Gossiping Godmothers, Dead Bodies, and Killer Desserts
The Big Thrill Interviews Mia P. Manansala
In her newest culinary cozy mystery, MURDER AND MAMON, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity award-winning author Mia P. Manansala returns to Shady Palms, Illinois, where Lila and the gang are once again faced with a dead body. Only this time, the murder victim is one of their own.
On the eve of the Calendar Crew’s new laundromat grand opening, Lila’s godmothers April, Mae, and June make a gruesome discovery. A crudely spray-painted message next to the town’s latest murder victim suggests the godmothers’ zeal for gossip has finally pushed someone too far.
While indulging in delicious Filipino dishes produced by Tita Rosie’s Kitchen and Brew-ha Café, Lila and her merry band of amateur sleuths pick away at the clues until they uncover the culprit terrorizing the Calendar Crew.
But not before more bodies and more mysterious messages appear on their doorstep.
Author Mia P. Manansala sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss MURDER AND MAMON, her favorite Filipino dishes, and how to build meaningful, lasting relationships in this business.
Give us a quick summary of your Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series.
Tita Rosie’s Kitchen mysteries are humorous, light-hearted cozies centered around a family-owned Filipino restaurant in a fictional town outside Chicago and follow my protagonist Lila Macapagal.
Tell us about mamon.
Mamon are individual Filipino chiffon cakes. They’re light, fluffy, and simple to make. They come in a variety of flavors—butter cake being the original—and have different toppings such as butter, sugar, grated cheese. Coffee mamon is my mom’s favorite.
(Readers: Be sure to read through to the end. Mia has kindly provided her recipe for mamon on an adorable recipe card.)
Do you have any recommendations for authentic Filipino cuisine in Chicago?
Ruby’s Fast Food (has my mom’s picky stamp of approval!)
Kasama (Michelin star restaurant)
Do you have a favorite Filipino dish?
KareKare – Oxtail stew with tripe in a peanut sauce.
What set you down the path of writing a culinary cozy mystery series?
Two things. First, I’ve been a mystery lover my whole life. Like my protagonist Lila, I grew up in a multi-generational household, and my love of mysteries began while watching Matlock, Perry Mason, and Murder, She Wrote with my grandparents. My mom introduced me to cozies and Mary Higgins Clark. While working as a page shelving books at the Chicago Library, my mom came across Chocolate Chip Cookie Murders by Joanne Fluke, which is the first book in her popular Hannah Swensen series. We both love food as much as books, so we began buddy reading the series.
After that, I picked up more and more culinary cozies. I soon realized I didn’t see characters that looked like me or have experiences that reflected mine. So, I decided to put my own spin on the genre. While brainstorming with my mentor, Kellye Garrett, about ideas for the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series, she brought up the fact that traditional cozies were like romcoms. I gave it some thought and added my twist—romcoms with dead bodies. I soon wrote the first two lines of the first book, Arsenic and Adobo.
Don’t wait until you have a finished book or a deal. Meet other writers—some at your level and some ahead of you—so they can teach you about the business and craft.
Do you have any cozies that you reread for inspiration or recommend to readers?
Olivia Blacke’s Record Shop Mystery series
Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series
V.M. Burns’s Mystery Bookshop Mystery series
The story takes place in fictional Shady Palms, Illinois. Did you base the town on a real place? Or did you build it from your imagination?
When I started the series, I knew I wanted a fictional small town. Having grown up in Chicago, I didn’t know much about them other than what I saw on TV. With the help of one of my critique partners, I created a town that turned out to be similar to Ottawa, Illinois, in size and proximity to Chicago. Demographic-wise, it’s more like Skokie, Illinois.
Did you always want to be a writer? Or did that urge come to you later in life?
I always loved books and writing, but I didn’t think “author” was an actual career for a long time. In 2015, I took my first creative (mystery) writing class, presented by Lori Radar-Day. Until that point, I thought I’d write middle grade fantasy. Based on my in-class writing prompts, Lori believed I was a mystery writer and encouraged me to join Mystery Writers of America to learn more about the genre. Things blossomed from there.
What advice would you give new writers about building relationships in this business?
Start early. Don’t wait until you have a finished book or a deal. Meet other writers—some at your level and some ahead of you—so they can teach you about the business and craft. Join your local organizations, if you can. A lot of them are doing virtual meetings. There are groups on Facebook specifically for debut authors. “Networking” can skeeve people out. Besides the business side, there’s a mental health aspect to it, too. Your core group can help you through the tough times.
Do you have a craft tip you like to share?
Lean into your strengths. Keep in mind—Why do you write? Who are you writing for? Then block out all the other noise. Remember, you’re not writing for the bad faith reader aka naysayers. Sisters in Crime offer a lot of craft workshops.
What would you like readers to takeaway, or feel, after reading a Mia P. Manansala book?
I would love for people who aren’t familiar with my culture to come away with an appreciation of Filipino food. I enjoy hearing about people who search for and try Filipino restaurants in their area after reading my books. A new awareness that people from marginalized backgrounds can be heroes in genre. We can fall in love, we can go on adventures, we can solve cases. I want readers to really love this world and its characters, to wish Brew-ha Café and Shady Palms were real places. I want people to walk away with the feeling of warmth and community and found family.
Can you share what’s coming up next for the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series?
I turned in book five, Guilt and Ginataan, which will be out next year. Ginataan is any dish that’s cooked with coconut milk. I have a short story, The Furies Detective Agency, in the Fit for the Gods anthology, which released August 1, 2023.
The Big Thrill Interviews Mia P. Manansala