Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Expectations - High, Low or No?

I've been thinking a lot lately about expectations people put on things. You know what I'm talking about, right? You're excitedly looking forward to a big party, expecting to meet fun people, have scintillating conversations, maybe discover the love of your life. The party doesn't turn out quite like you expected, maybe the host is in a bad mood, didn't put any food out, has ghastly wine and the one person you do meet has bad breath, is a close talker and won't leave your side the entire night. Or another example all you readers out there can identify with: you hear about a GREAT book, a book you have been told over and over again you must read, you will love it, it gets all these awards. You're excited. Can't wait to read it so you pick it up and ... you can barely make it past chapter two. And it's a hardcover that you spent over 25 bucks on. I think that example ticks me off more than a lousy party.

So, was it the high expectations that ruined the party and the book? Would you have enjoyed both more if you went in thinking that you would have a lousy time and you checked the book out of the library because the cover caught your eye? Are high expectations the reason behind many of the negative reviews we see for movies and books? I wonder if I would have enjoyed Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins nearly as much as I did if I'd bought it after all the hoopla surrounding the series. I was lucky enough to buy it right when it came out - yes, it had some good reviews but it hadn't 'caught fire' (pardon the pun) as much as it has now. So, while I hoped for a good read I was blown away by the story. I don't know if I would have had the same kind of reaction if I'd been bombarded by all the hype it's getting now because, after all that press, I would 'expect' to be blown away. The bar has been set pretty high.

I guess you could argue that truly great books, movies, parties, whatever will always meet expectations because that's what makes them great. TOY STORY 3 for example, had HUGE expectations when people went to see it and by no means did it disappoint. It even, dare I say it? in my opinion, surpassed the expectations the audience had for it. But that is a rare, rare thing.

Pixar genius aside, I think I prefer going into something new - whether it's a book, movie, or a party having no expectations at all. I like approaching the new experience with a clean slate because then the intensity of the experience - if it's good - will be even more pronounced. It doesn't mean I don't read reviews - I do. But I try not to put too much stock in them. Maybe my husband has had it right all these years - he doesn't want to hear ANYTHING about a movie before he goes to see it. He doesn't want to hear what I've heard or what I think about it. He truly wants an empty slate so that he can be surprised, excited or totally disgusted on his own, without expectations.

What do you think? Are high expectations a good thing to have? Or is it better to temper expectations with a dose of "Whatever will be will be?"

Monday, September 27, 2010

And the Good News Keeps Coming!

The Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) is a national, not-for-profit organization founded in 1976 dedicated to encouraging, promoting and supporting the reading, writing and illustrating of Canadian books for young readers through services, publications and programs. The CCBC is a vital resource for teachers, librarians, students, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers and parents. It is also now one of my favouritest organizations (I know favouritest isn't a word but cut me some slack in my excitement here) because it named ILLEGALLY BLONDE as a Recommended read in the Summer edition of its quarterly magazine!

I have been living in a world of packing boxes, family health issues and other related personal chaos for the last four months so when I picked up the magazine on Friday and flipped through the pages and saw a picture of my book in the section on Recommended Books I just about passed out. This was just after I'd read the lovely review in CM magazine. I cannot tell you how grateful I feel to read that the editor of the CCBC News thinks

"It's refreshing to see a Portuguese-Canadian protagonist in YA fiction and Lucy do Amaral is an appealing newcomer …"

and that

"Author Nelsa Roberto has taken a true story from the news headlines (about Portuguese-Canadians deported when their citizenship was called into question) and skillfully crafted an enjoyable and well-written tale. Lucy do Amaral is a welcome addition to the YA scene."

I am verklempt. It's also the best medicine for a very sore and aching back!

And that's not all, people!

On Saturday I saw a very nice advertisement in the Toronto Globe and Mail Book section from Great Plains Teen Fiction promoting their Spring books and ILLEGALLY BLONDE is right there alongside the two other teen books published this spring: Craig Russell's BLACK BOTTLE MAN and Susan Roccan's SPIRIT QUEST. Yay for a supportive publisher!

And best of all, it was a beautiful sunny, fall day yesterday for my son's belated birthday party and he also played an amazingly great game of hockey on Sunday.

Sometimes life is just plain good.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Moving Day, A Good Review and a Lovely Decline

So, it is over. The big stuff is moved/packed and we are officially housed at the rental home. But now comes the organizing of ourselves in our new house and dealing with some leftover stuff back at the old house to prep it for the upcoming demo/reno. It's not quite over yet. However, my back survived (sorta. I found a half-bottle of red wine works just as good as Robaxacet). It didn't rain. Nothing got broken/lost/damaged (although there was a scary moment when it looked like the couch wouldn't fit). My horoscope was right when it said the 23rd would be good for major home related moves. So, while exhausted, I am grateful to be officially relocated.

