May 2, 2021

Mia P. Manansala

Mia P. Manansala

In this episode, Linda Hengerer talks with Mia P. Manansala about her debut novel, ARSENIC and ADOBO, Filipino-inspired cooking, and why she thinks cozy mysteries are rom-coms with a dead body.

In this episode, Linda Hengerer talks with Mia P. Manansala about her debut novel Arsenic and Adobo, Filipino cooking - lumpia! - and how the pandemic affected her routine.

Mia P. Manansala (she/her) is a writer and certified 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. Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, comes out May 4, 2021, with Berkley/Penguin Random House.

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). 

Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @MPMtheWriter
Or check out her website:

Get to know Mia - The Tart Words Baker's Dozen:

1.   Plotter or Pantser? Combo? Light plotter

2.   Tea or Coffee? Tea

3.   Beer, Wine, or Cocktails? Cocktails

4.   Snacks: Sweet or Savory? Both!

5.   Indie Published, Traditionally Published, or Hybrid? Traditionally published

6.   Strict Writing Schedule: No

7.    Strictly Computer or Mix It Up? Computer and Alphasmart

8.    Daily Goal: No, but I'm trying

9.    Formal Track Progress: Sometimes

10.  Special Writing Spot? I love the Winter Garden at the Harold Washington Library

11.   Writer’s Block? Yes

12.   File of Ideas: Yes

13.   Favorite Author(s)? Currently, Sherry Thomas, Alyssa Cole, Talia Hibbert, and Kellye Garrett

Like this episode? Leave a review or rating! 


Transcribed by; Lightly edited by Linda. Please forgive typos or grammar errors J

Episode 222 - Mia P. Manansala


Linda 00:00

Welcome to Tart Words. I'm your host, Linda Hengerer. And I'm a writer, a reader and a baker. I talk to writers about their latest book and what inspires them, chat with fellow author Suzanne Fox about what writers can learn from reading their favorite authors, and share fast and easy recipes for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Join me as I share Tart Bites, Tart Thoughts, and Tart Words. 

Mia P. Manansala (she/her) is a writer and certified 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. Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, comes out May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House.

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).

Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @MPMtheWriter

Or check out her website: 

Welcome to the podcast, Mia. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about ARSENIC and ADOBO

Mia 01:31

Thanks for having me, Linda.

Linda 01:32

Tell me about ARSENIC and ADOBO. It's the first book in your new series, isn't it?

Mia 01:37

Yes. It's the first book in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery Series. It is essentially a Filipino American culinary cozy and it follows all the basic tropes of young woman who has to return to her small Midwestern hometown because her family's restaurant is in trouble. She's also trying to get over a bad breakup. And while she is there, her vindictive ex-boyfriend turned food critic dies in her family's restaurant. And of course, she is the main suspect. So she has to try to clear her name and save the restaurant’s reputation.

Linda 02:11

That sounds really interesting. How did you get the idea for your main character?

Mia 02:16

I really enjoyed telling this story because basically, it came about from a conversation between me and my mentor Kellye Garrett, who's another wonderful traditional mystery writer. We were just joking around one day that a lot of cozy mysteries seemed to follow romantic comedy tropes: Girl has to return to her hometown, save the family's business, etc, etc. I just said I was like, wow, like cozies are just rom-coms with dead bodies. And soon after that conversation, I was taking the train to work one day, and then the first line of the book popped into my head fully formed, and it hasn't changed in any of the time since I've been editing. It's basically My name is Lila Macapagal and my life has become a rom-com cliché. Not many rom coms feature Asian-American leads or dead bodies, but more on that later. But all the trademarks are there. I like that literally those two lines fully formed and I was like, who is Lila? What is this? But in those lines, I was like, I have to explore this. I have to find out more about her. I need to see what the story is. And it eventually became my debut.

Linda 03:21

I love that. Tell me a little bit more about the restaurant that she works in. It's a family restaurant,

Mia 03:28

Tita is the Tagalog honorific for aunt. So it's her aunt's restaurant, and it's been in her family basically almost her entire life, and it's going through some financial troubles. Not because the food isn't excellent but because the restaurant is run by her aunt and grandmother - she was raised by her aunt and grandmother – they’re not great business people. Her aunt cares more about quality food, making sure people feel welcome, making sure that it's affordable for her customers, and turning a profit is not really her main concern. Lila before she returned was going to school for the restaurant business management so she has some of the skills necessary to reinvigorate the restaurant is the hope.

Linda 04:09

Restaurants typically run on a thin margin anyway, so there's not a lot of wiggle room when you're dealing with perishable products. Do you have recipes in your books?

Mia 04:19

Yes, I share recipes in my book. I also share Filipino-inspired recipes in my newsletter every month, I really want to introduce people to Filipino food, Filipino inspired cooking.

Linda 04:31

It's really delicious. My niece is married to an American also of Filipino descent. He's a terrific cook. And actually, he works in a restaurant.

