If you know Lyn, you know she’s a die-hard dachshund person so having Mia here is a no-brainer. Without further ado, here is Mia!
Mia P. Manansala (MAH-nahn-sah-lah) (she/her) is a writer and book coach from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture.
She is the winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She’s also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018-2020 mentor.
A lover of all things geeky, Mia spends her days procrastibaking, playing JRPGs and dating sims, reading cozy mysteries, and cuddling her dogs Gumiho, Max Power, and Bayley Banks (bonus points if you get all the references).
Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, came out May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House and is the first in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series.
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
I’ve been writing since 2015 and have won several awards for unpublished authors, most notably the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award.
My first finished novel, featuring a queer Fil-Am millennial solving a murder mystery at a comic book convention, was chosen for the mentorship program/contest known as Pitch Wars in 2017 and it got me my first agent. However, once it went on submission to publishers, we received rejections that basically all said, “I love this but have no idea how to market it.” Some even went on to say it had no audience, which was ridiculous since I knew so many people who’d expressed interest in it. That divide between what publishers THINK readers want and what readers actually want is huge.
Luckily, while all these rejections were rolling in, I was working on something new to distract myself. After about a year and a half of drafting and revising (and rejections), I sent it to my then-agent, who didn’t like it! She was very honest with me, which I appreciate. She basically said, “I loved the book I couldn’t sell. This book is objectively better written and I know I can sell it, but I don’t love it. And you deserve someone who does.” We were both at an odd crossroads in our careers, and I knew she was right.
We amicably parted ways and I ended up querying again, eventually signing with Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She sold that novel in two weeks at auction, in a three-book deal, and it became my debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO. It was released on May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House, and was also chosen as an April pick for the Book of the Month subscription service. So maybe not the straightest path, but at least there was a happy ending!
Have you ever traveled to do research for your writing? Where did you go?
Shady Palms, IL is a fictional town set outside Chicago, but one of my critique partners said it reminded her of Ottawa, IL, a small town about an hour and a half outside the city, near Starved Rock State Park. My Chicagoland writing buddies were planning a writers retreat at a farmhouse AirBnB and invited me along, and it turned out the farmhouse was located in Ottawa! It felt like kismet–not only would I have dedicated time to finish my draft (this was before I’d finished the manuscript that’d become ARSENIC AND ADOBO) but I could also do some firsthand research of the setting!
I absolutely love writing retreats, whether group or solo. There’s something about taking that dedicated time solely to write that makes me so much more productive and creative. And as a city girl, I could appreciate a bit of greenery and fresh air (though as a city girl, I refused to walk alone in the woods surrounding the area since that’s how murders happen). Also, that farmhouse was totally haunted, so it definitely provided the vibes I needed to write a murder mystery!
Publishing a book is a bucket list dream for many people—are there any other accomplishments on your bucket list right now?
Do you mean that I’ve checked off or that I still have to accomplish? For the ones I’ve already checked off, publishing a book, being a Book of the Month pick, receiving fanart, and getting an option are all part of that list.
As for ones I still want to accomplish? I have so many! I love making lists and I love dreaming big. I have a million publishing-related ones and other general life goals, though not necessarily accomplishments. Here are ten in no particular order:
- See the Aurora Borealis (I hate cold weather, so this is going to be tough. I’ve wanted this for FOREVER though).
- Publish a MG series centered around Filipino mythology.
- Have a book candle made for at least one of my books (I’m OBSESSED with candles).
- Get nominated for every major mystery/crime fic-related award and win at least one of them.
- Have one of my books turned into a film or TV series.
- Write full-time comfortably.
- Have a winter vacation home (to escape the awful Chicago winters).
- Take my mom on a long vacation to the Philippines.
- Visit Hawaii (my travel bucket list is super long, but Hawaii is number one right now).
- Reach an intermediate speaking level in Tagalog (I can understand it for the most part but can’t speak it at all).
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
It’s OK that you’re not ready yet—you have so much to learn about yourself and the world before you’ll reach that point. Read widely, read deeply, and never stop envisioning the books you want to see on the shelf.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
My attention span makes it difficult for me to participate in passive activities (like TV and movies), so I love books and video games since I have to actively engage with them. With video games, I am all about JRPGs (Japanese role playing games), visual novels, and puzzle games. The Persona, Ace Attorney, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age series all have my heart and I can replay them forever and ever.
I also really enjoy baking. Not like Great British Baking Show levels of bakes or anything like that–I don’t have the patience or precision to make things look pretty. In the before times, I worked as an English language instructor, and I’d bake almost every week for my coworkers and students since food is one of my love languages, and as much as I enjoy baking, I don’t need an entire cake or three dozen cookies just sitting around my house. Because of the restrictions in place now for health and safety, it’s hard for me to share my recipe testing with other people, so my freezer is full of my experiments. Still, coming up with new recipes to include in my books is one of my favorite parts of my publishing experience, so I can’t complain too much. Maybe someday I’ll even have a cookbook based off of my Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery Series recipes! I should add that to the bucket list as well.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer….
When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant and has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.
With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longganisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…
Content Warning: fatphobia, drug abuse, evidence planting, police intimidation, (implied) domestic violence, racism