Growing up in a family full of talent it wasn’t long before Michael would eventually find his ‘thing’ to set himself different from his older and artistic siblings. “At first I thought I was going to be into singing just like my brother,” recalled Michael. “I entered a lot of singing competitions growing up and I did very well. I even gained cult status as ‘The La Bamba Boy’ after singing the song La Bamba made famous by Ritchie Valens back in my primary school days. My passion for singing changed when at the age of 16, I started to really enjoy writing.”
Fate did have something else in store for the Estepa children. Michael’s older brother - Bryan followed his love for music and succeeded in scoring a record deal with Pop Boomerang Records in Australia and Rock Indiana Records in Spain in 2007. “I’m so proud of my brother because he has worked so hard towards his dream for the last ten years and he got it. Then again I knew it was just a matter of time. I admire him in every possible way,” said Michael. His older sister Yehlen is the photographer of the family and is responsible for at least two (probably more) of his brother - Bryan’s album covers. She also designed Michael’s book cover. “My sister is just amazing. She knows just how to get exactly what you want and when the finishing process is over it looks fantastic. You only have to look at my brother’s latest album cover Sunday Best or my book cover to see that!”
Michael’s love for writing developed more so in his final year of high school especially during his HSC. The HSC is a time when you’re supposed to be focusing on your studies; however, he had other ideas in mind. “Writing for me was an outlet to escape from the pressures of that final year. My relationship with my girlfriend at the time wasn’t going that great, I was fighting with my parents and I wasn’t doing well in school. I guess skipping school didn’t help!” said Michael. It wasn’t until he bumped into an old friend of which he says “knew the wrong kind of people” that his ideas for writing When Darkness Falls (title changed to Purged by Darkness) began. Purged by Darkness would later be Michael’s first and only published novel to date.
By his own admission, Michael has done bad things that he doesn’t care to mention and seen horrible things done to his friends as a result of the gangster life they lived. “I was brawling almost every day, I’ve been knifed and shot at and I did things, and had bad things done to me that no one should ever go through. I was headed right where they were and it was just a matter of time before I ended up in the ground or in jail,” said Michael. What was the turning point in his life you ask? “I grew up with these guys and we did everything for each other. But when you watch your friends literally disappear, end up in jail or die right in front of you, it does make you question the direction your life is headed. The turning point for me was seeing a dear friend of mine shot in front of me. It was then, I realised I had to get out. After his funeral, I turned my back on everyone I knew involved in the gangster life. It wasn’t easy as many of my former friends called me a coward and a traitor for leaving them. Some of them were so pissed off for leaving that they actually made attempts on my life. It was a crazy time for me, but eventually things settled down.
Years later, very unexpectedly, a few of them actually apologized for their actions.” When I asked Michael how that came about and if he did forgive them he said, “I was out one day wasting time until I was going to meet up with my girl, when a group of people approached me from behind. When I saw who it was, I froze and thought I was finished. When they apologized, I was shocked and speechless - I didn’t know what to say. The thing is, and this may sound strange, I didn’t feel an ounce of anger in my body for what they had done to me. Too much time had passed and I honestly had moved on. The person I was when I was with those guys died the moment I buried my friend. So when I saw how genuinely sorry they were, I forgave them. That doesn’t mean I still hang out with them, it just means I forgave them and moved on. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. That part of my life is over. It’s time to start another chapter in my life, don’t you think?”
Since then, Michael graduated from high school and did manage to finish his novel. He 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.
Pursuing His Dreams
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. 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. In June, 2009 Michael’s manuscript Purged by Darkness was officially published by Strategic Book Publishing and released in the US. Michael has since appeared in local and nationally syndicated newspapers and radio stations in Australia, for e.g. The Liverpool Leader newspaper, The American Chronicle, The Philippine Times in Melbourne, Loud Tribe - local radio youth group, and SBS Filipino radio station to name a few. Michael has also attended and been a featured author at The Frankfurt Book Fair (Germany: October, 2009) and at Book Expo America (New York: May, 2010).
You’d think after finally reaching his goal that the young author would slow down, but instead he’s done the exact opposite. “I’m a very active person, and I hate keeping still,” Michael says laughing. “I’m working on my second book; I’ve co-written a film script, and I am interested in writing more in this style. I also train in Tactical Krav Maga (Israeli Fighting System) two - three times a week; I workout at the gym four - five times a week; and I also work security a couple times a week at concerts and private functions. Did I also mention that my regular day job is a medical nurse?”
After everything Michael has been through, he still maintains a positive, down to earth attitude. He doesn’t seem to take anything for granted. With his extraordinarily determined attitude, Michael turned his life around and wants nothing more than to help others do the same in theirs. The one thing he will tell you is that none of his success was done on his own. “As much as I’d like to take credit for getting where I am, it just wouldn’t be fair for those who stuck by me and supported me. My family, my closest friends and my faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ have all been there to pick me up when I fell down and to keep me grounded when I got ahead of myself. I don’t believe I would have made it without these wonderful people being in my life,” said Michael. With all of that support behind him it’s hard to imagine anything stopping this young and inspiring author.
Elaine Fernandez – June, 2010