Tuesday 17 March 2015

Kids and iGadgets: It's enough to make you screeeeeeen!

Yesterday my son had a meltdown and I blame technology. All four inches of it.

This 'meltdown' wasn't of the cute, oh-isn't-that-typical-for-a-toddler type. He's in his last year of primary school. He's 11 for God's sake. Way too old for that kind of nonsense, and a little too young to pin on the hormones. Yet it's happening increasingly, and it's got me in a muddle. Every single day I brace myself for the next onslaught, the next angry outburst, the next clear trigger. 

Yesterday the trigger came in the shape of a McDonald's Quarter Pounder Meal. 

I had just bought my son a new pair of Nike runners for school (more fool, I) and needed to do a grocery shop.
"Let's get a quick snack at the food hall before we hit the supermarket," I chirped, happily enough.
"Great! I'll have a large Quarter Pound Meal with a coke," he replied.
I smiled naively back. "Good try, bucko. Let's get something smaller, hey?"
"But I want McDonald's. Why can't I have McDonald's?!"
"Because it's really unhealthy and you don't need that much. We're just getting an afternoon snack before dinner."
"Don't care. I want a Quarter Pounder with fries. And it's got to be large."
I stared at him aghast.

Now, for the sake of word count and the risk of putting you into a coma, I won't take you through the boring histrionics of it all. Suffice to say I left him in the food hall, unfed, and did the grocery shop. I then made my way to the car and he eventually caught up with me, pouting all the way home with nothing but a banana for company (the shoes are going back).

The Me Generation

In retrospect, I don't blame Maccers or Nike. I mean, I'd really like to but that day they were just the triggers that set him off. Again. This kind of behaviour has been intensifying for some time. There's a growing sense of entitlement, a 'Me Me Me!' culture that struggles to take No for an answer. And it's driving me nuts.

I could, of course, blame my own parenting, and you'll be pleased to hear I do, frequently, as I toss and turn at night. Clearly I am failing my son every minute of every day and it breaks my heart. But I'm not alone. Every family I know is going through this same issue, in one way or another, some more violently than others. 

Instead, I'd like to blame Apple, or more generally, the computer age. Sorry, guys, but you've stuffed everything up! My sons are now growing up (or not as the case may be) in an era where extraordinary, cinematic-style entertainment is at their fingertips whenever they want it. They are tantalised every moment by an endless parade of flashing, beeping, reward-driven games and apps, and as a consequence have lost all grasp on reality.

Generation Z don't do boring 

And they don't do things by halves. Boredom and failure are two things this generation just don't understand and certainly don't tolerate. Online entertainment is never boring, its creators make damn sure of that. They want kids to keep coming back, so kids are rewarded over and over, and over again. What's more, there are no limitations online. 

In cyberspace, no-one uses the word 'no'. You are always a winner. You can always have the large Maccers meal; hell, go better--have six!

Want to score goal after goal just like Messi? No worries, FIFA 15 will make it happen! Even better, they'll make YOU Messi. You may never have touched an actual soccer ball but that's irrelevant now. Online you're Messi's equal, you even score more goals than he ever could.

Want to blow someone's head off because ... well, just because? Step back, the choices are beyond endless, they're as overwhelming as the blood and gore on offer. And even if you ban these things from your own home, which we do, they experience them in every single household across their neighbourhood. Everybody's playing this crap, it's insidious and it's omnipresent.

Today our kids can download any R-rated, violence-fuelled, sex-depraved Hollywood flick they like. No waiting for a new movie or TV show to come out (or sneaking a well-worn copy of Playboy into the house). At the flick of the keyboard, it's all there for the taking. And they can take it now, while riding the school bus if they like. No one's checking their age, no one's guiding them through it. It's a free-for-all.

Me? A Luddite?

I know, I know, I'm sounding like an old fart, a Luddite-like grump. I don't hate technology. Hell, without it, I wouldn't be writing this blog now, would I? Or self-publishing my own novels. Or forging a career as a journalist 1000 kilometres from my capital city. 

When used creatively, computers and the internet are miraculous, wondrous inventions. They have made so many lives better, including my own. But my boys aren't using computers creatively, they're slaves to it, they're getting sucked into someone else's creative output, and getting absolutely zero back (except an inflated sense of self and some serious attitude).

It's no wonder, then, that the likes of Steve Jobs (and others in Silicon Valley) refused to give their own kids iGadgets. According to a 2010 interview by Nick Bilton in the New York Times, Apple's now deceased co-founder and CEO, Jobs, said his own kids had never used Apple's iPad:

                 "We limit how much technology our kids use at home."