I was also rewarded with a surprise from my publisher who informed my agent of a review for ILLEGALLY BLONDE in CM magazine (Canadian Review of Materials) in the September 10/10 issue. For those who are unfamiliar with it, CM is a very well respected source in Canada for teachers, librarians, parents and kids that focuses on book reviews, media reviews, news, and author profiles of interest. Given this level of import, I was a bit nervous opening it up but it was really very nice! I got a Recommended 3/4 review. Here's the link but I'll just leave you with a quote from the review that I was thrilled to read

"The dialogue and Lucy’s interior self-talk is absolutely excellent. Because Roberto has captured perfectly the vocabulary, tone and emotions of the characters, the story flies by with the reader eagerly turning pages. From the rigid upper middle class kitchen of Joel’s parents to the cramped home of Lucy’s loving relatives, the settings not only reflect the characters’ values but also evoke a palpable love of Portuguese culture. Exceptional descriptions of the land and village in Portugal are woven seamlessly into the plot."


So reading this made me feel a bit better after having gotten a lovely decline from an editor this week for my YA paranormal. I say a 'lovely' decline because she said my heroine was 'sharp and intelligent', was rooting for her on-again off-again love story and praised my engaging voice and smart writing. But she couldn't offer because she felt the paranormal story wasn't 'dark and epic' enough. Ah well. Different strokes. Let's hope there is an editor out there who loves all aspects of the story.

All-in-all I can't complain with how things have been going this week. Sure there have been moments of sheer mind and body numbing exhaustion and disappointments on the writing front but life is never just one thing or another. The good nearly always outweighs the bad and I am, as always, grateful for the good and plan to forget the bad as quickly as possible!

I hope to be back to a fairly normal routine next week (I know, I know: define normal) so hope to post more regularly again. See you on the bright side!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ouickie Post: Surviving the Move Week and Link to Interview

Just popping in to let y'all know I'm surviving the final few days before our move on Thursday. My husband keeps telling me we are no where near ready and plans to stay awake 24/7 from now until Thursday to make sure we are completely organized. That way we'll be sitting on the stoop at 8 a.m. when the movers arrive with nothing more to do than point to a pile of neatly packed boxes and empty-of-clothing furniture and say: "There you go, boys."

Yeah. Good luck with that, sweetie.

I, on the other hand, need at least 6 hours sleep a night so I will not be staying up past 1 a.m. I expect this week to be full of sturm and drang but this too shall pass.

In the meantime, in lieu of a blog post I'm linking to an interview that the awesome Debbie Ohi did with me and just posted on her inkygirl website last week. Debbie, as many of you might know, is an awesome force, member of Torkidlit and both an illustrator and writer. In fact, she just got a contract to illustrate a book written by writer/actor/comedian Michael Ian Black, to be released by Simon & Schuster in 2012! Yay, Debbie!! So, with great thanks for taking the time to interview me, here's the link. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thankful Thursday

After the crazy, frantic summer of 2010 I'd rather forget, the month of September from Hell (and still descending) it seems strange for me to be posting a "Thankful Thursday" today. But what this year has taught me is that in the midst of the crazy and awful there are those moments where you realize how good you have it and how precious life is. Today, especially today, is an especially thankful Thursday because it is my mom's 74th birthday. And as a tribute to her I'm trying to keep upbeat in the face of so many day to day challenges life throws at you - just like she's been so brave about things this year. So, without further ado here is what I'm thankful for today:

My Mom's Cancer-free diagnosis
After her second surgery to remove the lymphnodes, the doctors confirmed the cancer had not spread and that she does not have to undergo chemotherapy - just radiation and hormone suppressant therapy. So for that and for being here on her birthday, I'm extremely thankful!

Daughter One's Awesomeness
Even with all the expectations we place on her as our first-born, even with her wish for too much independence, even with the moments where we wonder whether she'll end up a brain surgeon or living penniless in a commune in Bolivia, she continually amazes us and makes us proud. She just received notification that she is the recipient of the Wood Award at her high school (and no it's not a block of wood she carved or anything). She is receiving it for her high academic achievement, her contribution to the life and spirit of the school and her good citizenship. All that and she's getting the English award for having the highest marks in that subject. Guess all that reading paid off!