Mia 04:39

My dad was the family cook. So a lot of the food-centric part of the book, the heart of the book really, is really just like an homage to my dad, and how food can be a love language and how cooking for people is how some people show love whether they actually say the words or not.

Linda 04:57

It's the care and the thought that goes into preparing a dish that you want someone to like, that you incorporate what they like so that you're thinking of them as you're making it.

Mia 05:07

Yes, exactly.

Linda 05:08

Do you make up recipes? Or are the recipes based on family favorites?

Mia 05:13

Fortunately and unfortunately my dad was very much an old school cook. So he didn't really leave recipes behind. I would ask him it's like, oh, how do you make Lumpia? Lumpia is like a Filipino fried spring roll - it's so good. He would do like the old school thing is to add soy sauce. It's like how much? if he's like this much, and he'll just do like a pour, there's no measurements, right? He just kind of feels and tastes and makes it up as he goes along, which meant it was excellent, but it was hard to recreate. So a lot of the recipes that I use in my own home and that I put in the recipe, or I did some research, I kind of cobbled things together and then I tweaked them to my own. Basically it's like a hodgepodge of Okay, this is how I remember it's supposed to taste based on what my dad made, but I would use other people's recipes as guidelines just because I want to know like, here's a base point and now I can go up or down based on my personal take.

Linda 06:03

The thing is getting the proportions right. 




Do you make Lumpia? 




Do you use wonton wrappers or do you use Lumpia wrappers? 

Mia 06:12

Lumpia wrappers - these are some square spring roll wrappers that we use. There's a line in the book where like “a party isn't a party without Lumpia.” It's not hard, but it's labor-intensive enough. If you're gonna make it like you're not gonna make 10 you're gonna make like 50 or, you know, or 100. 


Yeah, exactly. 


Or more. One, they freeze well. And then two, is just it's fun finger food. You know, it's really easy for parties. The wonton wrapper actually, that is another dish. It's based, we call it pinsec frito - it's a little bit faster than making Lumpia. The filling is still the same, but you just put it inside a wonton wrapper and it's just, it's so much faster.

Linda 06:48

And what about sweets? Are there sweet recipes?

Mia 06:50

My protagonist’s aunt, Tita Rosie, she is the more savory cook but her grandmother, Lola Flor - Lola, being the honorific for grandmother - she's in charge of the desserts. And she has an amazing touch. My protagonist likes to bake. And so for her she likes to make like Filipino American hybrid desserts,

Linda 07:10

The Filipino flavors in an American sort of convenience.

Mia 07:15

Yeah, exactly. Or vice versa. Like she'll take traditionally Filipino flavors and put them in what you would think of as an American dessert and vice versa.

Linda 07:21

So Filipino flavors in a cupcake or something.

Mia 07:25

Yes, exactly. You know, it's like a tart but with you know, instead of like a lemon tart or a Citron tart, she used calamansi, which is a traditional Filipino citrus fruit. You know, that kind of thing.

Linda 07:36

Is the story based on a real story or just totally rom-com with a dead body?

Mia 07:42

Yeah, this one was this rom-com with a dead body. Those first two lines gave me a general idea of who my protagonist was. And then I just kind of built out her background. And then the more I built her out, the more I was like, Well, okay, what would naturally happen? I already know because I'm playing with rom-com tropes she's going to reconnect with her ex-boyfriend, her high school sweetheart, but because it's a cozy, he's gonna die, you know? So and then I'm like, Well, how would he do it? Well, obviously, their family runs a restaurant, he's going to have to die in the restaurant to really up those stakes, and then you know it just kind of naturally snowballed from there, thinking of these characters and what made the most sense for that world.

Linda 08:18

What is her backstory? She left home, did she plan always to go into Restaurant Management and come back to work in their family restaurant or did she have, not a bigger dream, but was her dream something else and then circumstances brought her back home?

Mia 08:35

Definitely the latter. I like to think of Lila as that very typical big fish in a small pond. She loves the restaurant business. But her dream was to open her own place. She just wants a nice cafe where she can be like, really, she has snobby or boogie coffee and tea tastes. A lot of Filipinos mostly drink instant coffee. It's pretty typical in her aunt’s restaurant, it's the same, you can go to a restaurant and they're not going to give you drip or this fancy brew, you're going to get Nescafe or Kopiko instant. So in her world, she wanted a slightly more upscale kind of thing. She was going to school in Chicago, which is where I'm from, and she had all these dreams, but her love life didn't quite work out the way she wanted it to. And at the same time that her love life was falling apart her aunt kind of sent a distress signal letting her know that the restaurant was in danger. So she figured that was time for her to pack up and flee head home, kind of lick her wounds and try to figure out what comes next.

Linda 09:33

So retreating back to home and then seeing where she can start from again. And this is the first book in a series.

Mia 09:39

Yes, I currently have a three-book contract and I'm fingers crossed, that there will be more but Book Two has been written, it has not been edited, right now starting Book Three.

Linda 09:51

Exciting. And I think Crazy Rich Asians has proven that there's an appetite for Asian-themed stories.

