CHICAGO — Mia Manansala’s first book received rave reviews when it was released last year — and now the Chicago native is publishing a second story.
Manansala’s first mystery, “Arsenic and Adobo”, was well reviewed by The New York Times and nominated for several awards, including an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery. “Homicide and Halo Halo,” Manansala’s second book in Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series, comes out Tuesday, with a third story also coming out in 2022.
The books are centered on Lila Macapagal. In the first book, Macapagal has just returned home to Chicago’s Shady Palms after a failed romance, seeking to help out at her family’s Filipino restaurant. When her ex-boyfriend falls dead in a dish at the restaurant, Macapagal becomes a detective to clear his name and protect the family business.
Besides being a mystery, the Manansala stories feature a recipe at the end.
Manansala, who grew up in Hermosa, wanted to be an author since she was in elementary school. Now she is living her dream, publishing several books this year and has just agreed with her publisher to write three more stories.
It’s “still a bit hard to absorb” all the good press, awards and nominations, Manansala said.
“You expect this momentous thing to happen, that your life is going to be magically changed, don’t you?” she said. “So you go, [and] your world is essentially the same.
When Manansala was growing up in Hermosa, his family was one of the few Filipino families in the area. Her multi-generational home was a bit of a “station” for other people from the Philippines, she said.
Manansala did not expect to become a mystery writer. She was thinking of writing children’s literature or fantasy because she loves creating worlds.
But mysteries were Manansala and her mother’s favorite genre. She decided on a whim to take a one-day crime writing workshop. Her instructor, writer Lori Rader-Day, glanced at Manansala’s play for the class and said, “I think you’re a mystery writer.”
Manansala decided to kiss her.
“I wanted to write something fun that I’ve always wanted to read and couldn’t find on the shelf. I’m doing this for me,” she said.
Manansala was not an instant success – no publisher picked up the first book she finished. And at the start of the pandemic, she was fired from her job as an English teacher at an inner-city school.
But that was the very day she got her contract for “Arsenic and Abodo.”
Now, Manansala works part-time as a youth services desk assistant at Forest Park Public Library, but plans to become a full-time writer.
The author works to balance writing and touring – mostly virtual – with his work. She said the tone of “Homicide and Halo Halo” is a little darker than her first book since it was written during the pandemic and is about mental health.
Manansala said she got help writing and balancing the day-to-day with her new career in writing communities. Rader-Day encouraged her to get involved with local mystery writing societies which gave Manansala the support she needed.
Manansala is also in her second year as vice president of Sisters in Crime Chicago, a regional professional organization for female crime writers.
“I believe in really giving back,” she said. “People throughout my journey have helped me so much in my writing career that I feel it’s important for me to volunteer for these organizations that have helped me.”
After Manansala’s debut, she said she learned the importance of protecting borders and energy. She said “yes” to everything last year – any podcast, interview, guest blog, event. While she doesn’t think it’s necessarily wrong to do so, it was overwhelming.
“If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to? someone recently said to Manansala, she said. She will therefore think about what she will say “yes” to in the future.
“I truly believe that as an author, the best thing I can do for myself is to write a book,” she said.
Listen to “It’s Alright: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” Here: