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 middlegrade series The Plight of the PlexusHer fascination with the mysteries of the Universe, Renaissance paintings and her love for fastpaced 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 middlegrade and youngadult science fiction and fantasy
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

For every hour I spend
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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