Idle Hands

Well! The vacation was lovely -- even during the part where I threw up on a fish -- but it took us two full days to get home again. And then! I undertook a full backup of my computer -- a huge backup that erased all the other littler backups -- and in the middle of this important process my hard drive up and died like Sean Bean when he's got second billing. For a while it looked as though I'd lost everything -- photos, music, the entire contents of my documents folder, with its current manuscripts and past manuscripts and half-finished manuscripts, can you imagine -- but luckily the inimitable Mr. Waite was able to salvage the documents from the half-finished backup. And now I'm writing this blog post from a brand-new, shiny computer.

But what does a writer do when her primary mode of composition is unavailable?

This writer makes jewelry.

A turquose, white, and gold bangle with pearl accents made of glass, crystal and seed beads. It rests in the palm of a pinkish hand.

I'm calling this the Botticelli Bangle. The pattern is the Scheherezade Bangle from Sabine Lippert's Beaded Fantasiesthough I took liberties with the colors and bead amounts. Bonus: it continues this summer's Grecian theme! I can wear it to the other four weddings we're attending in the months to come!

So yes, I promise I'll be back to blogging regularly now. But it's nice to know I can be productive even when I'm being unproductive.

Winging It

You may remember an earlier post where I talked about how making jewelry is similar to making a book: plans go awry, and accidents are revealed as miracles—or vice versa. Recently, I had another opportunity to consider this theory of mine. My sister was getting married, and her wedding theme was Pirate Formal. I've been working on her wedding necklace for months—buying four colors of crystal, learning to work with new materials and techniques, and mostly just keeping my fingers crossed that my ideas would look like a real thing and not Amateur Hour at Lulu's Jewelry Shack. Her dress had been described to me, roughly, but mostly I was flying blind.

The night before we were to head across the border, I finished putting all the bits together and sent my sister this picture:

Wood-grain background, on which sits a multi-strand necklace of red, yellow, blue, white, and green crystal, with silver winged skulls and a skeleton lady cameo as centerpiece.

Those curves of red crystal holding the skeleton cameo's lower edge were the last things I attached, and until then I had not realized that I was arranging things in proper Roy G. Biv order. I'd thought I was making something chaotic and unpredictable, when in reality it was practically scientific. All at once the necklace became a unified thing—but precisely what kind of thing? I couldn't seem to make sense of my own creation: all I could see were the flaws and the wires and the individual bits as I'd put them together. I couldn't get the impact of the whole.

This is also how I feel about the first drafts of my manuscripts. But those I can fix; those can take criticism and come out better; those have no stakes for anyone but me (well, and my publisher, but that's a little less emotionally immediate).

The bride had to like this necklace, because she was going to be the one wearing it in all her wedding photos and in front of everyone she knows and loves.

She loved it. All at once I could breathe again, though I still felt nervous. But that tenuous instinct that had gotten me through had proved true.

When the bride put on her wedding dress—which I'd never seen—and another bridesmaid draped the necklace around her neck and we shortened it to rest on her collarbone … it was perfect. And so, we danced. And toasted. And feasted. And made everyone's grandmother take shots of the worst rum I have ever tasted in my life.

Hopefully in future I can continue to trust my instincts when flying blind.

On Structure And Serendipity

I was an hour early for Laura McCabe's beading class last night. This was deliberate, as I had a number of supplies to purchase for the class, and buying beads takes me forever because I am ridiculously, obsessively picky about color. Making things out of beads is relatively simple, in theory: you pick a set of beads and a technique, you put in anywhere from one to a billion hours of work, and jewelry happens. I spent a lot of years making things based on instructions I found in books and magazines, and barring a few disasters here and there (I'm looking at you, faux-Native American beading loom) things turned out pretty okay.

The only problem was that they felt like things I'd built, rather than things I'd created. To get more satisfaction out of beading, I was going to have to go right off the rails. I was going to have to design my own patterns using the techniques I'd learned over the years.

I bought a whole buttload of Delicas in various colors on eBay, got my fishing line, and started weaving.

