This was my first online interview where I was asked a lot of very interesting questions. It also gave me the chance to let the reader know more about me.
Michael self published and financed his book releasing it locally in 2004. For two years he went around talking to libraries, youth groups, his old high school and book clubs about his book, gangs, drugs, believing in yourself, the writing process etc. He even appeared in several local newspapers and on the local radio. "I enjoyed my talks with these kids and meeting new people because it allowed me to do my part in giving back to the community by helping and inspiring kids. I wrote Purged by Darkness as a vehicle to do just that and if my book is able to steer even just one youth away from the path I almost ventured into then I know everything I have been through is worth it!" said Michael.
While his book did find success locally with his old high school and a number of libraries purchasing his book, he felt there was so much more his book had to offer. So he sent his work to America and was fortunate in obtaining an American literary agency in 2006. "While they loved my work, my agent felt that my work needed to be worked on. At first, I was hesitant to change anything but then I realised, I can´t be stubborn as I only have one shot at the American reader to make an impression," he said. After much time was spent rewriting, editing and searching for a publisher, Michael would be knocked back a total of 22 times over the course of two years by American publishers. "I definitely felt disheartened, I was even at a point where I wanted to give up and work on something else. The problem was, I believed in my manuscript too much to just give up. I honestly believed that my book would make a difference in the lives of young people or anyone for that matter," said Michael. His patience and belief paid off as Michael finally got his break when his agent announced that they had a possible publisher interested in him. After liaising with the publisher, they offered him a contract. As of November, 2008 Michael´s manuscript Purged by Darkness will be officially published by Eloquent Books. His book won´t be released until later this year.
For more information on the book and author, please visit: www.MichaelEstepa.com
Where are you from?
I was born in Philippines and migrated with my family to Australia when I was two years old. I have been living in Sydney, Australia ever since.
When and why did you begin writing?
I would have to say that I started writing semi-seriously when I was 16 years old. Writing for me has always been something I enjoyed (still do) and found to be incredibly useful in expressing myself. I used my love for writing to help get me through each and every day.
Writing became especially useful when in my final year of high school I used it as an outlet to escape from the pressures of that final year. Everything in that final year of school that could have gone wrong – did. My relationship with my girlfriend at the time wasn´t doing that great (we ended up breaking up), I was fighting with my parents and I wasn´t doing well in school. I guess skipping school didn´t help!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I´ve always enjoyed writing and I wrote countless short (very short stories) stories during my school years and even when I self published my book, Purged by Darkness (previously titled When Darkness Falls) in Australia back in 2004, for some reason, I still didn´t consider myself a writer. When I landed an American literary agent in 2006, I still felt the same way. In November, 2008 when I got an email from my agent that an American publisher wants to sign me up, I still couldn´t consider myself a writer. Despite getting really good feedback about my manuscript, I told my publisher that my manuscript can be a million times better and I would like to work on it. After 5 months, I handed in the reworked version of my manuscript to my editor and she loved it.
When I first wrote Purged by Darkness I was 18 years old and I hadn´t even begun to see the real potential in my writing, partly, because I didn´t have any real life experience other than what I had experienced. My whole world at that time was from a narrow minded view. I´ve always felt that the best writers aren´t necessarily those who excel the most in English and grammar, but those who have a vivid imagination and who really have lived their lives. It was only once I began to see and live my life outside the box (that is high school) would I really ever see any growth in my writing. Thank goodness I was right and it was once I received very positive feedback from my editor and countless others since my books release did I truly consider myself a writer!
What inspired you to write your first book?
Purged by Darkness is my first book to date. The ideas for Purged by Darkness came about after an unexpected encounter with an old friend who was still involved in the criminal life. At the time, I had not seen him in over 2 years. After our initial stare down, we gave each other ´the nod´, shook hands and then embraced. We talked for a couple hours at a local cafe, laughing and joking about the good old days. However, I quickly learnt that most of the boys we rolled with were dead, missing or in/out of prison because of the gang lifestyle they were/still living. What amazed me the most was despite everything he has endured, and the fact that someone wanted him dead, did not (for one second) stop him from betraying his brothers-in-arms by leaving. Once we parted ways, I found out (about two months later) that he went to see his ancestors, which meant he was dead.
I had lost friends previously because of that lifestyle and I had been a lot closer to those friends than the one I had met by chance that day. For some strange reason it was his death that sparked something inside me. I felt a sense of guilt because I was alive and he wasn´t. What made me different was something I often asked myself because in the back of my mind the fate bestowed to him could have easily have been mine.
