Swan Huntley, I WANT YOU MORE

Swan Huntley, I WANT YOU MORE

Zibby Books author alert!! Zibby speaks to author and illustrator Swan Huntley about I WANT YOU MORE, a sexy, atmospheric, and deliciously tense novel about a ghostwriting gig in the Hamptons that becomes far more than a job. Swan reveals her connections to her novel’s plot and then delves into her pragmatic creative process and journey to becoming a novelist. She also talks about her popular illustrations (some of which have gone viral on social media!) and her next project: a memoir published by Zibby Books in 2025!


Zibby: Welcome, Swan. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time To Read Books to discuss, I Want You More, a novel. Congratulations. 

Swan: Thank you.

Zibby: So cool. It's always such a treat when I've read, like, multiple iterations of a book. And then finally, we get to talk about the end, end product. 

Swan: Yeah, you've seen the whole journey. 

Zibby: It's amazing. Well, as you know, I'm so obsessed with this book that we're publishing it. So there you go. Tell listeners what I Want You More is about, please.

Swan: I Want You More is about a ghostwriter who goes to the home of a celebrity chef in East Hampton to write her book. They fall for each other. Things turn dangerous. 

Zibby: Love it. Excellent synopsis. Okay, why this plot? You have a ghostwriter, you have a fun show, you have an East Hampton setting, all these factors.

How did you pick these parts of it? 

Swan: Yeah, that's such a good question. I think often when people ask me about ideas, they are expecting an Answer about, you know, amuse or kind of like a suddenly getting hit with lightning idea moment of like, oh, I have to write about this. And I would say that my process is like, 0 percent mystical.

I just sit there and think, okay, I'm going to write like, 300 pages about this thing. What are the elements that I can put into it that I know something about and that are going to interest me. So East Hampton, I had spent like a couple of weeks at my friend's place in East Hampton and thought this will be a fun place to set a book.

Also it turns out when you set a book somewhere you get to go to the place. 

Zibby: Although not always true because I interviewed Catherine Lin about the South of France and I was like, well, you must've gone and I think she didn't go. And I was like, well, you have to go. So, oh yeah, it was COVID or something.


Swan: Well, generally it works. 

Zibby: Generally it works. 

Swan: And then, yeah. And I've also worked as a ghostwriter. The idea for the setup of this book Came from, I was writing the memoirs of somebody who said, you will come to my house during this process. And it was the height of the pandemic. So I said, no, I will not come to your house.

But I thought that would be a really good setup. Like what if I had gone to this person's house and then been stuck with her in the house, like a lot could have happened. And I've always loved the movie war of the roses, like where they're stuck in this house together and single white females. So I think those.

Had an influence on me too. 

Zibby: Those were the things I was saying. It was like, did you know that? 

Swan: Oh yeah, yeah, I heard that. And then that's like a Martha Stewart like compound is what I heard. 

Zibby: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Swan: Yeah.

Zibby: I like that. So good. It's like, oh my gosh, me too. That is totally . I remember so well, going to see War of the Roses in the theater with my parents who were fighting nonstop and just being like.

Okay, like what was the point of this? I get this all the time. 

Swan: Oh my god, that's really funny. I remember seeing Mrs. Doubtfire with my dad after my parents got divorced and that was like informative. Yeah. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Okay, so you are totally strategic in writing. This is not your first book. Is this how you started out?

Like what, how did you become a novelist? Let's look, how did you, where did you even come from? Go all the way back. 

Swan: I'm a Sagittarius. I was born December 21st, 1982. I grew up in San Diego in a part of San Diego called La Jolla. And I always wanted to be a writer. Like I was obsessed with recording things from the time I was very young.

I can remember taking this train journey. I don't know if I've told you this, but I took this journey on a train through California, I guess, at some point when I was young, and I recorded it by very lightly holding a pencil over a series of like white pieces of just computer paper. So, by the end of the journey, I had, like, all these, like, jiggly lines across these pages of white paper, and I, like, kept those.

I was always, like, recording stuff and keeping it. And trying to get my little friends to write books with me from the time I was six or seven. So, I always say, like, I've been confused about many things in my life. Like, it took me a while to figure out I was gay. And it took me a while to figure out I was an alcoholic.

But I always knew I was going to be a writer. And I think that's partly because it's just a job that little kids know about. You know, I think little kids know about, like, five jobs. It's like writer, lawyer, doctor, and then whatever your parents do. 

Zibby: So basically we should teach little kids about becoming gay alcoholics.

We should add both of those to the list. Do you want to be an astronaut, sweetie, or would you prefer to be an alcoholic? 

