A Love Letter to Pesto

Dear pesto, It wasn't love at first sight. In fact, I thought you smelled precisely like vomit. "Eat it," said my hardworking mother, cooking dinner after a twelve-hour hospital shift. "You'll like it."

This seemed improbable. But I was hungry and knew this was all I would be getting.

That first bite: revelation.

You shared many more nights with me after that first one -- the awkward middle school years with that lapse-in-judgement perm, the high-stress high school years where getting up at five and going to bed at eleven seemed perfectly normal. But it wasn't until college and beyond, when I was finally cooking full-time to feed myself, that I really came to appreciate your irresistible attraction and congenial simplicity.

Oh pesto, you got me through some dark, lonely nights. Your comforting carbs meant I could make a huge batch and parcel you out slowly over several nights. Your greenery and the sleekness of olive oil made me feel like I was putting good, solid things into me (rather than cheap hamburgers and spinach salads and microwave pot pies, which were my other most frequent staples). You were always warm, always willing to pair up with ravioli or tortellini or toasted French bread.

And then, when I met a marvelous man who loved to cook -- oh, the stroganoff! the curry! the mashed potatoes from scratch! -- you stepped aside while I nurtured this new relationship. Then, when I shyly asked you back, you came at once, sharing your bounty with both of us.

Thank you, pesto, for everything.

All my love,

Olivia

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.

Make Yourself A Victorian Doll

We here at Olivia Waite have a long history with paper dolls—not merely the basic kid kind, but the fancy and detailed presidential kind you can buy at the Smithsonian. Jane Austen paper dolls. 1920s flapper paper dolls. We had sharp scissors and infinite patience for fiddly tabs and zigzag edges. But the magic of the internet provides instant gratification, infinite customization, and increased safety for our scissor-scarred thumbs. So it is with great delight that we point you toward today's discovery: The Victorian Doll creation page on Doll Divine.

Here is my first try, which is pretty much me in Victorian gear—note that I am something of a bluestocking:

Here I am with blue stockings:

Here I am as a vampire:

And as an adventuress:

Leave your own creations in the comments, or on my Facebook wall!

Lucille Bluth And The Body Battle

Lucille Bluth, the booze-swilling, social-climbing, sexpot matriarch played by Jessica Walters in Arrested Development, is quite probably my favorite television character of all time. I fully intend to transform into her on my fiftieth birthday—minus the completely devastating criticism of loved ones. A pale woman with carefully coiffed short hair, a bright pastel-patterend blazer, with the world's most intimidating scowl.

Because Lucille's tongue? It is beyond vicious. Often this is awesome, but equally often it is jaw-droppingly, inventively mean. Which is why she's so fun on tv, but also why I would never ever want to be part of her family.

The comment that always sticks in my mind is one she makes to her daughter, Lindsay, in regard to a brooch Lindsay always wanted to inherit. Lucille objects:

"But it's an elephant and I didn't want to invite the comparison."

This in spite of the fact that Lindsay is later criticized as a flat-chested "surfboard," and in spite of the fact that she is played by Portia di Rossi, one of the world's prettiest skinny people. And this is all very funny, but it hits very close to home.

Skinny is a thing I once was that I am not any more. There are times when I miss the thinner me's ability to enjoy shopping and fit into awesome clothes. There are times—and not as far apart as I'd like—when I feel like bigger me is failing some moral test by taking up an unwarranted amount of space and having unsightly blemishes like stretch marks and cellulite. When the overwhelming pressure to be thin thin THIN gains a temporary victory over my health, my peace of mind, and my love for pasta and cheese and fine cocktails.

But there are also times when I get to fight back.

One of these happened today. I was out shopping for a dress to wear to a bridal brunch this weekend—idly shopping, hoping to find something but not willing to lay odds on my success. As usual, I was in Anthropologie, when all of a sudden one garment stopped me right in my tracks.

Ladies, you haven't really lived until you have asked a saleswoman, "Could you get me the largest size you have in the elephant dress?"

Close-up of bodice pleating with the elephant-and-polka-dot fabric on a strapless party dress.Elephants! Happy little Babar-style elephants, with polka dots! The pop of that yellow sash! The pleating on the bodice—so winking and naughty and sweet! Meanwhile, the quote-happy phonograph in my brain piped up automatically: "You don't want to invite the comparison."

And I realized: I totally want to invite the comparison.

Despite the fact that my proportions usually mean separates are going to fit better than off-the-rack dresses, and despite my tendency to avoid anything strapless on account of the need for support for the Double Dames … I had to try it on.

And it fit just beautifully.

The zipper zipped, and even without a strapless bra the bodice looks great—'40s pinup cleavage great—and I have the perfect yellow floral cardigan to throw over it to keep things family-friendly and brunch-appropriate.

And standing there in front of a triad of mirrors, wearing an elephant dress and boat shoes, I felt as though all the good things about Lucille Bluth were invoked: the backbone, the boldness, the supreme confidence in her own abilities to attract and manipulate and succeed on her own terms. And I feel equally that the put-downs, the barbed witticisms, and the vitriol would roll off me like water off a duck's back.

Few things on earth are as deeply satisfying as a dress that can make you feel both pretty and strong.

Plain, pale background, with a strapless black dress covered in tiny white elephants, with a bright yellow sash.

 

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!

You Had Me At "Demon King"

We here at Olivia Waite love illustrated myths—especially when the illustrations are done by the marvelous Vladimir Verano, whom we are honored to count as a friend. And Saturday, June 11, if you're in the Seattle area, you should stop by Elliott Bay Books because Vlad will be on hand signing copies of The Prince, the Demon King, and the Monkey Warrior, a book of illustrated stories from the Ramayana retold for younger audiences.

