What makes a prolific fantasy writer? Is it an endless quiver of captivating ideas? An ability to learn the business side of writing that eludes many authors? The willingness to face a battery of endless critiques and second-guessing on the internet? Perhaps it is all these qualities and more that are needed.
Without doubt, fantasy author David Estes possesses all of these traits. But his real secret is that he loves creating new worlds in which readers can immerse themselves. To that end, David has written 40 plus books over a period of just 10 years, producing so much content under his own name that he felt comfortable creating under two additional pen names.
His odyssey as a writer began ironically with his work as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a job he held for almost a decade before he started writing. “That was a job that did a lot for me,” he explains to BookSniffer. “I used one side of my brain, but not a very creative part of my brain. It was more of an analytical side for me.” As a CPA, David had job security and got to travel the world. In 2010, his job took him to Australia, where he met the woman who would eventually become his wife.
At a point in the romance where he was between jobs, David says that his wife noticed how much he loved to read. He had always wanted to write a book, but never considered the proposition seriously until his wife opened his eyes to his creative potential. Unsure of his ability as a writer, David made the decision to put anxieties and self-doubt aside and write his very first book—an urban fantasy about angels and demons entitled Angel Evolution.
During the writing process, David found a part of himself he didn’t know existed. He enjoyed writing so much; he wrote the second and third books in what would become “The Evolution Trilogy” over a nine-month period.
The process of writing “The Evolution Trilogy” was a formative experience for David. It taught him how to write, the ins-and-outs of self-publishing, and how to grow an audience.
“It’s not really something that I promote much,” David says of his first series. But the enjoyment of creating the work wasn’t what he was after. Rather, the point was to teach himself how to write on command without any hesitation. This at-will methodology of knocking out creative works helped bring David Estes to the marketplace of writers. With an expanding fan base came critical reviews, which he expected since he was a first-time writer.
David broke what he says is a cardinal rule for writers: Don’t interact with your critics. His approach has been to contact those that gave him valid criticism in their reviews, offer to take their critique into consideration for his next project, and convert the person giving a less-than-favorable review of his books into a beta reader to correct problems in other books before they go to market.
“It might not be a 100 percent success rate. But it was very close to it, where most of these readers were quite flattered by it, and jumped at the chance to help craft my work at an earlier state. Those readers have been with me for years… and continue to challenge me, and tell me where I can be better,” he explains.
That initial critical feedback was a valuable learning tool that David used for his next writing project. Studying the techniques of great writers, David revved up his creative output for the four-book series “The Dwellers Saga,” with the first book “The Moon Dwellers” being released in 2012. It was around this time that both David and his wife quit their jobs as CPAs, and the two continued to travel the world while David wrote and his wife edited. This was made possible by living on a modest budget—and the couple’s respective savings.
Luck shined favorably on David’s “The Dwellers Saga,” which he says came out at the right time, as “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and other young adult dystopian series came out. Buzzfeed wrote about “The Dwellers Saga” in an article recommending books compatible for “The Hunger Games” fans. This was a shot in the arm for David’s writing career. The decision to include “The Dwellers Saga” in the article came in part from Goodreads reviews comparing “The Moon Dwellers” to “The Hunger Games.” This recognition was a major turning point in David’s career, and encouraged him to keep going.
“I had that point where suddenly my royalties were paying for our travels, were paying for our day-to-day living expenses. And we weren’t dipping into our savings anymore,” David recalls.
Of course, David’s writing has grown, and not just in terms of what he can do, but also the maturity of the audiences he can entertain. Still, he’s not above writing for teenagers, and says, “I think people undersell our teenagers a little bit in terms of the complexity of their emotions, and the type of challenges they face in their life—many of which are at an adult level. And so, my books tend to have a myriad of characters that include teenagers…”
While he’s stayed in the realm of fantasy, David’s writing now includes stories that cover a little bit of everything under the genre, including stories of dystopian fantasy. He prefers to write epic fantasies. He himself has always been a fan of the epic fantasies that included strange worlds of magic, monsters, and warriors, and he readily cites Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson as major influences.
