Cross Country Travels, Dusty Altars, and Steven Moffat - Interview with Indie Author Michelle Winkler
One of my favorite things about writing is getting to know other writers! I find other writers and aspiring authors on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and it's always really exciting when you connect with someone and you become friends.
I love swapping ideas, getting critiques, and having other writers to share woes and successes with. So, when I Michelle and I started to get to know each other through a Critique Partner matching, it was one of the best things ever!
We swapped novels and I loved hearing her feedback, and I really loved reading her novel, Dust on the Altar which she is currently prepping to be self-published. I can't wait for it to be released so you all can enjoy it too! If you like fantasy, witches, romance, and adventure - you'll LOVE Dust on the Altar too!
When Michelle agreed to do an interview - I was so glad!
Yes, I know I misspelled Steven Moffat in the picture. I don’t know what I was thinking! I, sorry! Please don’t take away my Whovian status!
Me: What do you write?
Michelle: My favorite genres growing up were Sci-fi and Fantasy, so most of my books will be of that kind. My 5 year plan includes: my first novel which will be book one in a fantasy trilogy, a time travel Sci-fi detective novel, and a memoir of my true life journey across country when I was 20 years old, just for a little something different.
Me: Um... I love that you have a five year plan. I barely have a five day plan! I also love that even within SFF, your genres vary like a time travel detective novel. So cool! And you journeyed across country when you were 20? Did you go by yourself???? Or do I need to wait until the memoir to learn? Haha.
Michelle: The journey across country was not something I’d recommend to anyone. Hitch-hiking Is very dangerous, to put it mildly, even back in the 1980’s. At the time I was desperate, feeling very nearly suicidal but couldn’t bring myself to actually do that, so this is what I did. A last-ditch effort at life, so to speak. I was by myself and had only $60 and a kitchen steak knife for defense. Yeah, pretty risky. I had angels watching out for me, for sure.
It did all work out in the end though, and I can't wait to tell the story of all the great people I met along the way... and some jerks too. Of course I have to finish Dust on the Altar first and its sequels, if the first sells well. I'm determined that no matter how it sells I'm going to write and publish my journey story anyway, it will just take a few years. Stay tuned.
Me: That's amazing! I definitely want to read that memoir now. You're so brave!
Me: How long have you been writing?
Michelle: I once found a 5 page story about a mouse who went to the moon to find out it was made of Swiss cheese, written in crayon... so, I’m guessing since about first grade. I don’t remember actually writing it though, so let’s just say I’ve been writing a long time.
Me: That's adorable. My first story was about the same time. It was about a giraffe who had multi-colored spots.
Me: When/why did you decide to pursue writing as a career?
Michelle: This, I’m much more clear about. On November 30, 2015 I amazed myself by winning National Novel Writing Month on my first try. I spent the next year or so debating what to do with the newborn manuscript I had created called Dust on the Altar.
I had never been happy at a regular job, never stayed at one long, but I had always loved writing. I thought, if I could write books that gave people just a little of the joy I felt as a kid reading books, and could make a living doing it, then I would be happy to do that for the rest of my life.
So, I made the commitment to publish Dust on the Altar. On February 27, 2017, I opened my author Twitter account to start growing my author platform. Almost a year later here I am. I’m still revising DOTA but hoping to make my 2018 release date. We’ll see how well it does. If it sells, then I guess I have a new career. If not, then I’ll keep writing and possibly publishing for fun and those who do like my writing, but I’ll have to find work that does pay.
I’ve learned you should never give up on your dreams, however, you do have to pay your bills in the meantime.
Me: Love it! And I'm really impressed with how much you've been able to get done in just a year. I feel like it takes me AGES to even get a rough draft done, even after NaNoWriMo is over. I also love that you recognize how you can pursue your dreams... but you also have to pay your bills! So many times, people forget that. Just because you have to pay bills and get a "regular" job it doesn't mean that going for your dreams has to stop.
Me: How did you pick between traditional and self-publishing?
Michelle: That was a tough choice and I went back and forth on it several times. I don’t think one is better than the other, and I’m disappointed in the negativity authors seem to have toward each other the issue. There is room for everyone at the table.
