The Ballad I Wrote Is Coming Out Next Week!

I recently told an extended family member that one of my goals in life is to create things. Hence, if you look at my Instagram account, you will notice it is called @joel_creative. This is not a label of what I think I am, but rather what I aspire to be.

Many creative endeavors are linked. Sometimes, I’ll write a solo song and then turn it into a choir song, and vice versa. I wrote a solo arrangement of Danny Boy and then gave it to a friend to write a piano accompaniment. Instead, he turned it into a choral arrangement, which my Celebris ensemble sang at our concert a couple months ago (he was in the group).  I call this confluence of ideas, people, and products “synergy.”

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of my ballad. If you want a sneak peak, please sign up to my email list by Wednesday, July 11!

My Ballad: A History

Another example of synergy is when I wrote my young adult novel The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy. I decided that one of my characters would sing a portion of a folk ballad. Since he’s part of a community that hunts monsters, that would be the subject matter. Folk ballads tell a story, so I chose to have two characters (a hunter and his love) go into the woods to fight an evil witch. Things get messy from there.

The Melody

Inspiration hit me like a Mack truck. I’d already written a folk melody (in Dorian mode, for all you music nerds) that would work perfectly. What if I wrote the whole text? I decided it would be like an old ballad, with old-timey words and everything. I finished it, and that was that.

Arranging the Song

Then another thought occurred to me. What if I made a recording? It would work well for promotional purposes. Other authors use skills that they have to promote their work. As a singer, conductor, & composer, I have a very particular set of skills (say that in your best Liam Neeson voice). Why not use them? I’d need to arrange the song, so I spoke with a friend, Joel Myers of The Founding, and he gave me some wonderful ideas.

Corralling the Musicians

After that, it followed that I would need to record it. I started corralling musicians, which is a lot like herding cats. Getting them all into the same room at the same time is quite difficult. In fact, I had two different musicians bail on me at the last moment. I was afraid that the recording wouldn’t happen, but I eventually ended up with Flute (Maria Gugliemina), Alto soloist (Daniela Peña), Bass-Baritone soloist (Me), Violin (John Robey), Cello (Samuel Kelly), and Mandolin (Joel Myers).  They’re all talented, dependable musicians, and you should hire them!

Recording the Song

Eventually though, we ended up in the recording studio and knocked it out. I sang and conducted at the same time, which I think helped keep us together and cut down on rehearsal and studio time.

Next, my studio technician (Garrett Gagnon) worked his magic. He cut/spliced things together, changed the balance on things, and then sent his versions to me. I listened and asked for some changes. All-in-all, it turned out to be a fun project, and I’m excited to share it with you soon.

One of my sisters told me that it was weird to write a song that goes into my book. It probably is. I’ve never been accused of being a normal person! Normal is boring, right? She also said that I should say that it was inspired by my book. I think either way works: the song can stand on its own or fit into my Giftless Chronicles universe. You can decide what you want it to be.

Life Update July 2018

All of us know that life can get busy. Most of us, however, like to work on one project at a time. There’s only one problem with all of that for me: I’m a musician. My life is a continuous set of gigs.

The good thing about this is that I rarely do the same thing in the same place for more than a couple of times. Variety is the spice of life, and I love the challenge of taking on a new project, performance, or job. For a professional musician, life is a like a box of chocolates…and stuff.

The downside is that sometimes I don’t feel like a professional musician, but rather like a professional plate spinner.

Such a lost art!

Anyway, without further ado, here has been my life since my last life update:

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

I concluded a wonderful season with my homeschool choir. They were a blessing to me, and I don’t say that lightly. The kids brought an enthusiasm and focus to choral singing that I have never seen in that age group. We learned a lot and made some wonderful music. I greatly look forward to conducting them again in the fall.

Branch United Youth Choir

We finished our season with a collaboration with the irrepressible Nancy Brown and the Union City Community Chorale. The chorale was excited to have us there, and we even sang a song with them, which is always fun.

