J.T. Michaels on Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone

An interview in partnership with author J.T Michaels
The Children’s Book Review

In this episode, I talk with debut author J.T. Michaels about Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone, his first book in an epic fantasy series of an ancient war. This exciting story includes a murder mystery and paranormal activity.

J.T. Michaels has always loved storytelling, no matter the medium. Being immersed in a different world, whether it’s through books or video games, has also been an obsession for him. Years after writing for his school magazine, he discovered he wanted to create his own worlds for readers, and his journey to fantasy writing began with Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone, the first volume in his epic fantasy series. 

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Bianca Schulze: Well, hello, welcome to the Growing Readers Podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today to talk about Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone.

J.T. Michaels: Thanks for having me, Bianca.

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone: Book Cover

Bianca Schulze: It’s a pleasure. So, I was really excited because Dr. Jen Harrison reviewed your book for The Children’s Book Review and summarized the essence of your story so well, she said, combining the elements of the fantasy adventure genre, the ghost story, the murder mystery novel and coming of age novel, Jimmy Catron and the Lost Keystone has everything a young adult novel needs to be gripping and thought-provoking. And she’s right. There’s so many exciting elements in this story. So, let’s start at the very beginning. I want to know where the idea for this story came from.

J.T. Michaels: Well, okay, so the genesis of Jimmy Chartron weirdly started out with—I was actually, I think, 15 years old, and I was standing outside my dad’s study at the time. And, you know, you ever have those moments where you’re about to do something stupid, and you have that inner voice telling you don’t do that, and then you do it anyway and then something bad happens.

So, in my case, what happened was, you know, he was on this very on the second floor and it was always very creaky wood. So, he was in the middle of something important and I was waiting for him to come out. So, I started stomping on that creaky board and there was that inner voice that said, stop doing that. And I didn’t listen to it. So obviously, my dad got mad because he was in the middle of this important call, and the other person heard everything and—I don’t know, it just ruined the whole thing for him. And that sort of became the idea for a 16-year-old boy with a ghost in his head who would tell him what to do. And he doesn’t always listen.

Bianca Schulze: The main character is 16-year-old Jimmy Chartron, a new trainee electrician at the Naval Academy of England. And there’s adventures, heroes, evil, and magic. But they haven’t been a part of everyday life since The Great War, which was 100 years ago. But Jimmy becomes possessed by the ghost, Tessa. And from that moment on, this insane amount of mystery and murder and magic keeps the reader turning the pages. So, since Jimmy and Tessa are the main protagonists, we got the 16-year-old boy possessed by this ghost. Can you tell me how you created these two characters and what they each bring to the story?

J.T. Michaels: Of course. So, I would say Jimmy’s based a lot on me when I was growing up, and he’s just this very sheltered, sensible 16-year-old boy with a clear direction of what he wants to do in life. And I based Tessa a bit on this very close friend of mine who passed away a few years ago. She was one of the teachers when I was in high school, and she always just had this sensible way of looking at life. And she really encouraged me to branch out and explore different things rather than sticking to what I already knew.

So, I knew right away that I wanted to have that sort of dynamic with Jimmy and Tessa, where Jimmy’s sort of like the eyes from which the readers can experience this new world. And it’s him seeing the world for the first time, given his sheltered upbringing. And then on the flip side, you have Tessa, who’s this experienced woman who’s seen more things than a normal person should have because she lived during the Great War, and now she’s sort of breaking Jimmy out of his shell, out of necessity, so that they can stop the bad guy. And this dynamic allows me to inject a lot of humor and, you know, opposing characters that meshed together in the end.

Bianca Schule: Do you happen to have a favorite moment or a piece of dialogue that takes place between Jimmy and Tessa?

J.T. Michaels: I think my favorite moment. Well, I mean, there’s a lot of favorite moments. I think every moment between Jimmy and Tessa is unique. They’re always arguing, yet they somehow manage to come together. But there’s this one point where I think Jimmy’s very worried about everything— he’s thrust into this world of danger and adventure, and he doesn’t know how to handle it, and he just wants to go back to school and live a normal life.