Son's Sweetness
Even after berating him for not doing his homework fast enough, even though he knows I get frustrated with him to the point of not being very nice sometimes, he still looks up at me with those big brown eyes of his after he's done writing up something that took a painfully long time to finish and asks with a 'I want to please you' voice, "Am I doing my homework all right now, Mom?" Yes, baby. Yes. You are doing more than all right. It's Mommy that's not doing so well, sometimes.

Daughter Two's Responsibility
With the focus the last few months on Daughter One's moving to university, son's ongoing hockey life and her parents focus on the move and reno, daughter two has gotten short shrift lately. The curse of the middle child. Well, I hope she knows how thankful I am for her sense of responsibility with getting herself ready for school and to the camp she's at this week (I barely noticed what she packed). I don't worry so much about her because she is so good at taking care of herself. But it doesn't mean she doesn't need some TLC once in a while. Just because she's so responsible I think she probably needs it more than the others.

My Home is About to Be Renovated
Even though it is a hot mess right now and the move is a week away and we are no where near organized enough, I'm still thankful that we are lucky enough to be able to undertake this massive project and our children will be lucky enough to have (one day) a beautiful home to live in (the permits get submitted to the city tomorrow - yay!). I know we're very, very fortunate to have this opportunity. I know it will be a struggle but anything worthwhile is, no?

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
When the days seem like they can't possibly have one more event crammed in or crisis to deal with, and you think you can't possibly cope with anything, the taste of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup melting in your mouth reminds you that there are simple, sweet moments in life to savour. Some days, several sweet moments.

That's it for today. I hope your own thankful Thursday is filled with all the things you sometimes take for granted and all of a sudden notice how important and wonderful they are. Now Go forth and Thank!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Delicate Balance

Before this summer of change and chaos descended on me I never before realized how delicately balanced my family life, work and writing were. While I would have the occasional time where one of those 3 would take a slight precedence and tip the scales a little bit in one direction or another, it was never so much that the other two would fly completely off the scales. It's the old adage: I never knew I had it so good. Eight years of good.

People would often ask me: How do you manage it, Nelsa? I'd always answer "I don't manage very well at all." Ha! I didn't know it but I was managing like a Major League Baseball coach. I just didn't realize it until these last few months how easy I had it. Well I guess the time has come for me to understand - and accept - that balance will probably not be achievable for at least another month for me. I liken it to being in the middle of the book where things are always their darkest. My way forward seems blocked and confused, I'm not quite sure how to make my way to the end. Sometimes I have to put the book aside for a time to figure things out. So my life is right now. I want to put it all aside (the move, the renovations, hockey season, etc) but I can't. Too many people would be affected. I certainly can't put work aside. So what goes? The writing. Which includes less time interacting with the many fabulous writing friends I've met in real life and online.

I'm not going to lie - this is hard. Only when you can't do something do you realize how much you love it. Writing makes me a happier person, there's no question about it. So while I could try to carve out the time, I've already shaved everything so close to the bone there's no meat left. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that - like any good scale - the imbalance will correct once I start putting weight on to it in the correct amounts. I know if I stay away from writing for too long my scale will topple. Let's hope the imbalance will be corrected soon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Love Poem for My Daughter

When we said good-bye to our first born yesterday at university I had many words I wanted to leave with her. I'm a writer - I should have had the right words. But when it came time to say them not one could come out. None were right. None of them captured the feelings I had.

I'm not a poet but for the first time I felt like a poem would be the only way to capture the feelings flowing through me as my baby girl leaves home. It's not perfect but it's as close as I can get to telling her how much I love her.

This is a love poem for my daughter.

Never Before

I am watching your face as you look up at me
Holding you in my arms
As I rock you

I have never before felt such a surge of love

I am lying beside you waiting for you to fall asleep
You lean in toward me and give me a big, fat, wet with warm milk, kiss
Without me asking for it

I have never before felt such a longing to hold you forever

I am yelling at you, upset and angry over some silly thing you've done
I can't even remember what it was anymore
I find you sitting on your bed, holding your teddy bear, close to your chest
And whispering in its ear
"Mommy's not in a good mood right now, Henri. We'll just wait until she's feeling better."

I have never felt my heart break before

I watch you walking - wobbling - in your first high heel shoes and hold back a smile
Thinking how beautiful and awkward and wonderful you look
And stop myself from saying anything that might make you feel even sillier than you probably already do.

I have never before felt so helpless at the passing years

I leave you at your door with one last hug and kiss before we drive away
Knowing you are anxious and sad and excited all at once
To see us go

I have never missed you or loved you more.

All my love, forever,