Food, Family, and Murder: How Mia P. Manansala Spices Up Her Mysteries

An Interview With Author Mia P. Manansala
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Food, Family, and Murder: How Mia P. Manansala Spices Up Her Mysteries

Cooking Up Hot and Spicy Mysteries

Mia P. Manansala is a writer, but she’s also a book coach. She describes herself as someone who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. Thus, she has crafted a line of novels where all of these things exist. Taking inspiration from her Filipino background and her love of pop culture, she’s created a world that’s more spellbinding than one can ever expect. Her novels explore the Filipino diaspora using food and mystery as the center of it all. Along with an adorable canine friend (who’s appeared on all of her book covers so far), her characters try to solve mysteries of murders that unexpectedly pop up in their lives.

Surprisingly, Mia didn’t start off being a mystery writer. She’s loved books since she was a child, she told me in a recent Zoom interview, but mainly wanted to write middle grade fantasy novels. It wasn’t until she took a mystery writing class and met someone who changed her (writing) life, someone who guided her and mentored her to where she is today—an award-winning author who’s been cooking up mysteries underneath bold and bright covers in her hometown of Chicago—that solidified her decision to become a mystery writer. 

Since landing on bookshelves, Mia’s debut novel Arsenic and Adobo has won numerous awards and nominations. Her novels fall into the category of “cozy mysteries,” and have been described as witty, fun, and jaw-dropping. Mia herself has taken the world by storm through her storytelling, which showcases Filipino-American families, food, and culture. And she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Her second novel, Homicide and Halo-Halo, the sequel to Arsenic and Adobo, was published in February 2022 to a starred review from The Library Journal and her third book, Blackmail and Bibingka, will be on bookshelves in early October 2022. In these three novels, we follow the protagonist/heroine Lila Macapagal as unexpected things keep appearing in her life, starting with the death of her ex-boyfriend in Arsenic and Adobo, then a beauty pageant murder in Homicide and Halo-Halo, complete with a winery mystery in Blackmail and Bibingka. On top of that, Mia is currently at work on her fourth novel, set to come out in 2023.

It’s not surprising then that Mia’s talent for mystery writing has won over many readers, especially those who love a little mystery infused with complicated family dynamics and delicious details. Her catchy titles will draw you in but it’s the excitement she drums up in her novels as her characters try to solve mysteries on their own while maintaining a foodie facade that will surely win your heart.

How Mia P. Manansala Crafts Her Killer Stories

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author. Was this the career you always knew you wanted?

I’ve always loved writing, but I didn’t think I’d be a writer. In college, I majored in English, and after college, I taught English in South Korea. After that year, I came home and I was completely lost, career-wise. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I was turning 30 and I remembered that I’ve always loved books as a child, and I loved writing, so I decided to give it a shot. Still, I didn’t think I was a mystery writer. In 2015, I took a one-day mystery writing course for fun. It was taught by Lori Rader-Day, to whom I have to give full credit because she really helped me become the author that I am today. She gave me feedback on my stories, and told me about mentorship opportunities, grants, conferences, writers’ groups, and whatnot. She really pushed me to hone my craft. Because of her, I met more incredible people including Kellye Garrett, who became my mentor at Pitch Wars.

However, even though I’d written a book and gotten into Pitch Wars, my first book didn’t sell. This is because we couldn’t figure out a way to market it to the publishers. My first book failed on submission, but I kept writing the whole time. However, my first agent didn’t like the book that ultimately became Arsenic and Adobo. So I moved on and got another agent, who sold Arsenic and Adobo, and here we are.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given, with regards to careers and success?

This advice came from Lori—to build your community and build it early. In the beginning, I didn’t think of myself as a “real” writer, but she told me that I should join communities of people who write because that’s how you’ll be able to learn about the craft and the publishing industry. At writers’ group meetings, for example, you’ll meet people who are pretty much on the same path as you and you learn from that community and support one another. You also meet people who are well ahead of you and you can learn from them too.

I’ve been involved in a few groups and organizations, mainly MWA (Mystery Writers of America) and Sisters in Crime, both of which Lori is also a part of. I think having a community to go to is really invaluable. Even if you’re not a mystery writer, there are other ways to find your community. Look for a local writing group in your area. If you’re a BIPOC writer, you can check out Diverse Voices. They host Twitter events, conferences, and they have mentoring programs too. [editor’s note: Mia is a mentor for Diverse Voices. Thanks Mia!]

What books are on your reading list right now?

I just finished Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper and its sequel From Bad to Cursed. I also read Set on You by Amy Lea, In the Dark We Forget by Sandra SG Wong, and Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder by Valerie Burns.

When you’re writing – where do you write? What is the setting?

I have a tiny little alcove office that’s at the front of the house here in Chicago. Generally, I love writing in cafes, and I used to have these “writing dates” at cafes with other writers. I haven’t done much of that because of the pandemic, you know, but I do sometimes go to cafes to write.

How have you been staying connected to your friends/family/community during COVID-19?

Mainly through social media. I’m actually a part of a Discord group with a number of authors from a variety of genres who sold their books around the same time to the same publisher, Berkley Publishing. We call ourselves the “Berkletes.” Our original group all debuted in 2021-2022, and now we’ve invited the new group who are debuting in the next year or two. Anyway, we’ve all become friends online. We talk pretty much every day and we’ve grown pretty close. I’m so glad I found this group of writers.

Do you have exciting projects coming up? If so, please tell us.

Yes, I have a third book out in October called Blackmail and Bibingka. I also have a fourth book that’s coming out in summer of 2023, along with a short story in an anthology called Fit for the Gods, also coming out in 2023.

What is your dream brunch date? Where and with whom?

Wow, this is a tough question. I’d definitely want to go to a place with endless mimosas and fantastic eggs benedict. As for people to brunch with…I’m not sure. Probably CL, who used to be in the group 2NE1.

What is your ideal comfort food?

It depends on my mood, but in general Asian noodle soups.

Which authors inspire your work the most?

My favorite writers aren’t necessarily inspirations for my writing but rather an inspiration in general. There’s Lori and Kellye, whom I’ve mentioned. Also Gigi Pandian, Naomi Hirahara, and Vivien Chien. They’re probably the closest comparisons to my work. There are a lot of inspirational writers in the Crime Writers of Color group too.

Want to learn more about Mia? Check out her website, grab a copy of her book, and let us know what you think here.

Which author should we talk to next? Let us know in the comments!

Hoang Samuelson
Hoang Samuelson is a writer, editor, and lover of British dramas, including Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Great British Baking Show. When she’s not reading or baking or watching one of the shows above, she enjoys outdoor activities including running and hiking. She also works as an accountant by day. Currently, she lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and to children, ages five and eight.
Favorite book: Too many to count, but a recent one is The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Favorite brunch item: chicken and waffles! with a side of coffee

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