Swan: That's really funny. Yeah. Love it. Um, yeah. And then my trajectory was really traditional. I went to get, um, an undergrad degree in creative writing. I went to something called Eckerd college.

I didn't start there, but I kind of ended up there and Dennis Lehane was one of my professors there. Um, and he was, he like made a big impact on me. That was the first time that I was like, Ooh, like a real writer. He's so cool. And he is like, you know, cool Boston guy. Yeah. And then I got an MFA in creative writing.

And then I wrote a couple of books that stayed on my computer. And like, I wrote a book as my thesis for grad school. And that stayed on my computer along with the next book. There's like a longer story here, but yeah. 

Zibby: What were those about? What was the, what's the synopsis? 

Swan: Yeah. Um, okay. There's that quote about how writing a novel is like.

You're driving through the fog with your headlights on and you can only see like three feet in front of you. I forget. And you get, so you still get there and you still get there. So a lot of people love to use this quote. I love to use this quote as like a reason to not outline. I was like, Oh, well, I don't really need to know the destination.

I'm just like wandering through the fog and it seems kind of romantic. And, you know, my grad school really was not a conversation about like, Like if you said plot, you were a loser. It was like, when you're talking about like craft, you know, and like white space, which both of those things are awesome, but I didn't get a sense that I needed to outline anything.

So I wrote this first novel as my thesis, the people who read it were like, this is really good. You should send it out. So I sent it to like a list of people in New York who I found on querytracker. com or whatever. And like back then, it seemed like such a big world to me. It was like, oh my God, there are thousands of agents.

It all just seems so obscure, which is how every world seems before you get into it. Then you get into it, you're like, oh, they're like, Five people here, but yeah, I sent it out and everybody said the same thing, which was these are really good characters, but nothing happens in this book. And I was like, what?

Like to me, so much happens. And that's like, I ultimately don't really care about plot. Like that's not even what I remember about books. I always remember. The quiet moment in which a character is eating a cracker alone. Like I could write like a whole series of books about like a woman in a room alone, but you know, a plot's good to have people turning pages it turns out.

Zibby: So there was, there was room. I mean, that was a great book. There was two people, two people, but it's okay. Yeah, that's right. I'll forgive the plagiarism. It's fine. It's totally fine. 

Swan: Okay. So then finally I put that book aside. And by the way, I was like manifesting so hard. Like I drew the cover of that book.

I had a whole like notebook devoted to that book, like collages and like the characters room drawn and I painted the cover of that book. I was like, this isn't happening. So finally I was like, fine, I guess it's not happening. I'll write a different book. So I wrote a different book. Okay. And I sent it around again and everybody said, these characters are so cool, but nothing happens in this book except for one agent who said, yeah, that's true.

But if you do these like 7, 000 changes, I'll consider repping you. So I, after that meeting, I remember walking down Fifth Avenue. In a pair of pink fry boots that I would never own today being like, I made it like Mary Taylor Moore throwing a hat up in the air moment. I was like, yes, this is my city. Um, and so I spent time making these like 7, 000 changes that this guy recommended.

And then I went back to him and I was like, Hey, it's me. I made all these changes. Here's the book again. And it was like, he didn't even know who I was. He was like, yeah, no, I'm not. No, I don't even know. Yeah. And I was like, whoa, bummer. And then in the meantime, I've had like all the worst jobs. Ever. So I was just like, I can't have these crappy jobs for the rest of my life.

Like I have to, I have to move the plot of my life forward. And I ended up going to a workshop at my old college, Eckerd College, and took this class with Anne Hood. And she passed out something that she called the novel template. And she was like, if you want to write a novel, you have to be able to fill out this template.

And I was like, Template, like, ew, like, white space, crap, you know, like, this is so beneath me. And now I use that template every time, and it essentially, like, it asks you some really basic questions, like, when did your book start and end? You know, that's something that a lot of people don't think about, like, what is, like, the full time period we're dealing with?

And it just asks you to plot out the book. You know? So then I did that and then I wrote a book. Yeah. With the plot. I think I even titled my document, like things have to happen. You know, I was like, things have to happen in this book. And then I read it really quickly and then everything happened really quickly.

Like I got the agent and the deal and it was like, yes. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Did you even send it to the same guy? 

Swan: No. No. Off the list. 

Zibby: Off the list forever. 

Swan: Yeah, I don't know where he is now. 

Zibby: You should like tie all your books together with like a, you know, twine and leave them like as on a stack on his doorstep.

Swan: With a note, you made a big mistake, huge, huge.

