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…
By Mia P. Manansala
“Is your main character you?”
I’ve gotten some form of this question in most of the interviews I’ve done for my debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO. I think it’s a fairly common question for any writer of fiction, but particularly for me, a Filipino American woman from the Midwest writing a protagonist that is also a Filipino American woman from the Midwest, people are curious about how much of myself I put into the character of Lila Macapagal.
And the honest answer is...yes and no. I will admit that her character started as a thought exercise, basically me imagining who I would’ve become if I had been raised in a very different setting than the one I grew up in. I was born and raised in a working-class, majority Latinx neighborhood of Chicago. While my protagonist and I both lived in multigenerational households, she has a large extended family and connection to the Filipino community that I never had. I’ve always been fascinated by the “Nature vs. Nurture” question, so wondering who I would’ve become if I’d been raised in a very different environment was fun, and Lila quickly took on a life of her own and became her own person.
Lila is a small town girl and has major “big fish in a small pond” syndrome--she imagines a more glamorous life for herself and moves to Chicago for college, but finds out that maybe she doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the big city. Her parents passed away when she was young, so she was raised by her aunt and paternal grandmother, two strong, resilient women in their own ways. Tita Rosie (Tita means “aunt” in Tagalog and is not part of her name) is immensely kind and understanding, but not outwardly affectionate. She shows her love through food and service, which is something my father did. Lola Flor (Lola means “grandmother” and is not part of her name) can be critical and exacting, but behind her harsh words and judgment is the love she has for her family. Like my maternal grandmother, whose household I grew up in, she wants the best for her family. That means high standards and constantly pushing you to do better and achieve more. “Good enough” is not a phrase that exists in her vocabulary.
But are these characters exactly like my dad and grandmother? Of course not. For me, I drilled down to the essence of who these characters were and used the stronger/more extreme parts of my family’s personalities to help inform these characters and make them feel real to me. I don’t want anyone in my life to be able to point to a character and say, “Oh that’s just so-and-so.” I want my characters to stand on their own and feel real to readers because I took care to make them feel real to me.
As for the Calendar Crew, my favorite characters to write, no, they are not based on any one person. They are an amalgam of all the aunties I’ve known in my life, as well as stories I’ve heard from friends. Aunties are a large part of Asian culture, but I’ve also heard from readers from Jamaican/Nigerian/Puerto Rican/etc. backgrounds that are like, “They sound just like my aunties!” For anyone not familiar with the term, “aunties'' are not just your blood/family, but women of a particular generation in relation to you. So while the Calendar Crew are Lila’s godmothers, they are also aunties because they’re of her mother’s generation. Oddly enough, Tita Rosie, who is her literal aunt, doesn’t really fit in what most people would consider the auntie category. However you define them, I’m glad that so many people connect with these characters and that aunties seem to be universal.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoy ARSENIC AND ADOBO, as well as Shady Palms and all the people who populate it!
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).
Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, comes out May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House and is the first in the Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery series.
Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @MPMtheWriter