We also recently finished our annual choir camp (June 18-21). I taught them how to sing and gave them some basic sight-reading skills. Our theme this year  was Musical Theatre. The kids learned about the history of musical theatre (yay for learning stuff!) and how we got to styles that are used in musical theatre performances today. We did a scene from The Pirates of Penzance and sang some wonderful music from different musicals.

The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy (Book 1)

A couple months ago, I had the privilege of publishing my first book. It’s a Young Adult novel and it’s about (hard to guess, I know) a vampire conspiracy. It’s a been an intriguing opportunity to learn about the self-publishing world. One of the best compliments have received multiple times is that readers “had to know what happened next.” To me, that is a sign of an engaging book. Please take a look at it and buy it!

I’m also excited to announce that I’m 14,000 words into a novella (17,000-39,999 words) set in the same world. This time, I’m focusing on one of the other characters, Corinne, and her adventures as she learns to be a Chronicler. Lots of exciting action, drama, and new characters to meet as I delve deeper into this rich universe!

Celebris Ensemble

It’s been a dream of mine to sing with a dedicated, talented group of singers. I formed an small choral ensemble here in Kalamazoo, and our first concert was on May 22nd at Bethany Reformed church. You can listen to some recordings and learn more about us at my Celebris tab. I’m working on next season, which should be some exciting performances. If you want to hire us for a gig, contact me at

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Gig

At the beginning of June, I performed with a large group of professional singers (mostly made up of Audivi and Opera Modo) which sang in the DSO’s rendition of Puccini’s Turandot. It is some truly glorious music, and it was nice to sing in a mass choir of that caliber. The voices were powerful and resonant, and the musicianship of the singers was precise and focused.

DSO Gig 2018

Upcoming Gigs

I’ve already listed a few in my other sections, but here goes: My Detroit Choir Camp is the last week of July and the first week of August. If you are in the Detroit area and you want your kids have fun singing musical theatre, contact Noelle Stiekes here.

I made a recording of a folk ballad that I wrote, orchestrated, and produced.  It’s based in my Giftless Chronicles world (one of the characters sings the first stanza in my novel), and it’s about a Hunter and his love who go into the woods to fight an evil witch. The song turned out pretty cool, if I do say so myself. If you want to get a sneak preview, sign up to my email list. You get access to behind the scenes stuff there!

I signed on to be the music director of a production of “The Story.” It’s traces the gospel through various Bible accounts. It should be a great time of collaboration and I’m looking forward to our performance in December.

In March 2019, I’ll be singing a gig with Sounding Light, a professional choir based in Oakland County, MI.

I think that’s about it. If you have any interest in voice lessons, hiring me for a singing or conducting gig, please contact me. The more work the better.

Here’s Me Reading an Excerpt from The Vampire Conspiracy

Hey All,

I thought I’d provide some more content from my debut novel, The Vampire Conspiracy. It’s now available in paperback, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how the cover turned out! If you’re interested in a contest for a free, signed copy, please sign up to my email list. You’ll get special info, content, and contests! For more info, check out my Fiction Tab.

Here’s a short excerpt from my book. In this scene John’s alcoholic father, Anthony, confronts his son about sneaking out and hunting monsters. John doesn’t take it well…

The Vampire Conspiracy Is Finally out!

Perhaps some of you thought this day would never come. Understandable. There were times when I did too! Thanks to everyone who helped me on this four-year journey. I couldn’t have done it without your help and support! This has been a wonderful growing experience. I’ve learned so much about the writing process and about myself. It was a blast. Thanks, and enjoy!

Available for $2.99 on Amazon and Kobo!

This book is Supernatural meets Grimm. Lots of action, family, and drama!

For those of you who don’t know about my Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel, you can also find info on my Fiction page. Sign up to my email list for special offers, including a chance for a free signed paperback copy!

One Week Till My Book Is Published!

Hey all,

Exciting news! Formatting is proceeding apace, and I will be publishing my book soon! I plan on publishing it next week! Thank you for bearing with me. Self-publishing contains a lot of minutiae that you don’t think about until you actually try to do it. Then, you gotta test everything to make sure it works and looks clean.

