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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Interview with Author P.A. Staes

Today I have the opportunity to introduce debut author P.A. States to you!  Her new book, The Bruges Tapestry, was released on August 29, 2012 and she is currently on a virtual blog tour.  Please read on to learn a little more about her and her novel (series!).

The Bruges Tapestry

Following a 500-year-old mystery concerning a Flemish tapestry is routine work for Detective Claire DeMaer, since she's employed by the Newport Beach Art Theft Detail. But, unlike past cases, this one involves arresting Paolo Campezzi, lover to her best friend Nora. Mr. Campezzi is a distant descendant of a Florentine Duke, who commissioned the tapestry in 1520 in Bruges, Belgium.

Claire finds that she must explore the true provenance of the tapestry, free Mr. Campezzi in order to re-establish her friendship with Nora and depend on the expertise of a textile expert she doesn't know. All this must occur in 72 hours, before the Vatican takes the tapestry back.

But Claire isn't the only one with the Vatican looking over her shoulder.  Claire's story intertwines with a 1520 diary by Beatrice van Hecke, the tapestry-weaver's daughter. Only Claire can discover the secret that is woven in time.

Has writing been something you have always wanted to do or a decision that arose more recently?

Writing is something I always loved to do. I didn’t think in terms of wanting to do it until I started the novel about eight years ago.

In school when we were given a writing assignment and others would groan, I would secretly think, “Hooray! I can do this.” Not so for geometry, though.

Because I was a nurse for 40 years, I studied the sciences exclusively. I love science because it piques my curiosity.

Then I married a history major and things that had seemed dull as dust (1066 Norman Invasion) suddenly became fascinating. For instance, have you seen the Bayeux Tapestry (embroidery really) about the Norman Invasion or read any of the books about it? Suddenly, when you link it to real people, history comes alive.

I began to read more historical novels until I was reading them almost exclusively, along with mysteries. It just so happens too that the sunset of my career in nursing seems to be coinciding with my opportunities to write, study textiles, and travel.

Yes, I have done some reading on the Bayeux Tapestry! I actually used a book that sort of translates the Tapestry for a research paper I wrote for a historiographical analysis of the Battle of Hastings! Masters in History student here!

What has been the hardest part of the publication process?

My answer will sound schizophrenic - everything and nothing. Everything about traditional publishing felt foreign and terrifying. I sent letter to agents and sent more letters. Mostly I waited. I felt like I was in a vacuum.

I spoke with friends about a non-traditional approach, self-publishing, and they assured me that the publishing industry was changing and that people now had more choices, as evidenced by the growing popularity of tablets and e-readers. Also, my goal was to give readers a novel that would entertain them and provide them with interesting information, not have a book published by a major publisher.

Once I found a book coach familiar with the self-publishing route, she introduced me to other experts, such as my fabulous cover designer, the lovely woman who took my author photos, and the gentleman who designed the book interior and found the “ancient” looking font for the chapters set in 1520.

Of course I wanted the most polished book I could publish, so it was edited several times and I can’t thank my editors enough. So, the hardest part so far is to have enough eyes read the book to find the errors that make an author cringe. I must say though that once you have located the experts to help with self-publishing it’s pretty painless.

Marketing, that’s another story. I do have the joy of meeting reviewers and their followers and getting their feedback so I know what works and doesn’t work in the writing.

Thanks for that information about the route through self-publishing. I’m always interested in how a book got to its published form.

The Bruges Tapestry takes place both in present-day California and 1520’s Belgium.  Did you find it easier to write either section?  When the idea for the book came to you, was it the historical section or the modern section that came first?

What a good question! Unexpectedly, I found the 1520 segment much easier to write, probably because I loved the research I did to learn about 1520, tapestry, and Bruges. I will say that weaving the two stories together was a huge challenge and I spent a lot of time outlining at an easel in order to get the timeframe clear in my own head.

While I do live in California, so I know Claire’s territory very well, I fell in love with Bruges when I visited there 20 years ago and I admit that I wanted to hang out in Bruges in my mind with Beatrice. There’s something about a city with canals that really captures my heart. Everything about Bruges, the canals, the shape of the buildings, the food, the tiny streets, even the ivy on the walls tells the visitor that there are centuries of history here and one could write about the place forever and not begin to know the inhabitant’s triumphs and travails.

The historical section came into my mind first because I’d been studying how tapestry was made by visiting museums, as well as by reading such experts as Guy Delmarcel. Since I wanted tapestry to feel relevant to modern readers, I knew I wanted the story told in modern time so that the reader could see that tapestries of old were rich with symbolism. Not only did their central figures tell an allegorical tale, but the flowers, trees and animals were all symbolic in ways that we don’t understand today.

I have heard that this is to become a series – can you tell us if this is true and a little more about it?  Are you currently working on the next book?

I am currently working on the next book and my intention is to write a series of textile mysteries. I find that in writing, a story seems to take me in all sorts of directions, many of which I didn’t intend, so I can’t swear to the reader how the next in the series will look, but so far it’s about a textile in the 17th century. I’m up to my eyebrows in books of the period and studying the textile history. What I do want to give the reader of the next book is the same sense of wonder I have when I hear about the artistry, dedication and sacrifice it took to create works we see now primarily in museums.

Like that dull Norman Invasion in 1066, these works of art don’t seem to come alive until we can attach them to the lives of real people who were driven by the same kinds of motives and fears that still drive us today.

What is an interesting tidbit from your research for this novel that you can tell us about that didn’t make the cut into the novel?

Oh my goodness, there were so many. I called an historical botanist to ask what plants my protagonist would have had outside the window, but I don’t think I eventually added anything about that in the novel. I learned a great deal about the food of the time and the religious festivals, most of which I left out of the novel. I loved the bit about the color red for fabric coming from pregnant lice, but what didn’t make the cut, as you asked?

Aha, yes, Mr. Delmarcel’s book described the price of 23 tapestries in 1535 – 23,448 ducats or about 1,000 ducats per tapestry. I was very interested in trying to determine how much that would be in today’s money, or how much wealth that represented at the time. Since it’s not easy to get that kind of economic information (I did try), I left out the price of tapestry. I was hoping to find it might be “as much as a horse,” or “as much as three acres of land,” or some such thing, but no luck.

With art being a huge aspect of this novel, I have to ask, are you an artist yourself or more of an art appreciator? 

I’m definitely not an artist, but I am an art appreciator. I grew up in the 1950’s and art lessons were part of what we did daily in school. While I was never good at any of it, it seemed to me that it opened up the channel to learn to appreciate those who do have the gift and develop it.

I took a Smithsonian art history tour of Italy and find that the more I learn about art, the more I love it. My current art obsessions include watercolors, sculpture, anything by Vermeer and Dutch still life.

pa staes

P.A. Staes is the author of The Bruges Tapestry; the first of the Clare DeMaere series of historical mysteries. To lend veracity to The Bruges Tapestry Ms. Staes traveled to Stirling Castle in Scotland, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Cluny Museum and Gobelin Factory in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters to bring alive the rich and romantic world of tapestry.   Ms. Staes lives in Southern California with her husband and two dogs.

You can find P.A. States on her Website or Blog

The Bruges Tapestry Tour Banner FINAL

Or, if you want to know more about the book, check out the rest of the blog tour either at the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour site or on Twitter with the following hashtag: #BrugesTapestryVirtualTour.


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Hi Heather!!

    Great post- I love it:)

  2. I'm so sorry I couldn't join this tour! Sounds like a fabulous book, and this interview was great! Smithsonian art tours, what a way to see and learn Italy. Congrats on your first book!


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