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Michelle Winkler was convinced by her husband to live in the Arizona desert. While skeptical at first, she realized if she could survive hitchhiking halfway cross country at 20 years old, spend eight years in the Navy, and raise two sons, as long as she had air-conditioning, she’d probably be okay.
Since her move she’s started a veggie garden, learned how to shoot a bow, completed three associate degrees, and become a kayak enthusiast. However, she still hates to cook and will absolutely run screaming from the room at the first sight of a bug. Because bugs are evil.
She completed her first novel for National Novel Writing Month in 2015. After five years of hard work, dedication, and struggle to climb the learning curve, she published Dust on the Altar, in October 2020. With that novel she went on to be a semi-finalist in the Book Blogger’s Novel of the Year Award and shortlisted in the Page Turner Awards in 2021.
Now she’s a proud indie-author who can’t imagine loving any other career. Her goals for the future include giving back to the writing community and helping aspiring authors on their journey to becoming published.
When writing, she’s usually supervised by an adorable Brittany Spaniel named Zen and his mini-me little sister, Pepper. Sign up for her monthly newsletter at michellewinkler.com, for info on future projects, free short stories, and more.
Here's some Ideas for General questions concerning writing and being an author:
When/why did you decide to be an author?
Why did you choose to self-publish instead of going the traditional route?
What surprised you the most about the self-publishing process?
What is the most difficult aspect of being an indie-author?
Is there anything you wish you could go back and do differently?
What is your writing process like?
What advice would you give an aspiring author/writer?
ideas for questions concerning my debut novel Dust on the altar:
What was your inspiration for Dust on the Altar?
Your book description says "...magical witches and a touch of sci-fi." how does that work/what does that mean?
Which character was the most difficult to write and why?
Which character was the most fun to write?
Were there any scenes you cut which you wish you would have kept?
What role does music play in your writing process?
What made you choose the images you did for the cover?
What can you tell us about the next book in the series?
The Debut Release
Dust on the Altar
Title: Dust on the Altar
Series: A Lighter Shade of Darkness. Book 1
Author: Michelle Winkler
Genre: Dark adult fantasy, sci-fi
Formats Available: eBook, paperback, and hardcover. Audiobook format coming soon!
Available on: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo
Publication Date: October 30, 2020.
Synopsis: Dust on the Altar is a dark urban adult fantasy with magical witches and a touch of sci-fi. It’s set in an alternate Earth timeline, where cities are ruled by technology and their citizens have marginalized witches to the townships, where they can practice magic with little fear of reprisal.
When Sugar Hill’s coven leader is murdered, Jade becomes the last of the Cerridwen bloodline and is called back home to take her place as High Priestess. Of course, Jade will do what’s right, but will the cost be too high?
“Dust on the Altar is so much more than an urban fantasy tale. It is also a story of friendship, faith, and overcoming fear. Jade ran from her fears and troubles as a child, but returning to Sugar Hill forces her to face everything she ran away from. And she doesn’t return to the town alone. Her best friend April is right alongside her. April may not have magic, but she slowly begins to accept the witch side of Jade, showing how friendship can transcend any bounds.”
“I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Dust on the Altar, I just knew it’s been a while since I’ve read a good witchy story and I wanted one! But this book went above and beyond anything I could have expected. It’s a fairly quick read (if you don’t have two kids) with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end. Then if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to go back to pick up all the bread crumbs that you didn’t know were bread crumbs at the time because you love seeing scenes in a new light.”
“Jade is both admirable and relatable, and all of her side characters are charming and heartwarming. You quickly grow to love each and every one of them and wish you could bury yourself in this book and join the coven of Sugar Hill! I read this book in one day, and it was a delight from start to finish. If you are looking for a fresh new urban fantasy, you need to pick this book up!”
Cover design by Jake Clark.
Chapter One Excerpt
The last thing Jade expected to do on her lunch break was make news headlines, but apparently all you had to do was help defend one Witch from price gouging and suddenly your loyalty was in question. She hadn’t noticed the news drone until it was too late. Only when she turned around to leave did she see its beady little eye staring her down in judgment. Its AI brain quickly decided she was newsworthy, and it beeped twice at her, the red light on its dome signaling that it had transmitted the footage to all the major news outlets. It turned and sped off in search of another news story.
Jade trudged up the wide steps and into her office building’s lobby. Its cold glass and marble were a stark contrast to her mood. She always tried to stay out of the spotlight, and getting involved with Witch’s rights was not the way to do that. The elevator ride back to her office was torture. The steady ding that repeated with each passing floor began to sound like a ticking clock, counting down the seconds until the judgment began. I really hope April didn’t see that. Maybe she was too busy with the reports she asked her to edit to even take a lunch.
She stepped out of the elevator on the fourteenth floor. The receptionist’s desk was barely there, only a single sheet of clear CircuitGlass that curved up from the floor, then bent and traveled horizontally for about a foot. The monitor was a holographic image hovering above the glass at a comfortable viewing angle. The receptionist glanced up and gave Jade a brief smile before returning to her work.
Jade relaxed. No judgment there. If she didn’t see it, maybe April didn’t see it either. Or it didn’t make the final cut. Not all videos sent in by the drones made it to broadcast. Most did, though, and were looped several times before something new replaced them.