Again, I want to thank everyone who’s helped me get to this point. My beta readers rock! They gave me so much excellent feedback. They weren’t afraid to pull their punches. My book designers worked so hard and brilliantly. And my formatters have been forthright and efficient.

If you sign up for my email list, you will have a chance to enter into a contest for a free, signed copy of my book!

Q&A Time for My Book, The Vampire Conspiracy!

Since my publishing date is coming up fast, I thought it’d be good to do some Q&A about my book. You folks have questions, and hopefully I have answers! As always, you can join my email list for special access, contests, and offers. Without further ado, here we go!

Question 1: When will the book finally be out?

I’m finishing up the formatting as we speak. It should be out soon, and I will let you know on this very blog when the date is approaching.

Question 2: Is this one of those stupid books where the girls don’t do anything cool? (Thanks, mom) 😛

Question 3: Is this one of those stupid books where the girl beats up all the boys? (Thanks, dad) 😛 

I try to make the martial arts as realistic as a book with vampires and super-powered hunters can be. Physics, genetics, and biology are pretty unforgiving and all must be taken into account when actually fighting. Take from that what you will.

Question 4: Is this just another boring action book or is there actual character development?

I’ve always been drawn to the kinds of books where characters are either getting better or getting worse. A character that is not profoundly changed by the end of a novel is kinda boring. C.S. Lewis mastered the art of character development. His characters never stayed the same by the end of the novel. That is not to say that my book is Lewisian by any means. It’s a fun read with enjoyable characters.

Question 5: Why is John targeted by the vampire in the first chapter?

Suffice it to say, John is special, and the vampire senses it. That’s all I’ll leave with you for right now…

Question 6: Why did you start writing?

I’ve been making up stories in my head ever since I can remember. I’d run around the backyard swinging lightsabers at imaginary bad guys and all that kind of stuff. Two things held me back. 1) I never thought that I could. 2) I never thought I had the time. The opportunity to try my hand at it finally appeared a few years ago. Reduced hours at work meant that I could try something else. I started a children’s choir in Coldwater and bought a book on writing children’s fiction. I started writing, and the rest is history.

Well, that’s it. Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope you enjoy the book!

I Need Your questions for a Q & A about My YA Book, The Vampire Conspiracy!

Hey All,

Today, I’d like to take some time and answer some of your questions you might have concerning my upcoming YA novel, The Vampire Conspiracy. If you have a moment, please send me a question. I’ll do my best to answer it on upcoming posts. Everything will be confidential. Simply sending in a question won’t add you to my email list, but those that are on my email list get first dibs!

Click this link to sign up to my email list today!

Here’s the form for the questions:


Here’s the First Chapter of The Vampire Conspiracy!

Hey all, here’s my first chapter! If you want more information and special offers, please join my email list.  You can learn about my book here.


Journal Entry

I once asked my father if monsters exist. I had been reading an old book of fairy tales, the kind wrapped in ornate, dark brown book-covers and overflowing with scary stories. The stories had freaked me out, and I could not sleep with the lights off.

In answer, my father quoted an old writer who had said something like, “Of course monsters exist. Every child knows they do. The fairy tales tell us that monsters can be beaten.” Little did I know that I would grow up to fight those monsters.

If someone had told me I would not only fight the monsters, but also be instrumental in stopping one of the greatest monster uprisings in modern history, I would have laughed in their face. I was nothing special. I was not a “chosen one” who was fated to save the world. I never felt some special calling to join forces against the darkness.

I have lived and lost much. I have seen darkness rise like a tsunami from the ocean and swallow much of the world. Betrayal and hurt, triumph and joy have all attached themselves to my life in unimaginable ways. The following is my account of what happened. May those who read it never forget.


