Feminist Book Club members were lucky enough to be graced by Jesse Q. Sutanto and a surprise guest (her daughter) to discuss her amazing new release Dial A for Aunties. Jesse joined us from the future in Jakarta, Indonesia which meant while we were tuning in at night, Jesse was sharing her morning with us. Dial A for Aunties was our August selection for the theme Beach Reads and the consensus among members is that this book was a bundle of laughs and perfect for a summer read. With that in mind, members had many questions for Jesse about the book, her writing process, and more so that we could connect even more with this wonderful read.
Warning, there will be spoilers for Dial A for Aunties in this post, so read at your own caution.
What does it mean to be a feminist?
When beginning any of our author chats, Feminist Book Club founder, Renee, loves to ask authors about what it means to be a feminist. For Jesse Q. Sutanto, feminism means equality for everyone no matter your gender and she follows through with this thought in her writing. In Dial A for Aunties, Jesse centers the suspenseful novel around an accidental murder, specifically the murder of a man. This flips the usual trope in thrillers of the woman who is written solely as a damsel in distress to be killed, and as a result of her disappointment in this trope being overdone, Jesse writes from an opposite point of view where the man is the one who dies.
Why are the Aunties not referred to by name?
While reading Dial A for Aunties, you may notice that the Aunties are rarely, if ever referred to by names other than Big Aunty, Second Aunty, Fourth Auntie, and Ma. Jesse shares that this is very intention as in Chinese culture, and in her own family, families are so huge that it can be difficult to remember everyone’s name and use them often. Additionally, it can be seen as a sign of disrespect to call elders by their name, so in their place they are called by the titles of Aunty or Uncle.
How did you organize and write Dial A for Aunties?
When I read Dial A for Aunties, there was a lot of chaotic energy traveling between the two different timelines, but also the numerous storylines that were constantly intertwining in the most suspenseful way possible. When asked about how she organized and wrote this book, Jesse shares that she wrote the storyline that takes place in the past between Meddy and Nathan as one and the present day storyline on its own. Then while editing, Jesse alternated the past and present to separate chapters. Likewise, Jesse shares that it took her six weeks to write the first draft of Dial A for Aunties which she wrote early in the morning before her family woke up. While writing, Jesse wanted to include multiple languages, specifically the Chinese Indonesian phrases in the book because of how natural it feels based on her own family and how it represents a different type of family and their experiences. That being said, Jesse did not want to write the translations for each of the phrases used because as a reader we get a lot from context and she did not want to interrupt the flow of the story.
Jesse Q. Sutanto shared that she does not enjoy writing physical descriptions of people or places because she feels that is one of her weakest points, and in turn she focusses on non physical descriptions as her strength which we see in the personalities of the characters she developed.
The future for Jesse Q. Sutanto
Jesse Q. Sutanto has a lot coming up for her, specifically a sequel that is already in the works to come out in March of 2022! The second book in the Dial A for Aunties series will be titled Four Aunties and a Wedding and will follow the characters readers loved in the first book. Members were also keyed in that the Dial A for Aunties series will include four books in total so that we can read an immense amount of aunty craziness.
Additionally, Jesse Q. Sutanto will have her book adapted by Netflix (which was not supposed to be leaked!) by the creator of Fresh Off the Boat, Nahnatchka Khan. Jesse mentioned that she is very excited to be working with Khan because she not only wants to see it adapted as a comedy but also with the seriousness of the scene where Meddy is defending herself in a very scary situation.
Jesse Q. Sutanto’s recommendations
Members love to hear author recommendations and Jesse had a number of them to share! Jesse shared that she was reading The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren while writing Dial A for Aunties and it inspired the big chaotic wedding scene. That being said, Jesse also is a lover of thrillers and recommends Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, and The Hunting Wives by May Cobb.
If you are looking for some reads by Chinese Indonesian authors, Jesse recommends Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan.
Jesse Q. Sutanto answered numerous member questions about her favorite characters to write, the curse mentioned in the book, and the laugh out loud eggplant scene. If you are a Feminist Book Club member you are able to access the recordings of the author Q&A’s for three months after the live session. Find these recordings on your account page!