Welcome Debut Author Mia P. Manansala #giveaway

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:

I needed it to be a small town

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.

I didn’t want to be constrained to an actual town’s geography

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!

Mia on the porch of the Air BNB

I like the challenge of coming up with a fun town name

[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

50 Thoughts

  1. I prefer small towns but insist that if First Street is north of Fairfax it STAY north of Fairfax. My favorite fictional town (at least I am PRETTY sure it is fictional) is Mayfair, Florida from the Marcia Banks series by Kassandra Lamb (which tend to be suspense cozies).

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  2. Welcome to the blog, Mia! I’m so happy your book is out and to such acclaim and can’t wait to pick up my copy and start reading.

    For fictional towns, I love Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Millers Kill, NY. And it’s also fun recognizing landmarks in real towns.

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  3. Congratulations on the first book in the series Mia!

    I don’t think I have a preference for a real town over a fictional one. Though most of the cozy mysteries I read do seem to fall on the fictional side of the ledger.

    Favorite fictional places? Well, Maddie Day’s South Lick, Indiana would probably top my list. Carlene O’Connor’s Kilbane, County Cork, Ireland and Sheila Connolly’s Leap (also in Ireland) are two other places I would love to visit.

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  4. I like small, fictional towns where everyone knows everyone else but I also like to read about being in actual cities every now and then too. Thank you for the chance! pgenest57 at aol dot com

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  5. Congratulations on the release of “Arsenic and Adobo” and the start of a great new series!

    Personally, I love fictional towns. It’s a new place we can visit and learn about both the place and the people and often wish we could actually go there. Since you can’t, you won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t live up to your expectations, but remain that perfect place (except for the murders) to live. By being fictional, you aren’t distracted with trying to see if you recognize a place if you’ve been there.

    We actually retired and moved to a very small town for that friendly Mayberry type town. Which means I love stories set in small towns because I understand the dynamics (both good and bad) of small town living.

    Thank you for the chance to win a copy! Shared and hoping to be the very fortunate one selected. Your book is on my TBR list and I can’t wait for the opportunity to read it.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  6. I prefer small, fictional towns on the coast, like Barbara Ross’s Busman’s Harbor. That’s what makes the towns “cozy” to me, where everyone knows each other and there’s a beautiful ocean for scenery. Your book sounds very engaging with the lead character coming home to family, food, and a mystery!

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  7. Hi Mia, congratulations on the new release!

    I’m good with either fiction or non-fiction small towns. What matters to me is if the setting comes to life. Sounds like you have that handled.

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  8. I like books set in fictional places, but with enough details that you can picture the “real” counterparts. Thank you for the chance to win a copy and congratulations on your series debut! aut1063(at)gmail(dot)com

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  9. I prefer real towns or locations. My favorite fictional location is Absaroka County, Wyoming.

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  10. Congrats on your debut, Mia! I’m so happy for you. As for setting, I go back and forth. I love the fictional small town setting. It really sets the imagination free. On the other hand, I enjoy stories set in real big cities. That way I get to picture myself actually there.

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  11. I have no preference in fictional or real life settings. Even composites of several real life towns works for me. As long as the characters are strong and the storyline is good that’s all I need for a book to be a favorite with me.

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  12. Welcome to the Wickeds, Mia! And congratulations on the release of Arsenic and Adobo. It is in my TBR pile next up after I finish the books for a panel I am moderating.

    I am agnostic on real vs. fictional and big vs. small, but like you, if a town is real I want the writer to get it right.

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  13. Welcome to the Wickeds! I have created my own places for the reasons you mentioned. I’ve based Goosebush on a real town in MA, but I’ve changed the coastline and changed the layout of roads. It is so much easier. Huge congratulations on the launch of your series!

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  14. I prefer small frictional or real small towns. People in small towns seem to know each other and it kind of lends itself to a cozy mystery.

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  15. I will take either. Real locations are fun, especially if I know the location. (And I don’t expect perfection, but the author should be the majority of things right.) And I enjoy fictional locations as well, especially if I get to know them better as the series progresses.

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  16. I enjoy reading both. A favorite fictional town is Sharon Sala’s Blessings, Georgia.

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  17. I mostly don’t care if the place is “real ” or not. I grew up on science fiction, so it’s just not an issue. I do enjoy when a book is set in a real world place that I know, and the author gets it right. I really love the idea that the town is a character too and as such will be subject to growth. Neat!

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    1. Hi Catherine, sorry for the late reply! Worldbuilding can be so much fun, whether you’re writing SFF or an everyday contemporary setting. Thanks for stopping by.

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  18. It does not matter to me if the location is real or not. I fall in love with the story as well as the details of the location. Thank you for the opportunity. God bless you.

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  19. I like either fictional or real settings. If real, I would like the details to be correct unless the author puts an afterword and mentions what she or he changed. Stay safe and well.

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    1. Hi Sally, that makes sense! I didn’t even think about how an author could purposely change some details but acknowledge it in an afterword. Great idea! Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the late response.

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  20. One of my favorite fictional towns is Wagtail, Virginia in the Paws & Claws series by Krista Davis. It doesn’t matter to me if a setting is real or fictional. Although it’s kinda cool when I find out that place is real. It usually makes me want to look it up as a possible vacation spot. Can I just say your book cover and description had me at “dachshund”!

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    1. Hi Tari! I’ve read a few of Krista Davis’s Domestic Diva series but I’m not familiar with Paws & Claws. Another thing to add to my TBR! And thanks so much! I love my cover and Longganisa (the Dachshund in the book) seems to be everyone’s favorite character.

      Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the late response!

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  21. Not a contender, just replying since I’ve been lucky enough to win a copy already…
    I do like fictional towns because I get to envision it myself, and hope it’s close to what the author intended. That said, I couldn’t see Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries set anywhere other than NYC. They’re a big time fave of mine!
    As for your cover, I’ve also raised dachshunds. It’s not for the faint of heart! Can’t wait to see what your little one gets into!
    Congratulations once again!

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    1. Thanks so much, Tracy! The Coffeehouse Mysteries are my mom’s favorite and a great example of a big city cozy setting. I’d love to adopt a Dachshund of my own, but I’ve heard they’re a handful!

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  22. Small Town is one of my favorite genres. I came from a small town of 13,000 and like real small towns the best, but made up ones are OK. I like the small town effect when everybody knows one another’s business and relationships.

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