I had never really had the chance to properly mourn for the loss of my friends. Writing Purged by Darkness had become my way of confronting these painful memories. Although fictitious, I wanted to portray the lives of my friends in way where the reader is able to empathise through the characters in the story just what their inner most feelings are in regards to being a gangster. I wanted to give the reader a taste of what it´s like to look over your shoulder everyday or who exactly can you really trust? The sheer mental exhaustion my friends faced as a result of being exposed endlessly to violence and calamities on a personal level no ´normal´ human being should have to go through. Many of my friends could have been anything they wanted to be, but they chose the latter and ended up in a life where it killed the very essence of their being. Nearly all of my friends wanted out and all of them died for nothing.
My inspiration for writing Purged by Darkness is the hope that I can use my book to steer even just one person away from a life of crime and drugs, then everything I have been through would have been worth it.
Do you have a specific writing style?
You know it never really occurred to me what style of writing I had until my book was released in June, 2009. When people read it nearly all their comments about my writing were the same. Just based on what people have said about my writing and after I read my book for the umpteenth time to analyse my own writing, I noticed that what I like most about my writing is that my style of writing is easy to read. I have read countless books where the author throws all these words at you and it takes forever just to figure out what the story is about. My writing reflects a lot on my philosophy in life, which is "keep it simple." I´m a nurse here in Australia and when I explain what test or procedure i´ll be doing to my patients, I make it a habit not to over complicate my explanation but to "keep it simple," which to me is clearly reflected in my writing style. My writing style is straight to the point and the language I use is simple, direct and descriptive. I have had teenagers who have never read a book in their life, pick up my book and instantly get hooked on it. I have work colleagues who aren´t a big fan of reading pick up my book and are instantly drawn to it. I have friends that tell me it´s easy to write a book (only to quit rather abruptly once they realise how much work is actually involved) all based on my style of writing. I am not saying that my writing is the best but that is just my style of writing and what I like most about it!
How did you come up with the title?
When I first wrote the manuscript and then self published it back in 2004, the title was originally "When Darkness Falls". The title was more than appropriate as it had a lot to do with the story and the ending (which I won´t reveal). However, when I was picked up by my publisher I was told that I should change the title because there was a previous novel published back in 2001 with the very same title about wizards and such, and there was even a film released titled "As Darkness Falls". To prevent confusion my publisher suggested in changing the title, which I did.
The published title, Purged by Darkness came about because a good friend of mine, who is an aspiring writer himself, heard of my predicament and suggested the title. I liked the title so much that it stuck! Despite the change, I wanted to associate the title of my book with the word darkness in it because that is exactly what these characters are in, they´re covered in darkness because of the gang life they have chosen to live.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The message I want the reader to grasp revolves around choice and consequences. The characters of the story have lived a life of crime and established themselves within their own gang and the criminal underworld. However, this group of friends, in particular Kai (the main character of the story) realises that he wants to get out and this isn´t the life he wants. As you read through the story of Purged by Darkness you will see how it all began and how their lives could have really been different had they made the choice not to go down that road. Throughout the story the reader is able to see the consequences of their actions and how it impacts them. However, even if the reader isn´t a gang member (that´s a good thing!), I believe they would still be able to relate to the story based on that message of choice and consequence because everything you do in life has a choice resulting in a positive or negative consequence.
How much of the book is realistic?
I won´t lie and say that there are no personal experiences in this book because there is. The story is loosely based on the lives of my friends growing up, and my experiences associated in the gang lifestyle my friends were involved in. I was brawling every day, I was accepted by the people my friends were involved in and rival gangs targeted me. I was heading right where they were, but a tragic incident happened that made me decide right there and then that if I stayed on this path it wouldn´t be long until I was in jail or buried six feet under. So I turned my back on my friends and worked my butt off to turn my life around. It hasn´t been easy and it still isn´t, but the alternative isn´t an option!
Even with all that said, I couldn´t morally claim that my book, Purged by Darkness is a true crime fiction because it´s not. I contributed as much creative writing to the story as I did with my own personal experiences. Purged by Darkness isn´t purely based on my personal experiences, but through my countless hours of research reading books on organised crime, reading newspaper articles and watching documentaries also helped in creating the story that is Purged by Darkness. In a way, writing Purged by Darkness as a crime fiction novel made it easier for me to communicate my message to the reader because I wasn´t constrained to the imaginary heading of ´non-fiction´. Claiming non-fiction for my book would have made me a liar and that is something I am not!
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Refer to above question for the answer. Note to self, read the next question before giving a long answer (hahaha)!
What books have most influenced your life most?