She turned toward her office. Through the glass doors she could see April standing next to her desk outside of Jade’s office. Her blonde hair was pulled back tightly into a bun, emphasizing the scowl on her face. She stood with her arms crossed, tapping her stiletto on the white tiled floor.
“Great,” Jade mumbled to herself.
“What was that, Ms. Cerridwen?” The receptionist smiled politely at her.
“Nothing.” Jade took a deep breath and headed through the doors.
As Jade walked past her, April asked quietly, “What did you do?”
Jade tried to put off the inevitable argument as she quickly entered her office and went to her desk. “I know, we agreed I’d try to eat healthy this week, but you know how much I hate the cafeteria food. Sammy’s has the best burgers in Sun City.” Jade sat in her desk chair. The autumn sun’s rays streaming through the glass wall warmed her shoulders. She placed the to-go bag on the edge of her desk. Its seamless black glass surface woke, and the greeting Afternoon, Jade glowed in the center.
“I couldn’t help it. It’s just one meal. You’ll forgive me.” She gave April her best pout, pushing out her lower lip, batting her lashes, and trying to make her green eyes look as sorrowful as possible. “Won’t you?”
April stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at Jade. “Not that . . .” She swiped her hand across the desk surface, then tapped an icon among the group that appeared. “That.” She pointed at the three headlines that sprang into existence, hovering an inch parallel to the glass: “Local Woman Shows Her True Colors—Witch Black,” “Unifiers at Work Again,” and “Not Even Sun City Is Safe From the Witch Invasion.”
Jade countered, “Those could be about anyone.”
April nodded once, then tapped the first headline, causing a holovid to play between her and Jade. The 3D video showed a woman yelling at a cook in a food truck. Though she was impeccably dressed in a dark blue pantsuit, her wavy brown hair was caught by the breeze, making her look a little on the crazy side as she launched her verbal attack.
Jade cringed as she watched herself on the video. In the background a pale woman dressed all in black, with a black W on her forehead, looked on. You could clearly hear Jade say, “I know exactly what you did. It may be common practice to charge Witches more, but it’s not going to happen here. Whetstone Enterprises is the biggest company in the country, Sammy.” She pointed a finger as she finished. “If you don’t want to lose our business, then you’d better follow the Accords to the letter. Clear?”
Jade stopped the video on her desk and closed all the headlines. “I couldn’t help it. He was charging her twice as much just because she’s a Witch. It’s barbaric enough that they brand the ones who work here, but there’s nothing I can do about that, it’s in the Accords.”
“They don’t brand them,” April said, rolling her eyes and plopping down in the chair across from Jade.
“They tattoo them on their foreheads!” Jade countered.
“It’s temporary!” April replied. “Once they leave the city limits, it dissolves. It doesn’t even hurt them.”
Jade looked down at her lunch. She’d had many conversations and arguments with April over the years about how Witches were treated, and it always came down to one important fact: April was a Citizen, born and raised. She would never be able to understand what it was like to be looked at as inferior. Jade had been treated as a Citizen for almost twenty years now, but the truth was still there, hanging over her head every day.
April picked at the hem of her skirt as she said quietly, “I know it’s horrible. I get it, Witches deserve our respect.” She looked up at Jade. “And hopefully the next election will give us leaders who feel that way. But for now, the laws agreed to in the Accords are clear; we have to have some way to tell them apart from Citizens. It’s just the way it is.”
Jade sighed. “I know.” She appreciated how hard April tried to understand, how she sympathized with her yet didn’t let her wallow in the hopelessness of it all. She grabbed her bag and opened the top. Taking a big sniff of the steam rising from within, she reveled in the smell of charbroiled burger. “I get so testy when I’m dieting.” She got the smile she wanted from April and proceeded to take her burger out and flatten the bag to use as a plate. “It’s all this talk about the Accords being contested. I feel like ever since they became law, there’s been unnecessary attention placed on the Witches here. What if”—she lowered her voice—“what if they find out about me?”
April frowned for a moment. “First of all,” she whispered, “why are we whispering? It’s just me.” Jade relaxed at this, and April continued in her normal voice. “Second, if you’re worried about attention, the last thing you should have done was get on the news cycle by defending a Witch’s rights. Now you’re going to be seen as a Unifier.”
Jade frowned down at her untouched burger. Of the three political groups, the Unification Party wanted the most changes to their current system. Because of this, their supporters were often thought of as disloyal and were under the most scrutiny. Being associated with them was not something she wanted.
April’s blue eyes softened, and she said gently, “Look, that’s something we can easily fix. I’m just saying you should have thought of that before you went off the handle at Sammy. As far as them finding out about you, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Your aunt and adopted parents were very careful to make sure the official record shows you being born in Sun City. The only other people who even know are me and Mr. Whetstone.” She smiled sympathetically. “I don’t think either one of us is going to say anything.”
Jade nodded. “You’re right. You’re right.” She took a huge bite of burger and smiled while she chewed, grease dripping down her chin.
April laughed. “You’re so gross.” Shaking her head, she got up and left.
As the door closed behind April, Jade called after her with a mouth full of burger, “Yeah, but you’re still my friend!”