A few months ago, I got the honor of reading Beneath the Willow Tree, a beautiful allegorical story about Jesus’ love for us. (Here’s my full review if you’d like to check it out!) And today, I get the privilege of interviewing the author of this lovely story, Abby Burrus! I really enjoyed her answers – she has a lot of wise advice, and I just love her mission in her writing. So without further adieu …
Interview with Abby
VH: Hi, Abby, and welcome to the blog! I’m so excited to have you join me today. Tell me a little bit about your writing journey. When did you first start writing?
AB: I can’t say for sure, because I don’t know what age I wrote my first story. I was young and didn’t even know how to type on a computer, so I wrote it out on paper. I even drew my own illustrations in! It was the first and only mystery book I ever wrote. Mystery was all I read at the time, so that’s what I wrote.
The next stories that came after that were ones that I emailed to a very patient and tolerant relative. I would literally type up the paragraphs on the spot and send them to her. It was an equestrian (horse) focused story. I still have those, and to read them now is agonizing. However, at least I know that even if my writing is bad, at least it won’t be THAT bad again.
I think it really took off when I started reading fantasy. I began to write another story, this time a fantasy novel of my own. I’m STILL working on that fantasy novel. I have so many plans for it.
VH: What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
AB: Grammar. Seriously. Took me forever to figure out commas and I’m still not sure I’ve got it.
VH: What authors have deeply influenced your writing?
AB: I haven’t read many books ON writing. Actually, I’ve read only one I can think of. But in terms of what books and authors have inspired me to go write my own, there’s too many to name. A few favorites are Chuck Black’s books, Wayne Thomas Batson’s books, C. S. Lewis, Bodie and Brock Thoene, Bethany Atazadeh, Pricilla Shirer’s Prince Warriors series (the first inspiration for my fantasy novel mentioned above), and more recently, Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan.
VH: What’s one of your best pieces of advice for an aspiring author?
AB: Write. Just write and write and write. I know that’s what aspiring authors hear all the time but it’s very true. Before you can do anything else, you need to figure out the best way that you write. Are you a pantser or plotter? What genre and subgenre? And what do you want to write about, what message do you want to say? And for goodness sake, don’t you dare give up on a book unless you absolutely cannot continue because you hate the thing. You FINISH.
Also, research. Just do a lot of searching, there’s lots of free information out there. A lot of it is good, but a lot of it is also not so good. And some of it will work for you, and some of it will not. However, don’t use researching as an excuse to procrastinate on writing.
And finally, don’t start too many projects at one time, otherwise none of them will ever get finished. If an idea is bugging you so much you can’t not write it, turn it into a flash fiction piece or short story and leave it there for now.
VH: What’s your favorite genre in which to write?
AB: Christian fantasy, and my very close second is equestrian fiction. I’ve also dabbled in historical and contemporary.
VH: At what point did you realize you wanted to publish? How did you decide to go indie?
Well, I knew I wanted to publish when I started writing my first fantasy. I had no idea how that worked, but I assumed we could figure it out once we got there. I was originally planning to go the traditional route because that was the only route I knew about.
But I was reading through Faye Fite’s blog one day, and I happened to see a post (or rather, several posts) she’d done on indie publishing. That was how I found out about it, and I knew that was how I wanted to publish right there. I didn’t debate or even think that much about it, I just knew that was what I wanted and what would work for me.
VH: Tell me a little bit about Beneath the Willow Tree.
Well, it’s a short story. Remember those blog posts I mentioned? The author recommended that first time indie publishers start out with a short story so they can learn how to self-publish without having to deal with a 300 page novel. By the way, that’s very good advice.
This gave me an excuse, if you will, to write on something that I’ve always wanted to write on. Trust, pain, fear, and love.
The Willow tree is a safe place for Nova, a place where she escapes this world she lives in. But one day this Man comes and offers her a real, permanent escape in the removal of her Mark, which is embedded in a person’s skin and is the way they are controlled.
But there’s one problem: She has to trust this Man. And Nova has a history of betrayal.
VH: What was the inspiration behind this Beneath the Willow Tree?
AB: Several things.
I’ve always adored willow trees. In Pricilla Shirer’s second book of the Prince Warriors series, characters take shelter under a willow tree from ‘Ents’ (giant metal flying butterflies with stingers.) The book describes the willow’s draping branches as providing cover for the characters. It was this idea that I drew on for Beneath the Willow Tree.
Secondly, the idea of needing to trust God even when you’re not sure.
See, Nova doesn’t know this Man. She only knows that He is different, and because of that differentness, He can offer her a way out. She is not sure she can trust Him.
Those are two main inspirations, but honestly, so much went into this little short story. I hope readers can sense that, and are encouraged or helped by it.
VH: What do you hope readers will take away from your writing?
AB: I hope they will be awakened from the dullness of life. I hope it’ll make them realize there is so much more available, not in this world but outside of it. I hope to make people, especially my fellow Christians, get their eyes off what is earthly and onto what is eternal. And finally, I hope to help give them a break from everyday life, and to let them know they are not alone in their struggles.
VH: What do your upcoming projects look like?
AB: I’ve got so many of them. My hopeful next publishing project is A Challenge, which is an equestrian focused story about a grieving girl and a quirky gray horse. That should be coming out in the summer of 2022.
I’m still working on that fantasy novel from all those years ago, and that probably won’t be available for a few years yet. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be publishing any other fantasy in the future.
And finally, I might also publish other short stories, or a collection of short stories!
VH: Thanks so much for chatting with me today!
AB: Of course, thank you for inviting me!