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A globe-trotter from early on in life, Jesse Q. Sutanto has lived in a variety of locales, including Singapore and Great Britain, and now calls Indonesia home. After completing a master’s in creative writing from the University of Oxford, Jesse worked in the wedding industry while pursuing a writing career and now is the author of one adult novel and one YA novel, with more books in the works.
Who is Jesse Q. Sutanto?
Well, I’ve just had to pause writing down my answers twice in the last 10 minutes because I had to take the toddler to the potty and break up a fight between the toddler and the five-year-old, so I guess the best answer to this question is that I’m a harried mother, haha! I’m a mom of two little ones and an author based in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Tell us about your new book, Dial A for Aunties.
It’s the story of a wedding photographer who accidentally kills her blind date and has to get the help of her meddlesome mom and aunts to hide the body . . . all while coordinating an over-the-top billionaire’s wedding. Very realistic, obviously!
Family plays an important role in the book. Tell us a bit about your own family and if they may have provided some inspiration for any fictional characters.
I have a huge family. My dad is one of seven siblings and my mom is one of nine. I have over 40 first cousins, and I have lost count of the number of nieces and nephews I have! We grew up very close to one another. Many of us live on the same street, so we’re always up in one another’s business, and I’ve always wanted to write a story with a large, close-knit family like mine. But in the end, I had to cut down on the number of family members in Dial A for Aunties because otherwise it would just be too unwieldy!
What can you tell us about Chinese-Indonesian culture, and why was it important to you to include this in both Dial A for Aunties and your YA novel, The Obsession?
The Obsession actually has a half-Singaporean main character and not a Chinese-Indonesian one, because I grew up in Singapore and consider it one of my homes. But in both books, I really wanted to show a slice of Southeast Asian culture. I think the push for more diversity in the States is so wonderful, but I still had a hard time finding Southeast Asian stories, so I wanted to show that here is a region that’s sort of similar and also different from East Asian cultures. Some elements of Chinese-Indonesian culture I wanted to share are how loud we are and how everything is centered around food and respecting our elders, and it was so special to be able to draw attention to that in Dial A for Aunties.
What three words best describe the flavor of your writing?
Humorous, dark, twisty.
Why is “Oops, I accidentally killed someone” one of your favorite literary devices?
Haha, this is such a great question. Because it’s such an amazing catalyst! I struggled for years to find a way to write characters inspired by my family, but I couldn’t do it for the longest time because everything was hitting too close to home. The drama was too raw, and it felt wrong lifting so much from my family. Then it hit me: what if I . . . threw in a dead body? And that was when it clicked, and everything flowed so easily.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a writer?
Aim low. I think every writer I know has that nasty little voice that’s constantly telling them that they’re an awful writer. The only way I am able to overcome that voice is to allow myself to aim low and write terrible first drafts. I tell myself that I can always fix it later. Years later, I still remind myself it’s OK to aim low and not seek perfection, especially in the first draft, and it’s the number one thing that allows me to write fast.
What three books would you take with you to a desert island, and why would you choose these titles?
Oh no, this is so difficult.
Zero Sum Game, by S. L. Huang. S. L. is an MIT graduate and evil genius. The book has so many twists and turns and layers upon layers that I could read it multiple times over and still discover something new every time.
A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge. Hardinge’s worlds are always so lovingly crafted, with so much detail and history that it’s impossible to get bored of them. She’s definitely one of the most underrated writers of our time.
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. The book felt both refreshing and comfortingly familiar, and the fairytale-like setting is so enchanting. I’ve been looking forward to when I’ve forgotten enough of it so I can do a reread.
What is next for you as a writer?
Not to jinx myself, but I’m very ambitious and I have zero chill, so what’s next is hopefully even more books. I read widely and I love many different genres and age categories, so I’m hoping that I can continue writing in multiple genres and publish at least two books every year.
How can readers learn more about you and your books?
They can follow me on Twitter at @thewritinghippo or Instagram at @jesseqsutanto. My website is www.jesseqsutanto.com, but Twitter and Instagram are the best places to go to for regular updates.
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