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Jesse Q. Sutanto: On Accidental Murder and Meddlesome Families

Author Jesse Q. Sutanto explains how she created the plot for her novel Dial A for Aunties and how she lets her characters dictate their story.

Jesse Q. Sutanto grew up shuttling back and forth between Indonesia, Singapore, and Oxford and considers all three places her home. She has a master's from Oxford University, but she has yet to figure out how to say that without sounding obnoxious. Jesse has 42 first cousins and 30 aunties and uncles, many of whom live just down the road. When she's not writing, she's gaming with her husband (mostly FPS) or making a mess in the kitchen with her two daughters.

Jesse Q. Sutanto

Jesse Q. Sutanto

In this post, Sutanto explains how she created the plot for her novel Dial A for Aunties, how she lets her characters dictate their story, and more!

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Name: Jesse Q Sutanto
Literary agent: Katelyn Detweiler
Book title: Dial A for Aunties
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: April 27, 2021
Genre: Women’s fiction, romantic comedy
Elevator pitch for the book: Crazy Rich Asians meets Weekend at Bernie’s as a young wedding photographer enlists her meddlesome mother and aunts to help hide the dead body of her blind date while trying to pull off an opulent wedding for a billionaire client on the same day.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

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What prompted you to write this book?

Two things: My favorite trope, which is accidental murder, and my own very meddlesome family. I think there are quite a few stories involving meddlesome aunties, which is always so fun, and I thought: You know what’s even more fun than meddlesome aunties? Meddlesome aunties getting rid of a dead body!

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How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

From idea to finishing up the book itself, it took me about three months—one month to plot and outline and two months to write it. Then it took my awesome agent, Katelyn, about two weeks to sell it. So altogether, a very fast and smooth journey!

My ideas always evolve in the writing process, despite the fact that I outline as much as I can beforehand. This is because I let myself discover new things while writing. I get to know the characters, and I let them surprise me sometimes. It’s great fun, but also leads me to getting stuck quite a bit while drafting.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

So many! The first surprise was when we were out on sub and Katelyn started getting calls from film agents. We had no idea how the film people heard about it, but before long, Katelyn was getting inundated with calls from film scouts and even foreign scouts who had somehow heard about the book.

The other surprise was how quickly everything happened. Books usually take about two years from the time the deal happens to publication, but Dial A is coming out in April 2021, almost exactly one year after we sold to Berkley. I am amazed by the speed at which things are happening, and so grateful to my Berkley team, which comprises of superhumans.

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

So many! I didn’t foresee the aunties playing such a huge role in the book, to be honest. They basically stole the show, and I’m so glad they did. I adore these aunties. I was also surprised by how easily the scenes with the aunties flowed. I guess it’s because I knew them so well already. Their dialogues just sprang onto the page fully formed. Their feuds and relationships with each other all came so naturally. I wasn’t expecting it, though thinking of my own family, I should’ve seen that coming.

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

Above all, a good laugh. And a peek into Indonesian culture and how extravagant it is.

Jesse Q. Sutanto: On Accidental Murder and Meddlesome Families

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

Keep writing! DAFA was my ninth book. Ninth! Aaaah! I had sold two others before DAFA, but DAFA was the truly life-changing one. Rejection is, unfortunately, a big part of being a writer, so normalize it, shrug it off, and keep writing. 

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