Interview with Michelle L Winkler, Author of Dust on the Altar | Book Talk
Updated: Apr 11
Hello fellows bookworms, you are in for a treat today! I had the chance to interview Michelle L Winkler, author of the upcoming book Dust on the Altar. And let me tell you, this book is so worth the wait!
1. What was your inspiration for Dust on the Altar?
I tend to daydream quite a bit when I drive. Not to the point it's dangerous, but my mind does wander into all kinds of random ideas. I was driving by a church one day, and I thought how inspirational stories of losing and regaining faith were. My next thought was, what if it was a witch who lost her faith in magic? I then thought about what could make a person lose their faith, and what could help them regain that faith.
It took a while to come up with the answers, but once I did, the story flowed pretty easily from there. It's changed tremendously since that first draft, but the core remains: a witch, who's parents die when she's young, loses her faith in magic when she's unable to bring them back, and we follow her on her journey to regain her faith and come to terms with the loss of her parents.
2. Did you edit out any scenes you wish you could have kept?
Oh yes, quite a few. That's one of the most difficult parts for me, cutting material. In fact, it's so difficult, every day I worked on it I saved my manuscript into a new file with the date in the file name. A bit crazy I know, but it helped relieve the stress of making a change I couldn't take back.
To answer your question, there was one scene that sticks out between Jade (the main character) and Charlie (her love interest). It showed the two of them going to one of their old secret hiding places they used as kids. They do a magic spell on one of the Ascension Keys and have a heart to heart talk. It was a sweet scene of two old friends getting to know each other again and finding a spark of something more. I believe all that is still in the book, but because of revisions, I had to cut it. It’s still in a file somewhere.
3. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Dust on the Altar?
I did a lot of weird research for this book. Everything from the proper way to hold a teacup (you do not extend your pinkie) to the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard (a graveyard is usually attached to a church; a cemetery is not). I even learned that there really are mushrooms that glow in the dark, but they're genetically engineered.
However, I must say the most surprising thing I learned was how difficult and time consuming creating a book is. I'm so thankful I didn't know before I started, because I never would have tried, and I never would have gotten to know so many wonderful people in the writing and reading communities.
4. How has the publishing process been for you?
The actual publishing part was a lot easier than I thought it would be. There were issues I had to deal with that I expected, like my proofs not being right and having to redo the files and try again. There were also some surprising issues, like the cover image not showing up on Amazon, even though all the other data was there (I’m still trying to get that fixed).
I think it feels easier than I thought it would because the writing and revising process was so much more difficult than I thought it would be. Of course, as of writing this, I’m still in the pre-sale stage and haven’t technically finished publishing yet. Fingers crossed it all goes well on October 30th.
5. Do you write while listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied Dust on the Altar?
I have to have music while writing. If I don’t, I’m too distracted. I listen to almost all genres of music and have a playlist for each book. The songs in each playlist relate to characters, scenes, or overall mood for that book. Some of them are general and others are almost literal, down to the lyrics themselves.
The Dust on the Altar playlist has 31 songs, but some of them are:
Dark Horse by Katy Perry: for Jade
If You Only Knew by Shinedown: for Charlie
Gold by Imagine Dragons: for Richard, Jade’s boss, and father figure.
I also like to listen to instrumental soundtrack style songs. They’re great for helping me find the right mood. One of my favorite groups I discovered is Hidden Citizens.
6. What was your process for creating the cover for Dust on the Altar?
I hired a professional cover designer, through Reedsy.com, who did all the work designing and creating it. The process was very easy once I decided on a designer. I sent him my ideas for what I wanted the overall feel to be, that I wanted a woman and altar on the cover, and to somehow incorporate the remains of a burnt down house. I also sent him an excerpt from the book that describes the altar. From that he sent back a cover that is very close to the final image. When I opened the file and saw it with the title and my name, I cried. It was the first time it felt real. I was really going to publish a book.
Anyway, I had a few tweaks I wanted, which he made right away. Once my back-cover blurb was done I sent that, and he added it. If I may, his name is Jake Clark and I highly recommend him. I’ll definitely be hiring him for my future projects.
7. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Not really. I never thought of being an author because I just assumed it was out of reach for me. I’ve always enjoyed writing though. I had fun writing poems for school and when I grew up I wrote short stories for myself for fun. I even wrote some Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan fiction.
It wasn’t until I found out about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) that I realized I actually could write a whole book. It’s completely changed my life.
8. Who is your favorite author?
It’s impossible for me to choose one. When I was young, say, 7th and 8th grade, I loved everyone from Madeleine L’Engle to Frank Herbert. Although I couldn’t have told you their names then. I loved books, but sadly knew nothing about the authors who wrote them. These days, I’m much more aware of the creative and talented people behind the stories they write.
Probably because of my own foray into self-publishing, my favorites today lean more toward indie-authors. Megan Tennant, Jenna Moreci, T.A. Hernandez, Kim M. Watt… I could go on and on.
I do like traditionally published authors too though. V. E. Schwab and Tomi Adeyemi are tops for that list.
9. Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
Write what you love. You don’t have to publish it, but if you do, don’t be hurt by criticism. Every author gets negative feedback, it doesn’t mean you’re bad. Learn from what you can, and discard the rest. Always strive to improve and stay positive.
10. What are your favorite writing tropes?
I never thought about that before. I usually like things that are different and surprising, so. If I have to pick one, I’d say frenemies to lovers. There’s something I love about two people who bicker and complain about each other, but everyone knows in the end, they’re perfect for each other.
11. Outside of writing, how do you like to pass the time?
My working days are pretty long, now that I’m almost published. I often work past my bedtime, but I try to spend at least a couple hours reading, watching TV, or playing Minecraft or Planetside 2. When the weather’s nice I’ll go kayak or shoot my bow.
Dust on the Altar will be published on October 30th! This witchy tale is the perfect way to end October! Pre-order it on Amazon.