Renee put it simply when she said, “this was a riot to read. Dial A for Aunties was so much fun”. Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto was a hilarious, thrilling and addicting story that made readers laugh out loud while sitting on the edge of their seats. Our FBC members got to sit down with Jesse and ask her some of their questions. Renee started off our Q&A session with an important question for our group:
What is your approach to feminism? What does it mean to be a feminist to you?
Jesse: The number one thing is equality for women, men and everyone. It strikes me as weird how many people have an issue with that. One of the things I like to do is read – I love reading thrillers but in every thriller I’ve read, it’s always the women who are the victims. Something horrible always happens to them. In the name of equality, I’m going to treat my male characters the same way like in Dial A for Aunties.
The first big topic that readers were curious about had to do with the aunties (naturally)…
What was your reasoning for not giving your aunties their own names?
Jesse: In Chinese culture, it’s set up that way. We actually call our aunties and uncles by their positions in the family. Like “Big Uncle, Second Uncle”. It’s easier for us.
When you wrote about your aunties, there were very few descriptors. Was this something you didn’t focus on or figured that your readers would assume physical appearance?
Jesse: I have a hard time writing physical descriptions of people or places. I actually had been consciously trying to improve on that like whenever I’m reading a book on physical description, I take notes. It’s just so difficult for me, I don’t know why! I tend to focus on non-facial descriptions which is funny that you noticed that.
Was there an auntie that was your favorite to write?
Jesse: My favorite is Big Aunt. I want to be Big Aunt when I grow up, she is so awesome. She is based on one of my aunties, I won’t say which one, but it’s not based on the oldest one. She is the one I admire the most because she’s the one I always turn to if I need help.
Besides the aunties, this book had a plethora of interesting characters. Jesse answered a few questions about the rest of the silly, wild and chaotic characters in this book.
What was Maureen’s connection to the guy that was murdered and why wasn’t she more upset by that?
Jesse: Maureen and the guy that was killed were acquaintances. When he found out that she was against the wedding, he took it as his chance to use her to steal the jewelry. I can’t remember if I put that in the book. I decided I didn’t want to explain too much because it would be too much about their motive and what their actual plan was.
Why does it take Meddie so long to find her voice?
Jesse: It’s very interesting because it’s part of our culture. I felt this a lot when I was overseas in England or the US where I would be like, “oh no, but my parents want me to do this” and my English and American friends were like, “who cares you’re an adult!”. I found it difficult to separate myself from the Chinese upbringing and I wanted to show that with Meddie. It took me a long time to find my own voice and to separate myself from my overbearing culture. Chinese-Indonesian culture is more overbearing than we’re used to.
Was the character of Nathan inspired by flipping that gender script? He was so non-toxic and wonderfully supportive even after the heartbreak.
Jesse: His character was inspired by how men should be. It’s so rare when a man does not disparage a matriarchal family and doesn’t make jokes about it or anything. I wanted Nathan to be the blueprint of what a decent human is like.
A lot of our readers are writers themselves and had some questions about Jesse’s writing process…
What was the process of writing with multiple languages in the book?
Jesse: My train of thoughts was to give as much of an explanation as I could without it interrupting the flow of the story. For the rest, I was hoping that the context would help the reader decipher what the foreign language meant.
How did you come up with adding each of these different story lines and what did you do while you were writing to keep them organized?
Jesse: I wrote the college times in one go and the present day timeline in one go and then cut and pasted the chapters. Writing everything with the aunties came really naturally. It’s actually really similar to how my family is. I didn’t feel like I had to juggle a lot, it came together nicely.
I would love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write the whole book?
Jesse: It doesn’t take me long to write a first draft, this one took me 6 weeks from start to finish. I write in a hardcore way. As you can see, my daughter is around all the time so I have to wake up early and write before everyone is up. Ironically I have become more productive since having kids because of that.
I was curious if you could talk about the introduction. What was the process around the introduction of the book?
Jesse: My editor said that they were concerned about the broken English throughout the book and asked if I could do an author’s note about that. We didn’t want it to come across as offensive to anyone. That was when I sat down and wrote the introduction.
Our members asked for a few book recommendations including thrillers/mysteries and books by Indonesian and Chinese authors
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
The Other Black Girls by Zakiya Dalila Harris
The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
The Hunting Wives by Mary Cobb
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
We concluded the Q&A with Renee letting Jesse ask our group a question.
Jesse asked: What would you want in books three and four? Here are some of the answers from the chat….
- Seeing one of the Aunties go on a date!
- See cousins we haven’t met yet.
- Having the aunties meet Nathan’s parents…
- Nathan and Meddie’s baby shower!
- Flashbacks from auntie’s in their early 20s.
- A wonderful expected gay plot twist!
- Awkward honeymoon…
- Going back to Indonesia.
- Meddie’s Mom on her own dating app!
The meeting concluded with the tradition of taking a group screenshot with all of our members and their books in hand! A huge thank you to Jesse Q. Sutanto for taking the time to meet with us and answer our questions. We can’t WAIT for your next book, Four Aunties and a Wedding!