What Scares You, Mia P. Manansala?

I’m so thrilled to welcome Mia Manansala to What Scares You. Mia’s book Arsenic and Adobo was released this month and has gotten some amazing press (including a review in the New York Times, thank you very much!) And every time I see that cover, I sigh with pleasure. It’s so awesome, isn’t it?
But the big question today is: What scares this writer of culinary mysteries? What foods terrify her very soul? Find out this…and more…below.

What’s worse: the black abyss of space or the black abyss of the bottom of the ocean?

Bottom of the ocean, easily. There are prehistoric horrors down there! The fact that it’s easier to explore space than it is the greatest depths of the ocean really tells you something. I absolutely love being by and in the water, but I have zero interest in going further down.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

That instead of growing and challenging myself, I get stuck writing the same book over and over and over again. Also, that my ignorance and unconscious biases could lead to me writing harmful material. However, with that latter one, I hope that when I mess up (because everybody does) I will have the grace to acknowledge it and accept responsibility, then put in the work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

I grew up in a working class, Latinx neighborhood of Chicago, but my parents’ friends (all Filipino like us) lived in the suburbs, which felt sooooo far away. I have vivid memories of those long car rides to and from parties, and the fear I had of the long-winding stretch of forest preserve we’d pass on the way home in the winter. The trees were bare and, in the darkness of those suburban roads, truly terrifying. They reminded me of the trees in Snow White, the gnarled branches that grabbed at her and tried to hold her hostage.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

I’m actually much more afraid of developing a food allergy and not being allowed to eat something than of trying something new/different! Some would call me an adventurous eater–I lived in South Korea for three and a half years and ate my way through a decent chunk of East and Southeast Asia–but honestly, it’s all about what you’ve been exposed to and being open-minded.

I try not to refer to food as “exotic” because that begs the question: exotic to who? Filipino food may be new to some people, but for me, it’s the food I ate growing up in Chicago. I’m more weirded out by the Midwest’s idea of what constitutes a salad than anything I ate abroad.

“I’m more weirded out by the Midwest’s idea of what constitutes a salad than anything I’ve had abroad.”

Do you enjoy scaring other people? Why or why not?

I am a coward of the first degree and don’t try to scare anyone since I’m too afraid of retaliation. Plus, with my luck, I’m more likely to spook myself than the intended target.

What’s worse: being buried alive or bitten by a vampire?

Buried alive. Theoretically, both come with a paralyzing sense of helplessness and fear (at least according to some vampire myths) but at least a vampire bite is a quicker way to die. Being buried alive is a dark, lonely, slow suffocation–it reminds me of the Mary Higgins Clark novel, Moonlight Becomes You, which was where I first learned about the Victorians’ fear of being buried alive. The image of string wrapped around your finger and attached to a bell beside your grave so that you can ring for help if you’ve been buried alive totally freaked me out as a kid (and still does now, honestly).

Mia P. Manansala (she/her) is a writer and certified 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. Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, was published May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House.