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With ‘The Goddesses,’ Marin’s Swan Huntley Creates a Girl Crush Gone Wrong

The San Anselmo writer behind the 2016 thriller We Could Be Beautiful talks follow-up pressure and finding inspiration in the Bay Area. 

 

In Swan Huntley’s 2016 hit psychological thriller We Could Be Beautiful, the Marin-based writer cast her acerbic eye for social satire on the precarious mental state of a flailing Manhattan doyenne. In her latest, The Goddesses (July 25, Doubleday), Huntley trains her gaze on a pair of middle-class women in Kona, Hawaii, where she lives while away from San Anselmo. The result is a biting and seldom-flattering portrait of a “friend crush” gone horribly wrong. We caught up with Huntley to talk about finding inspiration in her surroundings, practicing public speaking, and—Marin alert!—yoga hypocrisy.

San Francisco: I loved all the descriptions in The Goddesses of Nancy, Ana and their community practicing yoga. Does that come from your own personal experience?

Swan Huntley: I am a practicing yogi, yes. That part of this book is a little bit of a dig. The character of Ana is based on people I know in the spiritual world who are doing all these good things, but they’re actually kind of sketchy. To give you an example from the Bay Area, I’ve been going to the Monday meditation at Spirit Rock [in Woodacre]. It was so funny to me, because we’d sit there for two hours and then we would all buy a cookie for a dollar and the proceeds would go to charity, and then you have your dharma talk. So we’re all sitting there being peaceful and gentle beings, and then I would go out into the parking lot, and so many times people would just cut me off. I found that paradox to be hilarious and fascinating.

SF: Yeah, people can kind of clock in their zen time for the day, and then they’re done.

SH: Right. It becomes a checklist thing.

SF: Your first novel, We Could Be Beautiful, came out just about a year ago, and was really well received. How did writing The Goddesses and getting ready for its release feel different?

SH: At first, I was very nervous about things like interviews and doing readings and all the other things that go along with being a writer. That whole next part—“OK, get up on a podium and tell us about your story”—is so funny for writers, who are mostly introverts. I hired a public speaking coach to speak to me for an hour, who turned out to be totally stoned and mostly just said, “You go girl!” But it was worth it, because I felt better.

SF: How has the vibe in Marin, where you live part-time, impacted your writing?

SH: I’ve found Marin County to be such a wonderful place to write because it’s so peaceful. I was living in San Anselmo, and it’s just so pretty and so easy and quiet. It’s a much softer place to live than say, New York City. That’s been great for my writing. I’ve been very productive in Marin County.

SF: The sense of place in The Goddesses is also really apparent—in this case it’s Kona. Were you purposely drawing on experiences you’ve had there for this book?

SH: They say life imitates art and art imitates life: I’ve spent a lot of time in Kona ever since I was a kid, and my dad’s lived there a long time. So I’d be driving down Ali’i Drive, the main drag, and I would see something like the guy at the bus stop. And I would be like, “Oh my God, I was just writing about you,” even though in my head I know I haven’t ever seen him, maybe ever. But then, maybe I had, you know? Things just get implanted. And you think you’re creating a blurry picture, but then you go and you see it in life.


Huntley will speak at A Great Place for Books in Oakland Aug. 4 and Book Passage in Corte Madera Aug. 7.
The Goddesses is available July 25 from Doubleday.

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