Zibby: Oh my gosh, well, why did you like, at all these inflection points, did you ever say like, okay, well, maybe I shouldn't write novels? 

Swan: Never. No, I like, this is, I think one of my, it's like my greatest weakness and my greatest strength is when I decide something, it's like on, I'm like blinders on, we're going there.

Like actually the first time that I appeared at a bookstore to do like a book event, I I had imagined that so many times that I felt as if it had already happened. Like I, and that's what I mean about like manifesting, I was like, this is the only thing that's going to happen. I don't have a B plan. So the A plan has to take place.

Zibby: I love that. I try things like that too, but they don't work. I'm like, I'm just going to imagine that this book is in People Magazine, but it's not. But I can see it in my head, I can make that font happen, but it actually only happened in my head. But it's nice to dream. 

Swan: And some version of it might happen later, like I don't think it's always like a one to one.

Zibby: Okay. All right. So this is the long game. Playing the long game. Well, that's interesting. You were saying that you drew that whole time on the white paper on the train because another piece of your brain obviously is so artistic and how you do all these illustrations and you know, I told you that I gave the bad mood book out as a party favor.

To my son's eighth birthday, which was a huge mistake, but I thought it was hilarious that we started, you know, trying to cover up all the curse words, and then we just gave up and we were like, here, just take it because I loved it so much, and I still think it's a great parenting book, even though that wasn't the point of it.

But it's how to get your kid out of a bad mood. It's like the greatest device. So talk about the intersection of your, not caricatures, what do you call them? Illustrations. Thank you. The whole, how both parts of your brain work and all that. 

Swan: Yeah, I guess to like connect this back to like the thing about having blinders on, I think the problem with having blinders on is sometimes you don't see.

See how other, like, you don't see the other organic threads in your life that are presenting themselves to you. But I think the illustration career is an example of like how I was paying attention to inorganic thread and I followed it and then like good things happen. And I feel like whenever people do that, it's like, ends up being a good story.

So. I went to a residency and I was supposed to be writing a novel, but I just didn't feel like writing this novel. So I just started drawing these little cartoons and putting them on Instagram. One of the first cartoons ever with a moment that really happened at Lululemon E66, where I worked, a girl who worked there.

Oh, I was in Dofy, which is the person who stands by the dorm. The acronym stands for director of first impressions. So you just say like, Hey, how's it going? Hey. And while pretending to like fold the same scuba hoodie over and over. And this girl was like, what do you do? And I said, I'm a writer. And she said, I love horses.

So that was my first. One of the best moments of my life, but then I like started taking pictures of them and putting them on Instagram and then people liked them and it was like a dopamine rush. And I was like, oh, my God, this is so unlike writing a novel where you're just alone in a vacuum for so long.

This is fun and random. I don't know. And then it just kind of blossomed from there. It ended like a couple years later. I was a hike with a friend who happens to be an agent and she was like, you should do something with those cartoons. Like, you should make a gift book proposal. And here are the things that you should put in this proposal.

And I was like, okay, that sounds really easy. So I did that. And then it happened. And I should, um, take the opportunity to plug the next book, which comes out, which I don't think has any curse words in it. The colors of the cover are based on the Beverly Hills Hotel colors. So pink and emerald green, um, and it's called you're grounded and it's about like how to get grounded in a world full of fear.

You know, things to pay attention to. 

Zibby: That's so cool. I love that. If someone recommended at one point, they were like, your logo should be pink and green. I'm like, that is the Beverly Hills Hotel. What are you talking about? I can't use those colors. Like those are iconic. That is, that combination has been done.

Anyway, that sounds really good. And your next book with Zippy Books too, your memoir, want to talk about that? 

Swan: Oh God. Yeah. Okay. 

Zibby: Remember that one? 

Swan: Yeah. I love that. I love the memoir. Okay. I'm so excited about this memoir. 

Zibby: I can tell... 

Swan: It's like all the pieces are coming together in this memoir.

Cause I plan to put some drawings in it, as you know, and I feel like, you know, the other part of my story that I didn't mention is I applied to both nonfiction and fiction programs. And so for Columbia, I actually got into both of them, but the fiction people gave me some money. So I would have chosen nonfiction if that had not happened.

Um, So I just kind of like veered into fiction, but I've always felt like really interested in nonfiction and I probably read more nonfiction than fiction. So it just feels like, oh, this was like meant to happen. And the book is about, it's interwoven narratives. So one of them is about my 500 mile pilgrimage through.