A pale blue SUV rolled up to the front of the high school. John Blackstone sat in the passenger seat, gratefully breathing in the cool air of the SUV. It’d been a painfully hot summer, even by Michigan standards, and the heat hadn’t broken by September like it usually did. Even if it had broken, the humidity was making everyone avoid the outside as much as possible. John was no exception.

“John, do you hear that rattle every time we idle? I think it’s from the air conditioner,” said his father. “I’m going to take it into the mechanic today to check it out. I may not be able to pick you up from school.”

John shook his head and rolled his brown eyes. “Whatever, Dad. I’ll walk home. You’re usually late, anyway.”

The line between his father’s graying eyebrows deepened into a valley, and John braced for another argument. Granted, it was one he’d started.

Instead, his father said, “Just make sure you’re doing well in your classes. I don’t want this to be like the last school. You almost didn’t graduate eighth grade. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes,” John answered.

“Yes, what?” His father countered.

“Yes, Sir,” John said. His father liked to feel like he was back in the military.

“Good. Make sure you go to the principal’s office first. He’d like to speak with you,” His father said. “I’ll see you tonight.”

John exited the driver’s side, grabbed his camouflage backpack, and walked toward the school. He sighed. John loved his dad. He really did, but his father had changed since their mother had died. Now, all he did was work at the hospital and then come home and drink.

Besides, it wasn’t like John had tried to get kicked out of the last school. He’d just given the other boy what he deserved. Fighting seemed to be one of the few things he was good at. That, and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Unlike the last school John attended that stank of must and mildew, this one impressed him as very new. It even had that new building smell. As the smell wafted toward him, he wondered what gave off that scent. Was it some sort of chemical they used?

His dark brown eyes rested on a large blue and brown wolverine, the school mascot, that’d been painted on the wall. It bared its teeth and stood, ready to pounce. Behind the mascot stretched a blue line which was painted in all the hallways. Fine black and white tiles lined the floor like a chess board.

To his right, the entrance spilled into an immense atrium several stories high. John involuntarily moved into it and turned around just to take it all in. Safety glass guarded the railings around each floor. At the top, a huge skylight flooded the atrium with early morning rays. His eyes ached at the brightness of it all.

John breathed in the room for a few moments and then walked to the left-hand side of the atrium. An office worker was talking on her telephone at the entrance window. John’s heart jumped a beat or two as he saw her. She looked too young to be out of high school, and John loved the way her blond hair framed her pale, oval face.

John stood at the window as nonchalantly as he could and fought the urge to stare. Girls didn’t like it when you stared at them. It made things awkward. He should know. He was the king of awkward.

“May I help you?” She asked. Even her voice was beautiful. It lilted like chiming bells. “Hello?”

John suddenly realized she’d been talking to him. “Uh…Hi,” John said, “My name is John Blackstone. I’m looking for the principal. I’m a new student here, and my father said the principal wanted to see me.”

She smiled a beautiful set of white teeth at him. “He’s in his office. I’ll let him know you’ve arrived. My name is Emilee, by the way.” She walked to the office a several feet behind her desk and peered in. “Mr. Watkins, the new student has arrived.”

Principal Tom Watkins walked from his private office into the main office. Upon seeing John, the principal scowled and waved him in.

John hoped that the principal wasn’t mad at him. He didn’t want to start out on the wrong foot. He’d had enough problems at his last school.

During the last school year, a bully had decided that John looked like a good victim. He’d “accidentally” hit John with his shoulder in the halls, pretend to spit in John’s hair, and make fun of him. John was a patient guy, so he let a lot of it slide until the end of the term.

One day, the punk pushed him into his locker. John pushed him back, and a fight broke out. John had tried to be careful not to hurt the kid too much, but he did punch the kid in the face a couple times.

In the end, John sported a black eye, and the kid lost some teeth. No one else messed with him the rest of his time there. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Principals don’t take it well when you knock out their kid’s overpriced teeth. Go figure.

John looked at his reflection in the door’s window of the principal’s large office and combed his straight, chestnut hair with his hand. It was about the only thing he could do with it. He opened the door, walked in, and sat down across from the principal. A large photograph of a perfectly manicured garden perched behind the principal’s bald head.