And I’m just paraphrasing here, but I think Tessa talks to him and says, you know, stop worrying about the future because the future is built on the moments we live in right now. So, focus on the present. And everything will turn out alright. So, I think that’s some really good advice no matter who you are or where you’re from.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah. And you know, I actually have that quote written down right in front of me. It says, “Don’t fret too much about the ending,” Tessa continued. “The ending is written in the moments we live in. So, focus on the present.” And I agree with you; I think that’s sound advice for all of us, whether we’re young or old. So, I loved that part, too. You mentioned just a moment ago the bad guys, right? So, what do you want listeners to know about the bad guys? Who are the bad guys and what do they bring to the story?

J.T. Michaels: Well, when I wrote the novel, I didn’t want a traditional bad guy where you know are the bad guys because they want to do something bad. It’s really about the bad guys having their own background and they’re doing things that they feel are right, which gives them that sort of conviction to continue doing things the way they’re doing.

And it sort of ties into Jimmy reviewing the world as he believes it to be because not everyone who’s a villain, quote-unquote, is a villain because they just want to be like they also have their backstories. Right. And if you understand them, it’s not so much that their villains, but maybe they’re misguided, or they were forced down along that path.

So, there’s multiple parties and, of course, the main villain. But throughout the story, you sort of get an idea that they’re not really the villains, even though they’re trying to do something drastic, but it’s just a situation that they were forced into and they’re trying to do something to get out of that situation if that makes sense. Without spoiling too much?

Bianca Schulze: No, it totally makes sense when maybe somebody behaves in an unexpected way, or maybe you perceive somebody to be bad or just behaving inappropriately. Instead of thinking about what’s wrong with them, you think about what happened to them. And I feel like your bad guys are a great example of that because you start with that perspective of what’s wrong with these bad guys. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but you do come away with that sense of, wow, what happened to them? Like, why did they become this way? So, I really like that transformation.

J.T. Michaels: Yeah

Bianca Schulze: You kind of confirmed this for me, but I got the sense from the acknowledgments included in the book that a lot of the characters are inspired by people, you know, until Jimmy becomes possessed by Tessa, he really doesn’t seem to have a lot of support from others. He has to figure out a lot for himself. And while his challenges in the book are really quite epic, he also struggles with relatable problems, just in general managing change and coming of age. And you kind of mentioned that Jimmy is modeled off of you, so I’m assuming that’s correct. And I just was wondering, like, what ultimately do you think we can learn from Jimmy?

J.T. Michaels: I think the biggest thing we can learn from Jimmy is that you know, if you don’t have a lot of friends at the onset, it’s okay. You got to keep working on yourself and you have to keep growing. And, of course, don’t close yourself off. The friends will come to you. Especially if you keep in mind that you have to understand people if you want them to understand you—especially in this day and age where I think we sometimes tend to forget that.

And, you know, be sensible, be responsible, go ahead and have fun. Live on the edge, too. And it’s just all these different qualities that you can still be all of them if you don’t have a huge social circle. And eventually, you know, the biggest thing is the confidence comes from within you. And I think that the main thing Jimmy doesn’t have is that he doesn’t have a lot of confidence starting out. Like he doesn’t have any friends. He’s an island. And as the story progresses and as we get into future stories, you’ll see that confidence growing inside of him. And then he’ll reach out to even more people and the circle will grow. And I think I just wanted to show people that that’s also a different way of growing. You don’t immediately end up with ten, 12 different friends all at once.

Bianca Schulze: Absolutely. And I’m sure the same happens when kids join new high schools and that circle, you know, that surrounds certain kids seems really big and you can feel really, really isolated. But I think as adults, we know that sometimes we make the best of friends in the most unexpected moments. And being able to impart that message through story —I think is so wonderful for kids to be able to read that. And especially, I mean, the way that Tessa and Jimmy come together, that’s so outrageous. And to be possessed by a ghost. But like, you know, that’s an unexpected way. And like you said, they argue a lot, but they do become really good friends. So, I love that message.