The cover for an illustrated retelling of the Ramayana aimed at younger audiences.

Vlad is not only a superb artist and a well-read man of letters; he also runs the Espresso Book Machine (code name "Ginger") at Third Place Books.

You can get a sneak peek at the illustrations on Vlad's Flickr page—and if you're far away from Elliott Bay, you can buy the book online from Powell's Books.

A Totally Frivolous Post About Shopping

We here at Olivia Waite are stringent about being appropriately dressed, so when we learned that Wedding No. 2 was a morning affair and not an evening wedding like we'd assumed, we had a bit of a panic moment. The tasteful all-black ensemble we had planned works beautifully for evening, but would feel odd and out of place in a morning ceremony. With only one day to go, we set our timer for two hours—the maximum amount of time the mini dachshund puppy can stay home on his own—and went on the hunt.

It wasn't a very intensive hunt, as I went straight to Anthropologie and fell head over heels in love with this lovely little thing:

A mid-length circle skirt in robin's egg blue with swirling floral embroidery in heavy white thread. Tiny beads of pale golden wood appear here and there as accents.

I don't normally go for full skirts, since I don't have the hourglass proportions that I believe they suit best. And when I zipped it up and looked in the mirror, yes, it was a full skirt all right and I could hear the "my hips are too hippy" voice start to grow in tone and volume and I went to turn away from my own image—and then stopped.

And turned back.

And back, and forth, and back, and forth.

This sweet blue thing is a world-class twirling skirt.

It's all the heavy embroidery, I think—it pulls the hem around and gives it momentum, and then when you stop twirling it settles nicely back into polite folds that hit just at the perfect knee-level spot.

Also, the color does dynamite things to my pale Seattleite skin.

Hips be damned; I bought the skirt.

I have no idea yet what shirt I'm going to put with it, but I'm definitely breaking out the silver ballet flats. Watch out, dance floor!

"Generous Fire" Is Out Today!

Warning: consuming passages of text from "Generous Fire" may lead to the following symptoms: shortness of breath, heaving of bosoms, flared nostrils, a racing pulse, and the sudden and inexplicable urge to give in to the most torrid of impulses. If you or anyone you know experiences such maladies, a visit to either a qualified (and attractive) physician or a shop of ill repute (but excellent reputation) is strongly advised.Black-and-white engraving of a man and woman's entangled and very naked limbs. He has a hand underneath her calf, and she is curling one hand on the back of his neck. Both figures are in the far right of the frame and passing out of sight, as though he has tackled her with irresistible passion.Click the image to buy!

The Amazing Glass Sculptures of Lucio Bubacco

We here at Olivia Waite did not sleep particularly well last night. (Dear dream dictionary: what does it mean when you dream that the bottom of your foot is pink and black and flaky like a grilled salmon? We are totally stumped.) As a direct result, we are a little slow of brain this morning, so writing the incisive, thoughtful blog post we wanted to write seems a bit beyond our capabilities. The warm, sleeping puppy snoring in our lap is hardly helping matters.

So instead, here are some pretty pictures of the work of Lucio Bubacco, an Italian glass artist. I've never seen anything like them.

Cream glass winged figures with clear glass supports.

A goblet surrounded and supported by the figures of cream-glass angels and red-glass devils.

A white glass woman opens her legs for penetration by Zeus in the form of a white glass swan.

A dark purple glass woman with hand outstretched, and sinuous purple glass snakes for hair.

A black glass figure of a woman, Daphne, whose arms are becoming branches, hair leaves, and legs the roots of a tree. The black glass figure of Apollo attempts to embrace her as she transforms.

Peyote-Stitch Alphabet Pattern

We here at Olivia Waite love to make beaded jewelry, and lately we've started expanding our knowledge of that most useful beadweaving technique: peyote stitch. Luckily, the good people over at Fusion Beads have just posted a few new peyote patterns, so I don't have to whip out the graph paper and laboriously color in all those boxes myself. And one of these patterns is particularly relevant to my interests:

Graph of white beads, in which black beads form the letters of a serif font.

A whole alphabet, and punctuation! A serif font, no less! Oh, the things I could make!

  • My name.
  • Curse words, curse words, curse words!
  • A red, white, and blue choker with the words: "You are all weirdos." I shall call it the Sam Eagle.
  • Pi to however many places.
  • E = mC2
  • 2 + 2 = 5
  • If embiggened, and embellished with myriad colors, I could do some pretty sweet illuminated capitals.

The only question is: which one to do first?

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 olivia@oliviawaite.com—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.

Cthulhu of Love!

We here at Olivia Waite are privileged to have some incredibly talented friends—one of whom has an Etsy store under the name sockfiends. And she has something new just in time for Valentine's Day: the Cthulhu of Love!

A pink three-tentacled squid-god plushie with tiny red and white hearts and adorably round black eyes.

Get yours today and be the envy of everyone who now has this stuck in their head: Rock the Cthulhu of love . . . rock the Cthulhu of love . . . oh the Cthulhu of love . . . don't rock eeeeeasyyyyyyy, it's true.

The same pink, white, and red squid-god plushie, back view, showing cuddly white plush wings.

Alternate view of the squid-god plushie with arms happily outspread.

Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Dogs of Crafting

Some days, a warrior attitude is all that stands between survival and crushing defeat. Wouldn't that attitude be much easier to attain if you were wearing something like this brilliant handcrafted helmet?

I could don this masterpiece and yell my favorite line from Virgil: Dux femina facti! And a woman was made their leader!

Problems: vanquished.