Spain, which is called the Camino de Santiago. It's a very well known pilgrimage if you're into that. And the other is my journey through addiction. And I'm hoping to deal with that in a way that's new. You know, I think we all like add something new to the conversation. And I think what I'm specifically trying to add is kind of an illustration of how, like when you get sober, your addiction doesn't just go away.

I think a lot of stories about. Sorority function in that way where it's like, sorry, I was drunk. What a bummer. And then I got sober and it was all great. Bye. And I'm kind of like, you know, now I've been sober for like 13 years. And I wrote an essay about my obsession with yogurt a couple of years ago. So it's sort of, it, it stemmed from that essay, actually, which was called all the things I've loved to death, which is about how I have to like love something to death in order to get it out of my life.

I just killed off popped lotus seeds.

Zibby: Wow. Just crossing them off the list for the rest of us to, to try next. Oh my goodness. You need to, at the, at the back, we're going to have to put some sort of like a, a list, like ingredients list if they want it for people to try it out. 

Swan: Totally. That would be great. Yeah. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh, okay, so you also have recently gone viral on TikTok with these annotations after I saw you last time, which I know is not even, you know, related to the plot of your book, but talk about that.

Oh, okay. Well, and you went viral, right? Well, that's because it had nothing to do really with me. It was just like a video of people on the beach, but it's fine. It's fine. Oh, I'll link it to it. It's connected to me, so I'm going to take credit for it. 

Swan: But yeah, I went viral and I'm going to attribute all of this to Hannah.

My new, I'm calling her my boss, because now she just tells me what to do on social media. And she told me to, instead of just post my drawings to buy, like a camera that hovers over my hand drawing stuff, so to video myself drawing and then she adds cool music to it. And so she did that to this drawing.

That's about childhood and therapy. It's basically saying like age zero to 18 is childhood. 18 to death is years in therapy. Talking about childhood, that's like the whole thing. . I don't even know how you go viral. I mean, I guess it's just like one person sends it to the next person sends it to the next person.

And last night Hannah texted me and she, well, she sent me a screenshot and she's like, Sam felt commented on it. So it's like, wow. And I was like, who is that? Oh, I think he's on my Spotify. So he's like big, big music person. 

Zibby: Wow. 

Swan: Yeah. 

Zibby: I was feeling foolish that I didn't know who that was, so glad you had to ask.

Swan: I sort of knew. 

Zibby: You sort of knew. Well, back to I Want You More. So you sat down intentionally, you combined a lot of elements, you used your plot template, and you just, what, pressed go and then there you had a book. How long did it take to write? 

Swan: You know what? I don't like answering this question. I'm gonna like mysteriously not answer this question.

Zibby: Okay. 

Swan: But I work pretty quickly. I don't know. I write a draft pretty quickly and I think that's. Because writing a novel is like, there's so many things to keep track of. 

Zibby: Why do you not want to answer the question? Is it, is it because you wrote it in like two weeks and you're embarrassed? 

Swan: I guess that, you know what, I think it's actually wrong that I'm not saying it because I think I'm adding like other people's baggage to me.

I think it's like people have this idea that in order for things to be good, they need to like be really arduous and take 10, 000 years. And this is like connected to all these other like, beliefs about writing that I don't think are true, you know, like, I think there's this image of like the pained person pecking away at a typewriter and it's raining and they're drinking scotch and stuff, like, so, okay.

It's taken me, bizarrely, it's taken me the same amount of time to write the first draft of all of my books and that amount of time is seven weeks. But I will say I don't have children. Like I think this question is also problematic because we have to take into account that people have very different lives.

So yeah, the only thing I'm accountable to are my houseplants and if they die, I don't care. 

Zibby: You're going to have legions of plant lovers really upset right now. 

Swan: Actually, my friend came over yesterday and was like, this plant is diseased. Like this plant is not doing well. Like, oh, so he told me to download an app.

Zibby: And did you? 

Swan: I did, but yeah. 

Zibby: You should not be in any way ashamed of writing your novels in seven weeks. I mean, first of all, most people in seven weeks couldn't come up with anything good. And you're writing novels that get published and are good. So that's great. Also, it's not about my life versus your life versus random person who you feel is judging you over in the corner, who's not, and it's just like, oh, okay, that's an interesting data point.

Moving on. And you're like, I feel terrible about this. I mean, I think everybody has different periods of time where they can work and you do it in big spurts and other people like to drag it out or they like to do an hour a day or, but how great to just get it all done, right? I mean, I don't know.

There's no right or wrong. There's like, it's a creative process. 

Swan: Right. Thank you, Zibby. I feel like we're really working through all my issues in this. 

