Author Jesse Sutanto looks back on creating Dial A for Aunties, the brilliant rom-com-slash-murder-mystery caper, and how her own family inspired her writing (but don’t worry, they’ve never had to hide a dead body!).
Writing Dial A for Aunties
When I first started writing, I wrote mostly dark suspense or dark fantasy stories with a healthy (or unhealthy?) body count. I never thought of writing anything based on my own family until I came up with the initial concept for Dial A For Aunties, which was: A young woman accidentally kills someone and her meddlesome aunties dive in to help get rid of the body. But even as I outlined the story, I didn’t really think of my own family.
It wasn’t until I actually started drafting that my uncles and aunts surfaced. The dialogue between the aunties came so naturally, because though the subject matter is different (my family has never had to discuss how to get rid of a dead body, for one), the tone and the various feuds and alliances are all based on my own experience with my huge family. Oh yeah, did I mention I have a huge family? My dad is one of seven kids, and my mom one of nine, and I have lost count of how many first cousins I have.
Staying true to my family
My family is a family of immigrants. All of my grandparents came from China to Indonesia as kids, and though they retained a lot of Chinese values, including the language, they also integrated into Indonesian culture as best as they could, even going as far as changing their Chinese names into Indonesian ones. When I wrote Dial A For Aunties, I considered making the characters Chinese-Americans instead of Chinese-Indonesian-Americans, because I thought that I should keep things simple. But in the end, I’m so glad that I chose to stay as true to my family history as possible. The amount of joy I get from seeing Indonesian words in print in a book from a major UK publisher is incredible. I am so proud that I got to share this part of me with the world.
I hope you enjoy this dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture and that you get a taste of the wackiness of my family. The whole experience of writing and publishing Dial A for Aunties has truly been a delight.