Author Mia P. Manansala discusses how a beta reader helped her rethink the story she wanted to tell in her new cozy mystery novel, Homicide and Halo-Halo.

Mia P. Manansala is a writer from Chicago who loves books, baking, and badass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Mia P. Manansala

Photo by Jamilla Yip Photography

In this post, Mia discusses how a beta reader helped her rethink the story she wanted to tell in her new cozy mystery novel, Homicide and Halo-Halo, her advice on savoring positive feedback, and more!

Name: Mia P. Manansala
Literary agent: Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Book title: Homicide and Halo-Halo
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: February 8, 2022
Genre/category: Mystery (cozy)
Previous titles: Arsenic and Adobo
Elevator pitch for the book: When the head judge of the town beauty pageant is murdered and her cousin-slash-frenemy becomes the main suspect, a Fil-Am café owner turned amateur sleuth must put aside their differences and her complicated history with the pageant to solve the case—because it looks like one of them might be next.

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What prompted you to write this book?

If there is one thing that small-town America and the Philippines have in common, it’s their love of beauty pageants. My mom is nowhere near as into them as many Filipino families I know, but even she makes it a point to watch all the competitions and is so proud and quick to point out when a fellow Filipino is competing.

So I got to thinking: What’s the big deal? Why does every Filipino seem to be obsessed with these contests? I started doing research on this phenomenon, not just because I was curious, but because I knew that it would make an amazing setting for a story.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I plot out my books ahead of time and each book has its own particular theme that I try to weave into them. For this book, I spent the entire first draft thinking the story was about one thing, only for a beta reader to point out that yes, that element was there, but at its core, it was really about something else entirely. It blew my mind what had subconsciously made its way into my work, but that comment helped guide my revisions and made the book so much stronger.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Quite a few things, actually! That ignoring trauma not only doesn’t make it go away, but it’ll also start to bleed into other areas of your life. That it’s OK to need and accept help. That we all need to heal at our own pace, but we don’t have to do it alone. And that love (familial, romantic, platonic, etc) is complicated, and that sometimes we need to let people love us in the way that they can.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Save the positive feedback that resonates with you (I have a folder on my computer) so you can look back on it during the self-doubt filled, imposter syndrome-ridden days, and remind yourself why you do this.

It can be a comment from your critique partner raving about a particular scene, a great trade review, a fantastic email from your editor, or a message from a reader letting you know what your writing meant to them. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and take your writing to new heights with this novel writing course, designed specifically for novelists who are looking for detailed feedback on their work. When you take this online course, you won’t have weekly reading assignments or lectures. Instead, you’ll get to focus solely on completing your novel.

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