"Q&A With Jesse Q. Sutanto: Dial A for Aunties"

Author: Jesse Q. Sutanto

Author Bio:

"Jesse Q. Sutanto is the author of Dial A for Aunties, The Obsession, and Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit. Jesse grew up shuttling between Indonesia, Singapore, and Oxford, and considers all three places her home. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford. Jesse has forty-two first cousins and thirty aunties and uncles, many of whom live just down the road. She lives in Indonesia with her husband and two daughters. Learn more online at www.jesseqsutanto.com."
 

1.  Your book “Dial A for Aunties is over-the-top funny and outrageous. How much fun did you have writing this story and what were your friends’ and family’s first reactions to reading it? 

This was the first time that I actually laughed out loud while writing a book. With each plot twist and discovery that I made, I laughed with joy and rushed to tell my long-suffering husband about it. I had never been so excited about a book before. Fortunately, all the family members who have read it so far have had positive reactions. Not sure if they’re just being polite, but I’m not about to dig! 

 

2.  When did you realize that you were funny, or at least had the ability to make people laugh? 

I’m nowhere near as funny in person, so it took a looong time to realize that I love humorous books and I should lean into that. My husband knew even before he met me because back then I had a food blog which he found really funny. He often suggested that I try my hand at something comedic, but I was always too intimidated. I would say that the first time I realized I could write comedic things was only about two years ago.  

 

3.  How is your family and do they resemble Meddy’s family dynamics at all? 

My family is huge! My mom has eight siblings and my dad has six siblings and each of those siblings had multiple kids, so I don’t even really know how many first cousins I have. We’re all really close and growing up, we competed with one another ruthlessly. Many of my cousins are over-achievers. One of them has a Masters from Yale and a recognition of excellence from the Prime Minister of Singapore, so you know what I’m up against! 

When I wrote Dial A For Aunties, I wanted to include some of the pressure that comes from competition from Meddy’s mother and aunties. In that sense, Meddy’s family really resembles mine, but I’m happy to report that the men in my family have stayed put and not like, flown away as soon as they were able to! 

 

4.  What does your ideal writing environment look like? 

HA! My ideal writing environment is complete, beautiful SILENCE. But my kids are both doing online schooling right now due to the pandemic, so it is chaos 24/7 here. I try to wake up before they do, which is really tough, and I put in my ear plugs and start writing. That’s the only way I can focus. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to write these days, so I’m really being forced to level up my speed writing abilities. Ideally, I would have a 2-hour window in the mornings to write somewhere quiet.  

 

5.  How much of your personality shines through to the readers in Dial A for Aunties

I think a lot of my personality is woven into Dial A for Aunties! Whenever I got stuck in a scene, I just thought to myself: What would my mom do? What would this auntie or that uncle do? And how would I react to it? And the scene would just flow really easily. It doesn’t just showcase my personality, but that of my family too.  

 

6.  In your opinion, what makes a great story? 

To me, what makes a great story is one that keeps the reader engaged. Whether it’s through humor, or shock, or something tantalizing, whatever it is, as long as you know your target audience and manage to keep them engaged, I think that makes the story successful. 

 

7.  In this story you mix elements of both romantic comedy and murder mystery. As the author, what was your favorite thing about blending these two genres? 

It’s in the unexpectedness of it that really gets me going! I love turning tropes on their heads, and with Dial A for Aunties, I was able to subvert so many tropes. I read so many thrillers and I get really annoyed about the fact that most of the victims in these books are the female characters! In my books, I try to turn that trope on its head and have my victims be the men, and I find it so freeing in a sense. I love how unexpected it is and it challenges so many of the gender roles that we’ve grown up with.  

 

8.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block? 

Writer’s block is interesting. Part of me accepts that this is a real thing that happens to many writers, but I choose to ignore that part, and whenever I sense myself thinking about it, I mentally pounce on myself and go, “NO. WRITER’S BLOCK DOES NOT EXIST.” (It does. I just don’t let myself believe that it exists for ME.) 

My best advice is to not think about writer’s block too much, and to treat writing as a habit instead of something that you only do when inspiration strikes. And once I shifted my perspective to look at writing as a job, as something I need to do Mondays to Fridays at the same exact time, I ceased to worry about things like writer’s block. Because my brain just knows: It’s time to write. And your brain will extract inspiration from things around you. 

I watch a lot of TV (who doesn’t?) and every time I watch something, my brain is toiling away in the background, going, “Ooh, does that inspire me in some way?” Same with books I’m reading. It can be a wonderful book or a mediocre one, and my brain would go, “Can I extract inspiration from it?” I’m never out of ideas. But it takes practice to train your brain to do this constantly, and I do mean constantly.

I watched a documentary about fungus the other day and found it extremely inspirational, but if I had watched the same show five years ago, I wouldn’t have felt inspired by it. Practice and remind yourself that inspiration is everywhere. You just need to learn how to identify it.  

 

9.  What’s the best book you have read this year so far? 

Ahh! What a tough question! But hands down, it would have to be The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Oh my gosh, that book ripped my heart right out! And I would gladly let it do that all over again. I was really fighting it for the longest time because based on the title I didn’t think it would be something I was into, but the story was such an amazing surprise. I cried, I cheered, I laughed. I loved every bit of it, and I think everyone should read it.  

 

10. Do you plan on writing more books in the future? 

Yes! For sure. I don’t plan on hitting the breaks anytime soon. In fact, I’m always trying to improve my craft so that I can write books even faster. I have a five-year plan, and beyond that, a ten-year plan, so I’m not planning on slowing down.

Places To Find More From This Author:

Twitter: @thewritinghippo

Instagram: @jesseqsutanto

Facebook: Jesse Q Sutanto

Website: www.jesseqsutanto.com

 

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