There are several reasons I chose to be an independent author, but chief among them was complete control over my book. From the cover to marketing, I decide. I also decide when it will be published or if it will be published at all. By going through traditional publishing I leave all that up to someone else. That has its own advantages, but it doesn't seem right for me at this time. Perhaps in the future. Each author should make that choice for themselves.
Me: Yeah, I've for sure learned more about the independent publishing industry, even though I'm going for traditional. There's a lot of misconceptions out there about self-published authors. But they are some of the best business minded people I've heard of as I read about it and listen to podcasts. It's really interesting, and I can see why they would choose to go that route. I'm really impatient too, so I can see the appeal of self-publishing for sure. But as you said, it's something each author needs to make for themselves.
Me: What are some of the unexpected challenges that have come up while writing and publishing?
Michelle: It’s taking much longer than I thought it would to revise my book. I’ve had to push my release date out twice and may have to again, which is upsetting to me. I’m not a patient person when it comes to myself. On the one hand, I want to have my book done already. On the other hand, I want it to be the best it can be.
Another challenge is having to change in ways I didn’t expect. I’m a very shy person but in order to make your voice heard you need to get out there and make friends in the writing and reader communities long before your book hits the market, otherwise they will say, “Michelle who?” Setting up social media accounts and engaging with them every day, blogging, email lists; all these and more are things I didn’t realize I would have to become comfortable with in order to have a presence ahead of my first book release.
The most surprising thing of all are that all these challenges haven’t scared me away from this career. I should have run screaming back to my cave a long time ago, but instead I have found myself smiling bigger, raising my chin and whispering, “Come on, bring it.”
Me: That's such an awesome attitude to have! I've definitely learned too that no matter if you're traditionally publishing a book, or self-publishing a book, a lot of the audience building and cultivating is the author's responsibility. You really need to put yourself out there. I love that you're not intimidated by it though and you let it motivate you!
Me: What’s the most rewarding thing about writing/publishing so far?
Michelle: Helping others. Every time I learn something new I really enjoy passing that knowledge on to other writers who may be just a few steps behind me on the learning curve. I get the greatest feeling of accomplishment from other writers thanking me for helping them. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn't be where I am without all the people who’ve said they like my writing. The positive feedback I’ve received so far has been the number one factor in deciding to go forward with publishing rather than keep my writing to myself. And I most certainly will cry literal tears for days at my first bad review. However, there’s just something about the feeling I get when someone says I’ve helped them in some way, that makes me smile like nothing else.
In fact, the main focus of my blog is to help new writers through their journey by letting them learn from my mistakes.
Me: I think we're all there with you on the first bad review thing! And YES with helping others! I'm the same way. I just love connecting with other writers (like you) and how we can all help and learn from each other. I have people I've been able to share my knowledge and resources with, and they do the same for me. It's such a great community.
Me: Where do you get inspiration for your work?
Michelle: I like to imagine there are bubbles of ideas floating around us all the time. We are constantly running into stray bubble-thoughts of this or that. If we don’t take the idea bubble and do something with it then it continues to float along until someone else grabs it and does something with it. Right?
Being serious, I’m not sure. Sometimes I have a dream. I daydream a lot while I’m driving. The idea for Dust on the Altar came from a daydream while I was driving past a church. I thought, when you hear about a loss of faith you think of religious faith. What if you were a witch and lost your faith in magic? And thus began the questions that grew into a novel.
Other times it will come from a real life experience. I believe it helps if you experience as much as you can in life and keep your mind and eyes open to what’s around you. You never know where your next story idea will come from.
Me: That's so cool where you got the idea for Dust on the Altar! It's really interesting to see where people's ideas come from, and how even with fantasy, so many times the themes and different elements still stem from real life.
Me: What authors inspire you?
Michelle: In my youth, my mom introduced me to Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Frank Herbert’s epic Dune. I devoured these and more like them by the time I was in 6th grade. It sparked my fascination with the genres I still love today. While I still love the old classics, I find a lack of free time has turned me into a turtle reader and I don’t read as much as I used to.
Most of the books I read now are by new and debut authors. I find them inspiring because while they may have only one or two books out, they show great promise. Two of my favorites so far are Megan Tennant and Jenna Moreci.