J.T. Michaels: Yeah.

Bianca Schulze: The story is so intricately detailed. And I’m curious how long it took you to write and what the editing process looked like to ensure that all of the little details unfolded so neatly?

J.T. Michaels: This whole story actually began like nine years ago. I started thinking about it, but it was actually for a video game that I wanted to make at the time. Before I realized to make a video game you need enough money to hire artists and everything. So, I took the screenplay for that video game and translated it into this rough draft that I started showing my friends. And a lot of them were excited about it. So, I started writing and I think the first completed form was actually called the Chartron Chronicles.

I shared it with some of my friends and they liked it, but they were like, you know, it’s not really developed properly. They loved the worldbuilding, but the way the characters unfolded and everything was rough. I actually was lucky enough to find an editor. And we worked on the manuscript, I think, for around two years, like just revising and me giving it to her.  She’d read it and put her feedback in.

It took so long, I think because as a writer, when you write the story, you have all these great ideas and it’s important for you to throw it onto the page. If you don’t get it all out, you’re going to lose something pretty magical.  But as the editing process goes along, you’ll start filtering some stuff out and putting them into different categories. Let’s say, for example, this will happen in the next book, or we’re not even going to let it happen in the first place.

The whole editing process took around two years and there were a lot of in-between breaks because you’ll have to step away from the manuscript so that when you go back to it, you’re looking at it from a reader’s perspective and not from a writer.  I think, in total, the writing and editing process took around three or four years.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I think that is such fantastic advice. Working at the Children’s Book Review, I see so many books from big publishers, self-published, and I think sometimes what happens when it’s a self-published book is that people don’t take the step that you took, which was to find an editor. If you’re really committed to creating a solid book and having somebody to work with that’s outside of your family and to get that sound advice is so critical.  And then I love what you said about taking the time to step back from the book and be able to come at it as a reader versus a writer. I think that’s genius advice and just taking the time and letting it marinate, you know?

J.T. Michaels: Exactly.

Bianca Schulze: Let’s take a step back from the story itself now.  Well, actually, no, let’s not. Before we take a step back—when I got to the end of the book, it certainly seems there is more story to come.  I want to know your plans for a sequel or how many more books there will be featuring Jimmy?

J.T. Michaels: I think there’s going to be at least three, if not five books because I want to see Jimmy grow from like a teenager into the cusp of manhood where he’s not he’s sort of heading into like adult territory, but not fully adult territory if you know what I mean. And there’s just a lot like I’m writing on the second story right now and it picks off from where this first book ended. And I think, you know what?  There’s a lot of room for stories. And like I said, there will be at least three books and I know what the ending will be like now, but how we get there is a different story.  I’m letting it take it wherever it wants to go right now.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I love that. Here’s a classic question that a lot of people ask authors and it’s, Are you a plotter or a pastor? As in, do you fly by the seat of your pants?  And it sounds like you’re a combination of both, right?  So, you’ve got your plot and your beginning, middle, and end, but then you’re just going to let it, you know, just come to you as you write it, as the characters kind of speak to you, I imagine.

J.T Michaels: Exactly.

Bianca Schulze: I love it.  All right.  Now we’re going to take a step back from the story itself.  And I want to know, what would you say drives you and guides you in creating books for children or, in this case, teenagers?

J.T Michaels: I think at the end of it, I want to share my experiences and, you know, it’s just you learn a lot of stuff and you feel like some of it can be useful to others. You write a book and hope its readers will take something out of it—you take something useful from it at the end of the day.

And I think another big part, too, is, you know, when I grew up, I read a lot of the Harry Potter books, The Lord of the Rings novels.  Actually, I shouldn’t say Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit.  And, you know, when you read those books, you get this sort of magical feeling where you can just escape, and you know, you forget you’re in your living room, or you forget you’re in the park or on the beach and you just escape.  And at the end of the day, I hope my novels offer my readers that same sort of escape.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah, they say you need to be a reader first to be a writer.  So, was there a pivotal moment in which you first considered yourself a reader?