Mia 09:59

Especially centered around family because family is such an important theme for us. 

Linda 10:02

Family and food.

Mia 10:04

Yes. My two favorite things to write about.

Linda 10:07

Do you have a writing routine or schedule?

Mia 10:09

Yes and no, because I am still trying to work out a routine that works for me. Not gonna lie, my book being sold at the beginning of the pandemic, it's hard to say that anything is established or routine, you know, during that time I just, I got words down when I was mentally able and then hustled to meet deadlines. And right now I'm trying to find a healthier approach between like, Oh, no, I have to turn things in or being really rigid and this many words a day, I'm trying to find like a nice balance. I am a plotter, a light plotter, though, I have the big beats that I know I'm working towards, just to make it easier on me. So I don't necessarily write every day. But I do think about the story every day. I do character work in my head. I'm reading widely to refill the well every now and then. But it's hard to say that I have anything established just yet.

Linda 10:59

What do you read to refill the well?

Mia 11:02

Right now, one, because I don't like reading books that are too similar. While I'm drafting I would be horrified if I accidentally took a line or a plot idea just like unknowingly because it was in my head while I'm writing. And then also because I need really happy escapist things right now. I've really gotten into romance, but it's tangential. Like I said, my books are jokey rom-com with dead bodies feel, so like it does help me think in that way. It makes me happy. It makes me see how different genres work with pacing since pacing is just so important in mysteries, and it's just, it's fun.

Linda 11:41

Who are the romance authors that you like to read right now?

Mia 11:44

The big ones are Alyssa Cole, Talia Hibbert, and Sherry Thomas. But I'm currently I only read her Lady Sherlock series, which is my favorite. I hear she does like really excellent historical romances. So I might pick those up next.

Linda 11:59

It's interesting what people read when they're writers because I've heard a lot of people say that they either do or don't want to read in the genre that they're writing in because they don't want it to bleed through into what they're working on. Or because they just need a break from it. When I'm writing cozy mystery I tend to read either police procedural or thriller, something that is not similar to a cozy but still a mystery. I like the dead bodies. I like the idea that justice will prevail.

Mia 12:29

I still obviously have to read it. You got to stay knowledgeable in your genre. But I will do most of the ones that aren’t too similar. I'll do it while I'm still plotting or just after I finished a draft I need to set it aside for a little bit to let it breathe before I edit. The before and the after I'll bookend with lots of great reading. During the initial first draft, I try not to let other people's words influence me. It makes it hard though because I'm not a fast writer. There's so many books that are fantastic. And I really want to read. Balance is so hard.

Linda 12:59

It is. Do you cook or is there a creative outlet that plays into your writing or gives you a creative outlet?

Mia 13:07

I don't like everyday cooking, I find that drudgery. But I do love cooking for other people. I host the holidays, my family comes over to my house. And even though it's really stressful, with all that preparation, it makes me so happy. Just having this giant table laid out with my food. I like baking better than cooking, honestly. I used to bake for my coworkers every week in the past. I haven't been able to do that as much lately. But I do miss that. 

Linda 13:34

Is that because your coworkers are now remote, you're not going into an office?

Mia 13:39

At the beginning of the pandemic, my entire team got laid off, the whole branch got shut down. And I currently work at my local library. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So things that other people cook, I don't have a restaurant regulation kitchen. So you want to be a little bit careful and mindful how people feel about that once in a while, like now that I test recipes, I will bring in something to share. And I'll write a little note in the kitchen because there's very limited staffing right now our shifts are so that we don't actually have to be too close to each other. So it's not the feeling of like, oh, we're all in the staff room eating and laughing together. It's just like, here's a loaf of this banana bread I was developing. Let me know what you think. So it's not quite the same feeling.

Linda 14:20

I tend to bake for the holidays and family get-togethers, too, because it's just me and my husband and we don't need to eat five dozen cookies. Not that we're not up to the task, but we don't need it. We would have an annual Sausage Party and make sausage and I would make several things for that. And I would tend to do new things that I was working on for the books and the Sausage Party didn't happen last year. So it's just getting used to the difference and what I've decided I would do is, I have a friend who's got two sons who are both firefighters and there's a fire station near us. I was thinking if I have an excess that would take it there and see if they would accept the food. Ideally, they would and probably in other times they would have but I don't know about how things stand with that now.

Mia 15:09

That's such a nice idea though. Hopefully, they're able to take those kinds of contributions.

Linda 15:13

I hope so too. I've enjoyed talking to you. And thank you for coming on the tart words podcast, Mia.

Mia 15:19

Thank you for having me. Please look out for my debut novel ARSENIC and ADOBO. It will be in stores on May 4, 2021.

Linda 15:28

Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit Follow now in the app you're using to listen to this podcast, or sign up for email alerts through an easy signup form for bakers, readers and writers at Thank you again for joining me, Linda Hengerer, for this episode of Tart Words.

Mia P. ManansalaProfile Photo

Mia P. Manansala


Mia P. Manansala (she/her) is a writer and certified 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. Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, comes out May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House.