Mr. Watkins studied a paper on his desk. He looked up, and his small eyes narrowed into smaller slits. John did his best to smile appealingly.

“Well, Mr. Blackstone, it seems you had some trouble at your last school. You like to pick fights,” Mr. Watkins paused to swallow and continued, “We will not have a problem like that here, will we?”

“No, sir,” John said, “I don’t know what my record says, but I didn’t pick that fight. The other kid just attacked me. I was defending myself.”

“It takes two to tango,” Mr. Watkins answered, eyes narrowing. If they narrowed any further, John was sure that they’d disappear. “You’ll find I run a pretty tight ship here. I don’t want any more shenanigans. Do you understand me, son?”

John sighed for a moment. “Yes, sir,” he said. In his experience, adults always liked it when you said the word “sir.”

“Good. Our student aide, Emilee, will give you your schedule and your tablet computer. Your first class will be ninth grade American History with Mr. Franklin in room 108. That’s right across the atrium and down the hallway.”

John picked up his backpack and made his way out of the principal’s office. Emilee was waiting for him with his tablet, which he grabbed quickly as he tried to think of something cool to say.

“So, ah, how do you get out of class to be an aide?” John mentally kicked himself. What a dumb question. What was it about pretty girls that always made him talk like an idiot?

For her part, Emilee just smiled. “I’ve finished most of my required classes. I take a few college classes at BACC, the community college here in town. I get time to do pretty much whatever I want. It’s great.”

“Huh,” John grunted. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Oh, by the way,” she said, “All new students need to go to the nurse’s station. It’s in room 104, just a few doors down from your class. I’ll see you later.”

John walked through the atrium and down a long hallway. He passed by the nurse’s station and walked in. The nurse, a short, gray-haired man with the name Shard on his nametag took some blood while he grumbled to himself. The whole process seemed a little odd, but years of moving from place to place had taught him to go with the flow. The process ended quickly, and John was happy to get out of there and away from the grumpy nurse.  Soon, he was outside room 108. He breathed in deeply through his nose and prepared himself for another new school year.

As John entered, a tall, pale-skinned man with light brown hair and a boy’s face was busily squeaking a blue marker across the dry-erase board. John stood at the entrance, wondering if he was the teacher. Finally, the man turned from the white board and looked at John.

“Well,” a deep bass voice that sounded like it had to come from someone else other than the man in front of him said, “Please tell the class your name.”

“Uh,” John said, “M-my n-name is John, John Blackstone.” John hated talking in front of people. It always made him queasy. He never understood why he could trade taekwondo kicks with someone but was never able to give a speech in front of a class without stammering.

The boy-faced man smiled at him. He wore a scraggly beard which made him look even younger. “I’m Mr. Franklin. Please take the seat in front of Mr. Durham.” Mr. Franklin waved his hand at an empty desk near the back of the room.

As John walked toward his desk, he made eye contact with the young man reclining in the desk behind his. The boy had dark hair that matched his dark eyes and dark skin. John tried to determine what nationality the boy was but gave up after a short while. He was tall, athletic, and exotic looking. John imagined the boy was probably able to get any girl he wanted.

John slid into his desk and pulled out his tablet. As he turned it on, he was suddenly aware of the silence that had swallowed the room. He felt the stares of all the kids on him. He looked up, and found Mr. Franklin looking at him, one dark eyebrow cocked.

“Mr. Blackstone, just for future reference, we do not use tablets in my class. I want to teach you how to take real notes using this little thing called a pen and a notebook,” Mr. Franklin said with half-smile. “Now as I was saying, Democrat Andrew Jackson completely disregarded Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision that the President could not legally relocate the Cherokee. He did this so that their land could be used by settlers. Thousands of native Americans died along the way. You will find throughout history that some presidents, like people in general, will disregard the law when it does not suit their goals. . .”

