Jo Ben Whittenburg is the winner of Mia’s giveaway! Watch for an email from Mia!
I’m so happy to introduce you to Mia! I first met her at Malice Domestic, was impressed by her impassioned speech when she won the Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland Award for Emerging Crime Writers of Color, and amazed by her volunteerism with Sisters in Crime and the broader crime writing community. Arsenic and Adobo, Mia’s debut book in her Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series just came out last week. Here’s a bit 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 she 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, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…
Mia: Cabot Cove. Stars Hollow. Midsomer County.
What do these places all have in common? They’re charming, quirky, entirely fictional, and great places to set a murder mystery. OK, so as far as I know Gilmore Girls never had a whodunit episode, but think of the possibilities!
Why set your story in a fictional place rather than ground your story in an existing setting? This was something my mom asked me when I told her my book wasn’t set in Chicago (though there are mentions of my protagonist’s life in Chicago), but a fictional small town a few hours outside the city. She pointed out that setting it locally would appeal to other Chicagoans who’d delight in recognizing familiar landmarks. Which was something I’d taken into account when trying to figure out the world of my setting, of course. But in the end, I chose a fictional setting for a few reasons:
While it’s possible for cozies to take place in big cities (KILLER CONTENT by Olivia Blacke is a prime example since it’s set in Williamsburg, NYC), the premise for this book first came to me as a play on certain rom-com tropes, most notably the small-town girl who goes off to the big city to make her mark on the world but is forced to return home. I reference my protagonist Lila’s life in Chicago, but it’s mostly to contrast her life in Shady Palms.
As a Chicagoan, I HATE when books and movies get it wrong and I didn’t want to be that person writing about a place that’s clearly unfamiliar to them. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at both geography and descriptions. Early readers of my initial draft would ask me questions about the town since my characters seemed to exist in a void—I had no idea what the defining features of the town were, the size of the population (I’m a big city girl, so my ideas of a “small town” are rather skewed…), or even what Lila’s family restaurant looked like.
Luckily, one of my critique partners said certain aspects reminded her of Ottawa, IL, which was exactly the population size and distance from Chicago I was hoping for. I went on a writing retreat to a farmhouse AirBnB in that town with some friends and soaked in the atmosphere as I revised. I used that trip as well as my imagination to start filling in the blanks. The best part is, since I’m writing a series, the town expands a little in each book—after all, Shady Palms is a character, and every character should exhibit growth as time goes on!
[INSERT PHOTO OF MANUSCRIPT. CAPTION: Early draft of ARSENIC AND ADOBO before it had a title]
I love how unusual town names can be (did you know that there is both a Booger Hole AND a Booger Hollow in the U.S.?) and knew I wanted my setting name to be unique. After trying more common names like Shady Grove, Shady Oaks, and Shady Pines (all of which apparently exist in Illinois), I decided on Shady Palms as a placeholder until I found something better. The more I wrote, the more the town name seemed to fit, and so Shady Palms, IL was born.
Dear Readers: Do you prefer books set in real locations or fictional towns? Also, do you have a favorite fictional location? Answer in the comments to be entered in a giveaway for a physical copy of ARSENIC AND ADOBO! U.S. only.
Bio: Mia P. Manansala (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. 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