What followed was a series of absolute disasters. Some of them I finished, some of them I was smart enough to abandon halfway through and save myself the trouble. But with each catastrophic choker or lackluster lariat, I learned something about working with beads, about my own preferences, and—specifically—about how beads in tubes that look like they will play nicely together turn out when you're working with them to have vendettas that would put the Medicis and Borgias to shame.

My color sense got stronger, and my designs grew more sophisticated. My bead stash grew from one full shoebox to two. And now, here I was in the bead store, picking out colors to be scrutinized by an expert eye. It felt like a test, though one only I knew I was taking.

Who Invented the Color Wheel?

I began choosing items on the list, limited by what the store carried and by what matched and clashed among the various sizes of round beads, cylinder beads, crystals, and pearls. When in doubt, I buy heads in shades that look like they come from Botticelli's Birth of Venus, so I was looking for pale cream and gold and amber and aquamarine. I went back and forth from one rack to another, so many times that I ended up forgetting one set of beads entirely. None of my shades looked quite right and time was running out despite all my efforts, so I told myself this first pendant would be an educational experience and found my seat in mild despair.

Class began. Laura McCabe was awesome, both as a person (sweet, upbeat, hints of shyness overcome) and as a teacher. She gave us a brief introduction to our materials, handed out instructions, and let us go at our own pace while she walked around chatting and answering questions. I began putting together a bezel (setting) for the round crystal rivoli, just as the paper told me to.

And when I got to the point where I set the stone in its little beaded skirt and began tightening the bezel to fit, something magical happened.

It looked amazing.

The various shades of gold and light blue I'd collected all worked together to make something that looked baroque and delicate. It was entirely different from the rich greens and purples and reds that everyone else was making—lighter and vaguely antique. The aquamarine rivoli was perfectly centered. The tiny gold metallic charlottes winked in the light. I felt like a champion.

Until I got to the bail. Where I found: one of my blue shades was awful.

Just awful. It was like taking one of the crown jewels and dunking it in poster paint. There were presently six of them, soon to be many more.

The Virtue of Editing

I made a decision, went back out to the front of the store, and found me some sweet pearly white beads with a bit of a rainbow shine. Then I took those six blues right off, added the whites instead, and started adding pearl embellishments.

So. Much. Better. My pendant was pretty again. The relief was almost physical.

Here is the pendant as it currently stands, though the photo quality is not the best:

Dark background. An aquamarine rivoli bezeled with gold and aquamarine seed beads, topped with white pearl accents and visible working threads.

Soon there will be more pearls, and some aquamarine crystals and other sparkly bits up top. I love how much it looks like some Renaissance vision of the ocean. I want to make a whole necklace band to match.

Lesson Learned

I think one of the reasons I'm so drawn to beading is that it's quite a lot like writing. Writing also looks very simple in theory: you put words on a page, and eventually a story happens. There's a lot of repetitive action in both: put beads on thread, or string words together in sentences.

But even if you start with a detailed outline—which I nearly always do—things happen that you didn't expect. Characters act out, plot problems reveal themselves as gaping chasms, and motivations get muddled. Sometimes these things will kill whatever spark the idea possesses—at least, for a while.

But sometimes surprise works in your favor. Sometimes you can fix problems before they start. Sometimes you can start with nothing but a desire to make something beautiful, with materials that look like a hot mess … and something even better than you'd hoped appears in your hands.

Learn Something New Every Day

We here at Olivia Waite believe very firmly in learning—for profit, for fun, or for just about any reason you can think of. So when we heard that beading artist Laura McCabe was teaching a few local classes this summer, we signed up as soon as possible. Here is one example of her particular creepy genius:

Glass eyeballs wheel in various directions, strung together in a wide necklace with red and turquoise seed beads.

And here is an example of her capacity for loveliness:

Swarovski crystals of many sizes and colors, assembled into bubble-shaped units. Those bubbles have then been put together to make something that looks like a sparklier version of a Wonka gobstopper.

Tomorrow night, I will be learning how to turn beads into awesome. Stay tuned for pictures in Friday's post!