Zibby: No problem. No problem. You want to lay down? I could just, you know, I could pull up my armchair a little closer to the screen and, you know, keep going here.

Swan: Yeah. No, you're right. It's very, I do like to do things like that. Like just bite them off, you know, huge chunk. 

Zibby: Yeah. Okay. But I'll never ask you that question again. I'll just say, I'll see you in maybe seven weeks. Good luck with this next draft. I don't know why I picked that number. It's so weird. Well, are you thinking of doing any more novels?

Are you thinking of doing more art? Are you just like seeing where the threads take you now? 

Swan: Right now I'm concentrated on finishing the memoir. So I have a draft, but I want to, like, Perfect this draft and writing the memoir is a little different than writing the novels because rather than creating It's you know, like a shaving away of stuff, but I think this is a book I wanted to write for a long time and I have a pretty good sense of what I want it to be So that's cool one Piece of this.

I'm not sure if I've told you this, but I was talking before about how I love to record things and always have. So I have many, many journals from the time I was very young. My first journal entry ever says today at school we played dodgeball. I accidentally sat on the ball and somebody said swan laid an egg.

That was basically my whole childhood. Hey, Flamingo. Yeah, I actually, okay. This is actually a good illustration. So in my memory, it was another child who said that, but then according to my journal, it was actually like the teacher's aid or something. I was like, Oh, ouch. So the point of this is to say that when I have like a stronger draft of the memoir, I plan to go back through my journals to see if there's anything I want to add from there, you know, because I think the process of writing this is also about the process of writing this and of memory and like, what stories are we telling and how helpful is that to us or not?

And it's just, It's just so humbling to see how, you know, I like reshape stories over time, unless painful. I really. 

Zibby: When you talked about the crazy jobs that you had that were terrible aside from Lululemon, and I probably walked past you and just freeze dried in to buy my, you know, I had to find out when you were working there, but anyway, what other terrible jobs did you have?

Swan: Okay. My first job ever. I was. I was. I was 15 and I was an algae sweeper. My dad was a marine biologist. He moved to Kona. He built this algae farm and it was algae moving around in these like ponds and the algae scum would get stuck on the side. So I would go with my broom and like walk around these algae ponds to get the product off the side.

That was my first job ever, like off the books. That was my first technical job when I was 16. I worked at Whole Foods as a bagger. I think I only got that job because he was like a lot of Jennifer's and Sarah's applied to this, but your name is swan and you live on moon something street, which is why I called.

I was like sick. Um, so yeah, it was a bagger. I have like so many details about each job, but I don't know that we have that much time. So I'll go through it more quickly. I also worked at pickup sticks. Which is an Americanized like Chinese food chain, but I don't know if it's just a West coast thing or what, but yeah, it worked there.

I worked as a telemarketer in high school, a lot of people with facial tattoos at that job. I worked at an Italian restaurant. I worked at some Indian restaurants in Boston. I worked at Pizzeria Uno for one day. Bouchon, Beverly Hills. Lululemon Sammo, otherwise known as Santa Monica. Went through a whole period of babysitting old men when I lived in Boston.

Yeah, I don't know if I've ever told you about that. It kind of started with a dare. My friend was like, I bet you would have a weird job like this. And I was like, I would. So yeah, Craigslist Bob taking care of a guy named Bernie led to some other guys. There are actually four of them, two Bernies and two Bobs.

That's a good name for an essay. Right, two Bernies and two Bobs, that is good. When I was 19, I moved to France for a year. I was an au pair. I worked at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage right after college in like the basement. That was, that was a dark time. Um, and I know there are some others, but those are the first that come to mind.

Zibby: Wow. I mean, I don't know why you even have to go to your journals. I mean, you have enough stuff right in that last two minutes to write another memoir. Oh my gosh. Hilarious. Okay. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? 

Swan: Yeah. I would say your muse is dead. Like don't assume that there is a muse and that there's like a special moment when everything comes to you.

So, you know, I think if you just sit down. Things can unexpectedly happen. And I do think it's mostly about discipline and not talent. Like I think that talent is cool, but really the most important thing is finishing something. So I would say really try to finish one thing. 

Zibby: Love it. Amazing. Well, congratulations on I Want You More.

So excited to be bringing it out into the world and the memoir and everything else and I'm just, I'm a huge fan. So thanks. 

Swan: Thanks so much, Zibby. I'm a huge fan of you. 

Zibby: Oh, thank you. You didn't have to say that. Bye. 

Swan: Bye.

Swan Huntley, I WANT YOU MORE

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