David tells BookSniffer, “That was always my passion, but… I didn’t want Tolkien rolling over in his grave, saying, ‘Who is this guy who can’t write worth a lick?!’”
The ideas for an epic fantasy series had always been bubbling in the back of David’s mind, but it took him almost eight years to feel comfortable plotting such stories. This period of creative gestation gave David the idea for the five-book series “Fatemarked,” which was released in 2017. The series follows people born with markings and special powers who are prophesied to bring peace between war-torn kingdoms. It’s a story that explores mechanics of familiar elements in a different way.
“For me, the biggest thing is surprising my readers. And that’s the challenge. Within the genre that I write… readers like their tropes. They like magic schools. They like, you know, a farm boy [with] basically a future that’s mapped out for him… Those kinds of tropes are fixed in place. You can play with them a little bit, but using them as tools is very valuable.” David goes on to say that “the secret sauce” for his writing is focusing on building interesting characters who find themselves in familiar situations.
He allows the reader to think that they’ve figured out where the story is going, and then he surprises them with shocking plot twists, creative divergences, exploratory details building the verisimilitude of the worlds, and characters slowly growing on the reader like trellis vines.
David’s output still continues to remain very high, as he’s now serving as a senior writer for Bryce O’Connor’s Fantasy and Sci-Fi publishing company Wraithmarked Creative. As a senior writer, David is working on three separate trilogies with emerging talent that includes
“Chasing Graves” author Ben Galley, “Savage Dominion” writer G.D. Penman, and Dyrk Ashton, who authored the “Paternus” trilogy. Using a model of tiered production, David is able to work on these stories in their various stages, while still making time for his own work.
It’s been years since David has released a solo work under his name. And though the initial story in the five-book series has been completed, David wants to tell the stories of the other continents in his world. This new series, titled “The Kingfall Histories,” will have its own systems of magic and new characters, with lost weapons known as “Godblades” that are made from the shards of an ancient megaweapon.
?They’ve started to appear again. People have found them… It’s kind of a sign that bad things are coming that are going to require the assistance of these Godblades,” David says.
The first two books of “The Kingfall Histories” are already written. Each book is 828 pages, which David says is the maximum page length Amazon can print for authors. He’s currently working on his third book, “Magefall,” which he anticipates being even larger. David shares that his office has turned into a veritable “war room,” with maps on his wall and notes on the 500 years of the fictional histories of the latest series scattered about the space. Due to the success of “Fatemarked,” David was able to sign a five-book audio deal with Audible Studios back when he started writing the first book, which is due for release July 2021.
David tells BookSniffer that he’s also in the early stages of planning a crowdfunding campaign. He was inspired to do this by author Michael J. Sullivan, whom David says succeeded in the traditional paths of book publishing. However, Sullivan was able to do even better as an independent author, in part thanks to crowdfunding. This will include signed copies of “The Kingfall Histories,” custom art, and other prizes for supporting his campaign.
Though his output as a writer is bound to make some jealous, there’s a dark side to David’s high volume of writing. Making new characters and imagining fresh stories comes from love, but the pressures to keep up with a high demand interact—often quite negatively—with his OCD.
“It’s one of those things where it can be crippling,” David says. “Where I wake up in the morning, and my first thought is, ‘I haven’t written a word today.’ That should not be the first… You just woke up. You can’t have written a word yet today. That’s my thought. And my second thought is, ‘Am I going to write crap today?’”
His OCD causes tremendous stress, and in spite of the volume of his work so far, David can’t quiet that negative voice until he hits his daily word count. He knows that past success doesn’t ensure future success, and that selling more books isn’t guaranteed. This puts a lot of pressure on David.
“I’ve learned that as long as I can get myself to the chair, then normally, it takes care of itself,” David says.
Just like his characters, David’s story is never over. He trades the negative voices in his head for full immersion in whatever story he’s currently writing, losing himself in the adventure with the characters. Every day is a new quest, and every story is a new and completely different set of challenges. And though he faces the darkness, David does so knowing that the magic within him is much stronger than anything he’s going to encounter.