This may seem a bit clichéd, but at the top of that list would have to be the bible. I was born and raised a Catholic and it was the teachings of Jesus Christ that helped me live my life to the best of my ability. Even when my path in life went off course, my faith in God helped me get back on track and to pick myself back up when I fell down. I don´t believe that if it weren´t for my faith, everything I have accomplished would not have been possible.
The next book after that would have to be Inside the Lions Den by Ken Shamrock. Despite having a great love of martial arts, this book influenced my life because I got the chance to see the real Ken Shamrock, and not just this powerfully built human being, but the real Ken Shamrock. Why this is important because the reader is able to see his poor upbringing, violent child hood, being moved from group home to group home, and being sent to Juvenile Hall. All seemed lost, until a man by the name of Bob Shamrock (this man would later be his adoptive father) took a chance on him and took him in. With ideas of going to college going by the way side, Ken Shamrock worked his butt off and became one of the most successful mixed martial artists of all time. His success came about because of two reasons: someone believed in him and he had the determination and drive to work for what he wanted! Reading his book made me believe that anything and everything is possible. What´s amazing is that Ken Shamrock also acknowledges that his successes are because of his faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ!
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
There are so many writers I admire, but the writers I would consider a mentor are John Silvester and Andrew Rule. They are two accomplished Australian non-fiction writers who have written extensively about the Australian criminal underworld. Their style of writing is a mixture of descriptive, witty and down-to-earth Australian humour. Believe it or not, even writers in Australia can find the humour in the Australian underworld. Their writing also appeals to me because of the simplicity in the language they use.
What book are you reading now?
At the moment, I am not reading any novels.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I wouldn´t say they´re new authors but Nicholas Sparks and Stephanie Meyer have definitely grabbed my attention over the last few years. Their vivid story telling is amazing.
What are your current projects?
I am currently working on Honour and Redemption, the sequel to Purged by Darkness, which I hope to turn into a trilogy. After that, sky´s the limit!
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Other than my family there has really been only one person who has played a tremendous role in helping me turn my life around and get to where I am now, and that is my beautiful girlfriend – Therese. She is an amazing woman and my best friend. I would not be here if it weren´t for her. She has stood by me and urged me to keep going when there were times I wanted to give up. She is everything to me and I love her more than she knows.
Do you see writing as a career?
I do, but I don´t want writing to be my career. If the day ever comes and I am fortunate in having the choice to walk away from my nursing profession to focus solely on writing then I don´t think I will (I know you´re probably thinking I´m crazy). Before you jump on my head (hahaha) let me explain. I say this simply because writing for me is definitely a passion, but it is also a hobby. My calling in life is helping people and despite how physically tiring and mentally draining nursing is, I am given the chance to interact with different people on a regular basis and make a difference in their lives even for a short while. I´ve never been one to be stuck in an office and writing would definitely represent that. It´s not in me to be confined to a room and just type. My zest for life comes from going out into the world and meeting new people. Nursing allows me to do just that, and if I would need to focus more on my writing, I would reduce my working hours in nursing and that´s it. Writing wouldn´t become my full time career.
What do you think makes a good story?
Simplicity, descriptiveness, a good beginning, middle and end with a touch of twist and turns thrown into the mix will make an interesting story no matter the genre.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I did, and what I learnt was how incredibly tedious the whole process of getting your manuscript from paper to print. While I am very grateful that my publisher was able to explain to me what was happening, the editing stage is a pain! I must have read my manuscript at least a million times making sure everything was correct. Boy oh boy, what a process! I didn´t realise there was so much involved in publishing one book! So that´s what I learnt.
Before this interview ends, I would like to take this opportunity to thank American Chronicle for taking the time out to interview me and I would also like to tell all the viewers that if you want a book that excites as well as thrills, has non – stop action, heartfelt moments, a clear message at the end of the story, enough romance to warm your heart and is reader friendly, then Purged by Darkness is the book for you! Regardless of your age or reading skill, you will not be disappointed!
Feel free to check out my official website: www.MichaelEstepa.com for further information about me and my book.
About the Book:
Purged by Darkness revolves around six friends in Melbourne, Australia, and their journey inside the organised crime syndicate known as the Triads.
In the gang lifestyle, honor and absolute loyalty is demanded of all members, while fear, death and betrayal often follow. The group´s friendship endures as the six try to define their lives interwoven with their life of crime. In their world, no one ever wins and everyone involved finds it too difficult to ever get out. To them, the city represents violence and the countryside, peace.
In this strange existence, love and loyalty among the friends flourish because they can only depend on each other. But friendship is pushed beyond all normal limits, as danger waits at every turn.
What is it like to live in a world of death and violence? Is every moment cherished because it could be the last? Finally, what does it take to survive life in the mob?