Me: I'll have to check out those debut authors!
Me: What is the first thing you remember writing?
Michelle: I’ve written countless bits and pieces of things over the years but I’ve never really finished anything until now. Unless you count a Buffy fanfiction series a few years ago. But I didn’t finish the last chapter, so I guess I should count that either.
Anyway, Dust on the Altar is the first novel I’ve ever completed and is currently going through revisions to become my first published work.
I’m overly excited about it because it’s the most complicated, and at over 60,000 words the largest thing I’ve written that I’ve ever completed. It has been toiled over and molded and shaped into the best thing I could possibly make it. I can’t wait to share it with the world and hear back all the good and bad things people have to say about it, so that in 3 years time when asked this same question I can say, “I remember writing my first book.”
Me: Yes fanfiction! So many people get their start writing doing fan fic and I love it!
Me: What do you like the most about your genre?
Michelle: One of my favorite quotes by Steven Moffat actually explains what I love best about the Sci-fi and Fantasy genres, more specifically the heroes you find in them. In part, he says, “History books tell us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now, but heroes tell us who we want to be.” Although you may never reach that ideal of the hero, I believe it’s vital to always have it to strive toward.
The other great thing about the two genres is that they can tell us hard truths we don’t want to hear. By setting the scene in a place completely alien to us, with people and situations that we don’t see every day, we can relax and enjoy the entertainment on the surface of the story while between the lines we are learning a lesson about things going on here in our modern day world. It’s like the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. That lesson stays with us long after we close the book.
Me: I will definitely have to keep that quote from Moffat in mind. That's a good one! And it's so accurate about SFF. People who aren't into those genres I think don't realize must how much truth goes into them.
Me: Describe your writing process in three words.
Michelle: Messy. Fun. Typos.
Me: LOL Definitely relateable right there!
Me: What are your top three favorite books at the moment?
Michelle: Like I said, I’ve become very interested in new and debut authors lately, but earlier this year I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and fell in love with it. I listened to it on Audible over a couple days while painting our new kitchen. It was such an adventure. Of course I love British accents and it helped that the author read it himself. The descriptions were vivid, the plot was interesting, the characters fascinating. It’s one I will love to read again at some point.
Megan Tennant is one of those new authors I mentioned and her debut novel is Aletheia. It’s a dystopian first person account from a woman with no name. I hesitate to say zombie genre, because it’s not zombies. Just read it. It’s so good.
Jenna Moreci has her second novel coming out soon, and by pre-ordering I got to read the first five chapters. I’m totally hooked. It’s called The Saviors Champion.
Me: I love Ocean at the End of the Lane! And those others sound really good too!
Me: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Michelle: I love computer first person shooter games like PlanetSide 2, even though I die constantly, and World of Warcraft. I usually end up playing a supporting role in them like medic or mage. I also am trying to get a veggie and herb garden going, so I can supplement my food and eat better. I dabble with making my own chain-mail jewelry. I love movies and TV… that’s about it I guess.
Me: Chainmail jewelry? That's amazing!
Me: What have you been watching/listening to lately?
Michelle: I usually make a separate playlist for each book with songs that remind me of the characters, scenes, or moods in said book, and play it on a loop while I write or edit. Lately however, I discovered a group called Two Steps From Hell and have been playing their album Power of Darkness Anthology non-stop. It’s mostly instrumental music. Very emotional. They’ve written songs for some major blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean and such.
I’ve also been watching a lot of YouTube videos about writing and/or publishing. I usually start with Jenna or Megan and surf through whatever related videos pop up from there. Basically I’m in sponge mode trying to learn all I can about writing and publishing before I launch my first book. It’s been fun so far.
Me: I have some writing playlists that I have on repeat too as I write! I might have to take note of Power of Darkness cause they might have some good mood music for my own work. And I'm all about YouTube videos!
Me: Any online links you'd like to share so we can find you?
Michelle: I’m on Twitter daily @MWinklerBooks, my writing blog is at michellewinkler.wordpress.com, my Facebook page is at facebook.com/michelle.winkler.397. The debut authors I mentioned are ones I found through Twitter, so you can find them easily on my "following" list.
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