As Mr. Franklin continued with his lecture, which was actually mildly interesting, John took some time to look at his classmates. The boy in front of him had long, stringy hair. John didn’t think he washed it very often because it gave off a terrible stench. No wonder people didn’t want to sit behind him.

John’s heart beat a little faster when his eyes rested on a beautiful girl on the other side of the room. Her pencil, when it was not loudly scribbling notes, kept twisting itself inside a long strand of hair that had escaped her ponytail. John tried to figure out if her hair was blond or brunette but gave up after a little while. He decided he liked it either way.

John’s eyes turned from gazing at the girl and made contact with a pale boy sitting behind her. The boy was glaring at him. John did a double-take. That boy was about 6’2” and big, with dark, threatening eyes. The boy bared his teeth at him. John looked down, hoping that this wasn’t going to turn into another situation like the last school. Dad would be ticked.

The bell rang, and John put his things into his backpack. As he walked out the door, the boy who sat behind him in class began to walk alongside him.

“Hi, my name’s Donovan,” He said, “Don’t worry about Mr. Franklin. He’s always like that. He gets on everyone’s case. He’s tough but fair.”

John shrugged. “It’ll take some getting used to. In my last school, the teachers didn’t care if you had a tablet out. Some of them didn’t even give lectures. We just read articles in class.”

“Yeah, Mr. Franklin is old-school like that. Believe me. I get more of it than anybody. He’s my uncle.”

John whistled. “I’m sorry, man. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a family member as a teacher. Plus, what is he, like twelve?”

His heart skipped a beat as he realized he had just insulted Donovan’s uncle, but Donovan simply laughed. “I know, right? We keep telling him to ditch the beard. It makes him look like a little kid trying to grow his first mustache.”

John relaxed. He liked Donovan, and he didn’t want to mess it up. He never made friends this quickly.

“Could I see your schedule?” Donovan asked.

“Sure,” said John.

Donovan studied it for a moment. “Sorry, it looks like we have different class schedules for the first half of the day.” He pointed to a set of stairs. “Take those up to the next floor and keep walking away from the atrium. You’ll hit room 225. It looks like we have the same lunch period, though, so I’ll see you then.”

“See you later.” John hurried to get to his next class. Thankfully, it was easy to find.

John shouldn’t have worried about getting used to pen and paper. One teacher droned on and on, and the other  teacher had the students read lectures on their tablets during class. He would’ve been bored except that boy who had glared at him was in both his classes. What was even more frustrating was that the boy kept glowering at him like John stole his girlfriend. When the bell rang, John quickly grabbed his things and headed for lunch. He desperately hoped that guy had another class or a different lunch time or something.

John could see the lunchroom doors when he felt a large body slam him into the boys’ restroom.

Here’s A Sweet Video of the Martial Arts Used in My Book!

Folks who know me know that I am a martial arts enthusiast. I trained with my parents who are both black belts in Taekwondo. I’ve expanded from there—Wrestling, Jiujitsu, Judo, Jeet Kune Do, Historical European Martial Arts, etc. A few years ago, I fell in love with Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). As you can surmise, FMA is a catch-all term for martial arts from the Philippines. Unlike most martial arts where you start with empty-hand techniques, in FMA you begin training with weapons (sticks, knives, etc.). There are a ton of different styles. So far I’ve studied Modern Arnis, Doce Pares with Eric Smith, and Armas-Kali with T. Kent Nelson. I’ve tried to do these wonderful styles justice in my book, The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy. Here’s a video demonstrating some of them. I’ll take the blame for any bad form that you see. Any sweet moves come from my wonderful teachers. Not all the martial arts represented in the book are shown in this video. This video shows TKD and FMA. Enjoy!


Hello All,

It’s been extremely exciting to see how this book has allowed me to experiment with different creative activities. Accordingly, I wrote a ballad (called The Hunter and His Love) for one of the characters to sing in my novel The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy. The song is supposed to come from a folk tradition, so I gave it a sort of Celtic feel. As an interesting tidbit for those music nerds among you, I wrote this song in Dorian mode! Enjoy!