Please Enjoy My Horrible Author Bio

We here at Olivia Waite can talk blithely about anything, especially ourselves—but like everyone, as soon as we're asked, "Sum yourself up in ten sentences or fewer," we freeze right up and the only facts that come to mind are thinks like our place of birth and Social Security number which even we are not gullible enough to put out there on the internet. So it was nice to read this lovely piece on author bios in The Millions and realize this sort of anxiety is universal. What if I have no writing credits or fancy awards to name-drop? What if my employment history does not sound quirky and well-rounded when put in the form of a list?

And in the spirit of sharing, here are a few of my first attempts at writing my own author bio, discarded for what ought to be obvious reasons:

Olivia Waite has had a pretty uneventful life, all things considered. Except for four years of college, she has lived her whole life in the same city in which she was born—and those four years didn't take her abroad or even out of state. She regrets nothing.

A concrete wall displays neon blue letters that read YOU ARE HERE.

Olivia Waite wishes she could tell you she wanted to be a writer as soon as she learned about books, but this would be a filthy lie. She wanted to be a paleontologist because it involved both dinosaurs and long words that were hard to pronounce and that all the grown-ups found impressive. By third grade she'd changed her mind and wanted to be a librarian, but her mother told her that librarians don't make any money. Being literal-minded and a little too credulous for her own good, Olivia thought her mother meant that librarians were unpaid, and so she abandoned this path in despair. Once in college Olivia floundered through a series of retail positions in the book world and teaching assistantships in graduate school before it occurred to her that making money wasn't really her highest priority anyways.

A pin-up painting of a sexy blonde librarian perched pertly on a stool in a white dress holding books carelessly. The hem of the skirt has gotten trapped in the pages of a book -- how'd that happen? -- and is lifted to show a lot of leg in a black stocking and garter. She wears red heels, of course.

Olivia Waite was offered a publishing contract on her second-ever query letter. She knows that revealing this information will expose her to scorn and ridicule, but she also feels she deserves punishment because she does not have the obligatory mile-high stack of rejection letters. In short, she feels like a fraud. She also tends to play the martyr more than she should. You can send snark and vituperations to—but don't worry, her next book will probably be unpublishable and then she can start collection rejections like all the other hopeful authors.

A picture of a llama with eyes nearly closed and one ear folded over, looking really startlingly, recognizably smug.

Olivia Waite likes sex, likes reading about sex, and likes writing about sex. Maybe it's because she was raised Catholic; maybe it's because of all the naughty things the ancient Greeks and Romans got up to in all those classical texts she studied; maybe it's because she's just a naturally prurient person. Either way, writing erotic romances allows her to talk about sex, indulge her love of happy endings, and legitimately research porn and corsetry on the internet. Win!

A woman with pale skin and red hair wears long black gloves and a sparkly, curvy corset in dark gold peacock colors.

Warning: Do Not Get Yourself Impaled

There is a scene, in World's Awesomest Movie™ The Core, where our heroes are in a spaceship drilling through the Earth's crust (don't ask) and they burst into the center of a gigantic geode (really, don't ask). There are huge purple amethyst spears everywhere, and when I saw this in theaters, I laughed so hard I nearly choked to death on the grapefuit-juice-and-vodka I was sipping from my smuggled-in flask. Turns out this scene was not as implausible as I thought. Science is amazing!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: The Crystal Cave of Giants from Naica, Mexico:

These are gypsum crystals in a silver mine. For hundreds of thousands of years, conditions in this hidden chamber were so protected and stable that normal crystallization processes resulted in enormity. Mining processes removed the fluid, though the chamber remains superheated by surrounding magma (hence the suits, which are filled with ice).

The explorer's own description: "Actually going inside, wearing the suits and exploring the cave was a dream come true. I've never seen such a spectacular place. It was like setting foot on a new planet. Many of the crystals were so large that I couldn't even wrap my arms around them and the terrain was so difficult to walk on that we had to be extremely cautious not to slip and fall. Doing so would could get you impaled on a sharp crystal and would require a dangerous and difficult rescue."

Cue the action scene!