J.T Michaels: I think I’ve always considered myself a reader. I haven’t read as much as I used to just because life is getting busier.   You know what, in your mind, it’s that routine of just going to the library.  And, you know, at that age, when you’re 12 or 14, everything is simple to you, right?  And those sorts of memories stand out.  So, when you grow up, that’s what you take with you.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah.  Yeah, I love that.  As a parent of three kids, I feel like building traditions and experiences are what everybody will remember from childhood.  That’s what I remember.  So that’s why I was curious if you thought it was just that routine, and it sounds like it was.  Before we go, you touched on this a little bit about what drives you and guides you when you create books.  But I’m just wondering, what are your overall hopes that readers will take away from reading, specifically Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone?

J.T. Michaels: Two things.  One, I hope readers, you know, take away from it a sense of adventure. They see that the world’s a bigger place and I hope they take the time to explore it. I hope readers will remember that it’s very important to try and understand people and you’ll see this even in the way Jimmy chooses his friends.  They’re not traditional by-the-book friends who stand up for you or, you know, Jimmy tries to understand them, and because he understands where they’re coming from, eventually they’ll become really good friends.  So, I hope people will remember that you need to understand people.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah. So, I don’t think there’s any doubt readers will happily escape into the world you have built. It’s so cool and so fantastical and it’s such an exciting and original read.  And I, for one, can’t wait to see what obstacles Jimmy will have to overcome.  And in the next book and the third book, I’m looking forward to seeing where you take it.  Is there anything else you think we need to know before we finish our chat today?

J.T Michaels: No. I mean, you know, just stay tuned for the second book.  And yeah, it’ll be even more fun in the second book.

Bianca Schulze: Yeah, that’s awesome.  And if anybody’s interested in picking up your book or learning more about you, where can they find you.

J.T. Michaels: So, they can go to jtmichaels.ca, that’s my official website, or they can take a copy of the book up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever else.  I think a lot of retailers have picked it up.

Bianca Schulze: Awesome.  Well, I just love that you put your energy into this. And thank you again for coming on today.  And I really, really appreciate the time with you.

J.T. Michaels: Thank you so much for having me, Bianca.  It was a pleasure chatting with you, too.

About the Book

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone: Book Cover

Written by J.T. Michaels

Ages 13-18 | 336 Pages

Publisher: J.T. Michaels | ISBN-13: 9781778035203

Publisher’s Book Summary: Author J.T. Michaels brings a fantasy tale of an ancient war, a modern-day murder mystery, mystical creatures, and memorable characters in his masterfully written young adult novel, Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone.

The Great War ended a century ago. Peace reigns across the eight countries. Epic tales of heroic men and women of those times are recounted in song and story. Yet, history seems to have forgotten a young battlefield healer, Tessa Marlise…
Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Chartron has just enrolled at the Navale Academy of Eagleon, his mind set on becoming an electrician. A chance magical encounter binds him to the trapped soul of Tessa Marlise. As Jimmy struggles to deal with this shocking development, murder and mystery unravel in the academy. Caught in the middle of everything, Jimmy realizes that a larger evil is afoot and that only two things can stop it: himself and the ghost in his head…

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Show Notes

For more information, visit https://www.jtmichaels.ca/ and https://www.instagram.com/storiesbyjtmichaels/.

Discussion Topics:

  • About Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone
  • Get to know the two main characters, Jimmy and Tess
  • Developing the relationship of the characters
  • Advice from books for young and old
  • Understanding bad guys and villains
  • The editing process for Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone
  • Tips for self-published authors
  • What teens can learn about friendship from this story
  • J.T. Michaels hopes for readers of Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone

Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: J.T. Michaels Discusses Jimmy Chartron and the Keystone. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with

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July 19, 2022 at 10:53AM Bianca Schulze