Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Interview with middle grade author Cathy Hartley

I’d like to introduce you to MG author CA Hartley today. She’s with me and we’re chatting about her new fantasy/sci-fi The Primal Key: Plight of the Plexus Book 1.

Cathy Hartley (CA Hartley) is the author of the middle-grade series The Plight of the PlexusHer fascination with the mysteries of the Universe, Renaissance paintings and her love for fast-paced fantasy novels sparked the idea for book one in the seriesThe Primal Key.

Some of her favorite books include A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine LEngle; J.R.R. Tolkiens The Hobbit; The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin; and everything written by Judy Blume. Today, she still carves out time to read the latest middle-grade and young-adult science fiction and fantasy books.

Cathy loves art museums of all types (The Metropolitan Museum of Art is her favorite). She lives in NJ with her husband, her son, and Styx, her labradoodle (named for the mythological river, not the rockinband).

Welcome, Cathy. Please tell us about your current release.
The Primal Key: The Plight of the Plexus Book 1 is about 13-old twins Anne and Alex Clarke, and their journey to discover their true powers. Anne struggles to find a purpose for her life. Unlike Alex, everything she does seems meaningless. Alex’s path is clear and Grandmother Isadora personally oversees his training. If he’s properly prepared, the family believes Alex will complete a centuries-old, preordained ancestral quest to find the broken pieces of the Carnelian Tablet. Once found, the tablet will reveal the location of The Primal Key—the key that unlocks parallel dimensions.

After years of living in Alex’s shadow, Anne’s curiosity and envy get the best of her. She goes against Mom’s wishes and opens a forbidden storage box. As she rummages through its contents, Anne prematurely unleashes her suppressed talents—dangerous skills that can’t be curbed once released. In her panic, Anne accidentally creates an unstable portal that lands her in Central Park, New York City. Worse, Anne’s actions lead Seth Barthony, Grandmother’s murderous adversary, to their house. Seth’s agents destroy their home and abduct Mom. As ransom, Seth insists Grandmother hand over the Primal Key. The twins find themselves committed to precarious tasks to rescue Mom, search for The Primal Key and along the way learn how much they need each other.

What inspired you to write this book?
My inspiration for The Primal Key came about ten years ago when I took “a break” from my corporate career to spend time with my two-year-old son. During his naps, I spent time with one of my favorite painters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. His painting Netherlandish Proverbs fascinated me—what were all these crazy people doing, and what was Bruegel trying to tell us about them? I imagined climbing inside the painting to ask them. But what if, once I struck up a conversation, I became part of their upside-down world? Over the next several years a story grew in my mind, and as William Faulkner (one of my favorite authors) said, “If a story is in you, it has to come out.” I took another break from work, this time to write The Primal Key, the first book in my series, The Plight of the Plexus.

Excerpt from The Primal Key:
Just past midnight Anne Clarke crept across the uneven attic floorboards. Mom had told her to leave the box alone. She even banned her from the attic, but Anne couldn’t let it go. She itched to know what was inside. For the first time, something mysterious involved her, instead of Alex. Brushing a few copper strands of hair from her eyes, she took a calming breath and ripped off the packing tape. The cardboard split, spilling an iron letterbox and books on the floor.

Anne selected a book from the pile and puffed dust off its faded leather cover. It stung her eyes. She muffled a cough and several sneezes in her sleeve. Did anyone hear? She listened, expecting Mom’s startled shout. The only noise came from Alex’s room — snoring. She returned her attention to the book entitled, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Child’s Play: Dangers Lurking in the Alleyway, by Matthew Clarke. These were her father’s journals, she realized. Mom seldom spoke of Anne’s father and, when she did, tears flowed.

Anne’s heart beat faster as she reached for another book. This time she wiped the cover against her sweatshirt to avoid another dust storm. The title, Responsible Art: Avoiding Deadly Results, fascinated her, but before she opened the book, Alex’s snoring turned to groaning. She was running out of time. Alex would wake up from his dream screaming, or maybe singing or even chanting. After Mom calmed him, she would discover Anne’s bed empty. Anne stacked the journals in a pile and placed the box’s cardboard remains over them. Tomorrow she would find a way to smuggle the books to her room. She picked up the metal chest; something clunked inside it. A quick peek; I have time, she told herself.

Fingers trembling, she flipped the latch. Inside a tarnished silver paperweight rested on scrunched envelopes addressed to her father. She nudged the silver ball aside, picked up the first and stared at his name. I shouldn’t open it, Anne thought, as she turned the envelope over. Sealed? Nope. No one will find out. She carefully slipped out the letter….

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am currently working on book two and three in The Plight of the Plexus series. In book two, look for more fast-paced adventures on Earth and in the Plexus; Alex taking a greater leadership role; surprises when the powers of the Primal Key are unleashed; Seth’s nefarious plot to thicken; and plenty of new works of art to explore.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Some people believe you become a “writer” when your words pay the bills. For me, if you can express your ideas, feelings, and dreams in words, you are a writer. I wrote my first short story in fifth grade, a mystery set at Camp Wanake in Ohio. The school librarian encouraged me to make a game with clue cards based on the plot. The entire grade played the game as they read the story and attempted to guess the identity of the thief. My short story didn’t earn me a cent, but in my classmates’ eyes I was an author.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
As I mentioned, I took a break from my career as a management consultant to write The Primal Key and outline books two and three in the series. Once I completed a solid draft of The Primal Key, I decided to work as an independent consultant instead of returning to the corporate world. Although running my own business is time consuming, it also provides me some flexibility. I schedule blocks of time to write on the weekends, early in the morning, and even on airplanes when I travel for work. In my consulting profession, project management is critical. That skill helps me organize my research and writing activities.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like to describe real places, even when writing fiction. I always keep my writer’s notebook with me to jot down ideas and impressions of the places my life takes me. In The Primal Key, many scenes take place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I spent hours in the museum selecting the galleries and works of art to include in the book. I also used Jenny Jump State forest in New Jersey as the setting for Grandmother Isadora’s estate. My son accompanied me on my research trip to the forest and we both agreed: although beautiful, the creepy factor is high, especially late afternoon in autumn—a perfect atmosphere for Isadora. The nearby sod farm between Ghost Lake and Bear Swamp seemed just the right size for the estate. Even the local folklore about Shades of Death Road, which skirts the southern edge of the forest, matched a few themes in the book.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A cartoonist, an architect, or an artist.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
For every hour I spend writing The Primal Key, I spend at least an hour researching. Although my initial inspiration for the series came from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s art, my interest in physics and ancient civilizations also shaped the book. String theory, which many physicists believe is a theory of everything, provided a construct for the Plexus — the liminal world that binds and separates all parallel dimensions. I’ve been interested in ancient civilizations since my family traveled to Cairo, Egypt when I was eight. In The Primal Key, seven civilizations play a role in the story: The Indus Value Civilization (3300 – 1700 BCE); The Akkadian Empire (2350 — 2150 BCE); several Egyptian Dynasties; The Greek Bronze Age; The Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BCE), the longest-lasting of China’s dynasties; the Mesoamerican Epi-Olmec culture (300 BCE to 250 CE); and the Nazca culture (500 BCE — 500 CE). I had studied the history before, but winding facts about these cultures into a work of fiction required me to dig deeper. For me, the research was as fun as the writing.

Thanks for being here today, CA! All the best with your writing.

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