I recently had the pleasure to chat with my friend Amy Willoughby-Burle about reading, writing, and her most recent release. In The Year of Thorns and Honey, Amy writes about faith, family, and forgiveness. Her characters discover that “life can be as sticky as it is sweet.” If you enjoy a sweet romance, you’ll want to move this book to the top of your TBR list.
Amy Willoughby-Burle is a teacher and author living in the mountains of NC with her husband and four children. She is the author of the novels The Lemonade Year and The Year of Thorns & Honey. Her short fiction appears in numerous literary journals as well as her collection, Out Across the Nowhere. Her fiction centers around the themes of family, faith, and finding “home.” She likes to write about the beauty of the ordinary world and the extraordinary lives we all live.
Behind the Scenes
When you enter a bookstore, in which section do you look first?
I head straight for the general fiction. In my local store, there is also a regional fiction section that I love. I am fortunate to know, or to have met, many of the authors who are represented on those shelves, and spending time in that section is like hanging out with friends. Some of the authors on those shelves are rockstars to me, and I get a little fan-girly over them.
What is your favorite genre to read?
I tend to gravitate to books with a bit of a literary tone. Not in a snobbish sort of way, but in the way that I really love the poetic style, the imagery, the ponderings of the characters. The “stop and smell the roses” nature of that type of writing. That said, when a storyline has grabbed me, I’m eager for the author to turn away from the roses and tell me what happens next already!
How did you begin writing? What drew you to write women’s fiction and sweet romance?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I was an avid reader and a child mostly lost in my imagination–the good kind of lost, so it was a natural journey to write my own stories. I used to get diaries and instead of writing the details of my life, I’d write fictional stories in them. I was “writing a book.”
I used to get diaries and instead of writing the details of my life, I’d write fictional stories in them. I was “writing a book.”
I started writing short stories in college. We studied mostly literary fiction (hence my tendencies toward it) and my style of writing followed suit, but my subject matter shifted over the years to have more of a focus on family matters and the pangs and triumphs of the heart. I love a good love story, and I love to dig around in the ups and downs of the human experience. But, still, I love a good laugh and some witty dialogue as well. A look into my Netflix history would make it all make sense.
Where do you like to write?
I have a desk in my bedroom at home, and a good amount of the work I do is done there, but I LIKE to write in my local bookstore, Malaprop’s in Asheville. It’s still closed to open shopping and the cafe is closed right now, but I’m looking forward to getting back in there one day. There are a couple of other book shops around town that I like to write in also. I have four kids, two cats, two dogs, and one husband (LOL) at home at any given time and it can be a bit chaotic at my house. The bookstores can be “busy” as well, but none of those folks are wanting me to make them lunch or take them out for a walk. So, I can tune it all out, be around books, get a cup of coffee, and just settle into my story.
Are you a plotter, a pantser, or are do you fall somewhere in between?
I used to be a die-hard panster. I would just let the characters lead me through their story however they saw fit. Mostly, that worked, but I would always end up with tons of pages that never made it into a final draft. The journey was fun though. Then one day my agent asked me for the synopsis of a book I hadn’t written yet. Mind blown. A few days later, I was making a long car trip by myself and talked my way through the plot of the story she was wanting. I was pleasantly surprised that I could even do it that way, and that it was actually pretty fun. And, that it didn’t take the enjoyment and thrill of the unexpected out of writing the book like I had worried it might. So now, I’m probably more of a plotter. Wow, that’s something I never thought I’d say.
What advice do you have to share with writers who are interested in hybrid or self-publishing a book?
I started writing when self-publishing was only just beginning, and I’ve seen it go through many stages of quality and preference. Going into this industry, I had a notion of how I wanted to do things, and how I thought things happened. I’ve learned many lessons along my journey and some of the biggest have been to be patient, open-minded, and flexible. My first novel, The Lemonade Year, was published traditionally and I had the most wonderful experience with my editor and publisher. The next novel, The Year of Thorns and Honey, was a stand alone sequel to that first book. My agent, editor and I talked about that book together, but over the course of time, it didn’t land with them. All good. But, I still had it written and readers still wanted it. I had never thought that I would self-pub or in this case, go with an assisted self-pub. I actually thought that once I had one book out there, the rest would find homes easily. (And every author everywhere gets a good laugh.) So, I really had to think about my expectations and goals and mostly, I wanted readers to be able to enjoy this book. It didn’t matter how it got out there. I guess my long winded advice is to not let preconceived ideas about publishing stop you from getting a story out. Hybrid and self-publishing are not just “options,” but part of the journey if you ask me.
I guess my long winded advice is to not let preconceived ideas about publishing stop you from getting a story out. Hybrid and self-publishing are not just “options,” but part of the journey if you ask me.
Would you rather write a book about your greatest passion on a tight deadline OR would you rather write a book about something you know nothing about with no deadline?
This is a fantastic question. Hand down, I work best on a deadline! With all the time in the world, I will take all the time in the world. I enjoy research for a book, but I like the kind of research that is born of exploring an existing passion. The sort of research that adds more detail. not the kind that makes me feel like I should be getting college credit for having done it. Deadlines are my friend.
Please tell us about your newest or upcoming release.
My new release is The Year of Thorns and Honey. It’s a stand alone follow-up to The Lemonade Year. Many of my readers wanted to know what happened next in the lives of the characters they’d come to love from TLY. So, when my agent asked what I thought about writing a second book, I jumped at it. I love these characters, too. But I wanted to write the book so that if someone came to it without having read The Lemonade Year, it would still be wholly enjoyable and self-sufficient as a story. I sort of see it as “season 2.” You know, like back in the day before Netflix, where you might very well have come to a show a season or more in, but you could follow right along. It’s family saga, siblings, mother/ daughter, romance, unexpected friendships… life. It’s a story about love and sacrifice, about truth in relationships, about facing hard things, and about accepting happiness and finding joy.
Were there any songs, scriptures, quotes, or poems that inspired this book?
One of the verses I have always loved and that features in the story via one of the characters is Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
What is something God has taught you through your writing?
Patience, patience, patience. To rely on His timing and not my own. To trust His plan which is better than mine. I remember the day precisely that I turned my writing over to Him. My focus shifted immediately. I worried less about things happening fast, or bringing in tons of money. I was at a conference and one of the speakers asked (about creative endeavors) “why are you doing this?” And when I really thought about it, when I looked at how much my faith had seeped into my fiction over the years, and what I really wanted from my work, (which was the fervent hope that people would see God’s love through my stories) I knew I needed to get out of His way and let Him do things the way they needed to be done. I’m a planner, a do-er, a check it off the list-er and it’s hard for me to give up control. But always, when I give it up to Him, He does so much better with it that I would have. He’s done it again, making the timing work with Ally Press who put this book out. The Year of Thorns and Honey is all due to God.