Do you think Jobs (or Bill Gates for that matter) would have created all they've created if they'd grown up glued to an iPad? I doubt it. I bet they were chucked out of the house and made to find their own entertainment, just like I was. I may still be in my 40s but I, too, grew up in an era where computers were something you read about in sci-fi novels. Mystical and out of reach. Hell, TV hadn't even found its way to my hometown in Papua New Guinea. There was nothing to entertain me but life itself. (How lucky I was!)

There were no screens, there were no shortcuts and redo buttons when I was 11. If you were bored, you were bored, suck it up! If you stuffed up, you stuffed up. If you failed, you failed. Then you dusted yourself off and you got on with it, usually outside, with something analogue, like a toy or a bike, a book or pen and paper.

This new generation wouldn't know what to do with any of those things. And I'm not exaggerating--my son was given some incredible toys for his birthday, actual physical toys, including a remote control helicopter and a DIY solar robot (things my brothers and I would have KILLED for at his age). Those toys are still sitting on his bedroom floor, largely untouched. The robot has not even found its way out of the box yet. His birthday was six weeks ago. It breaks my heart. 

And try putting a book or a pen and paper in your child's hands and see how long it lasts. Some will be satisfied for a little while, most will find their way back to a screen, like moths to the flame, as soon as you go and put the washing out.

We've enrolled our boys in sports, and lots of it (soccer, Aussie Rules football, boxing, Futsal...), but you get the feeling they're only humouring you so they can earn enough brownie points to get back on the PlayStation.

Lost souls

I hate how this generation is turning out. I despair of it. Will any of them be writing novels when they're my age? Will any of them be inventing anything or finding the cure for cancer? Or will they be so crippled by an age that delivers everything at the press of a button, and expects very little back, that they can't see beyond the square in front of their face? How is that inspiring? What is that teaching them?

I hate my son's reliability on gadgets, and I hate that he thinks it's okay to demand a large McDonald's meal (straight after being spoiled rotten with expensive shoes I might add), and then refuse to accept no for an answer. To throw a wobbly over something as mundane!

Come on!

But most of all, I hate that it makes parenting an endless bloody battle. There are no more lazy summer days now. It's nagging, fighting, arguing to get them off screens and outside, and then it's sneakily watching them in case they creep back in or have smuggled an iPod in their back pocket.

Well, not anymore.

As of today my computer is now unplugged to both my sons. Their iGadgets have vanished. The PlayStation is history. It's game over, bucko. No more endless rewards and yes, yes, yes! It's time to get some perspective in the real world, because they certainly aren't finding any in cyberspace.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop me a comment below.
xo Christina

Thursday 5 March 2015

Review one book, get one free (it's too easy!)

Want to win a free murder mystery? Be one of the first to review Roxy Parker's latest Ghostwriter mystery, A Note Before Dying, and you can have your pick of any of Roxy's past adventures, including Killer Twist, A Plot To Die For, Last Writes, Dying Words or Words Can Kill. Or, if you've read them all, no sweat. You could win one of my other ebooks, available via Amazon including The Agatha Christie Book Club and An Island Lost.

It's easy!

Just download a copy of A Note Before Dying (if you haven't already) then sit back and enjoy your read. Once you've finished, simply jot down a quick review on Amazon. It doesn't have to be long, doesn't even need to be favourable! I'd just like to hear from you.

What did you like? What didn't you? Did you guess whodunnit?

Once you've jotted your Amazon review, just sit back and DO NOTHING! I will get in touch with you via Amazon to offer you a Kindle copy of one of my eight murder mysteries currently available at Amazon.

Or, if you'd prefer, get in touch via the comments box below to alert me to your review or send me a direct email. It's up to you!

Don't hesitate! 

I'm offering this to the first THREE people who review my book on Amazon. So get in quick and get yourself a free murder mystery.

Happy reading, everyone!
xo Christina

Sunday 1 March 2015

An open letter to my readers (or why I just had a meltdown)

This morning I had a dummy spit and I decided to kill off Roxy Parker for good. This afternoon—with two cups of coffee, a gummy bear, and a powerwalk under my belt—I'm a little less maudlin, but I may still need to put down my pen. 

And I'd like to explain why, in less melodramatic terms this time. 

Readers, readers, readers...

I know you're out there because over the past few years I've sold thousands of ebooks (and given away many thousands more). I know you exist because every now and then one of you wonderful people takes a moment to jot me a line and tell me how much you love my work. Occasionally one of you tells me how bad I'm doing and that's fine, too. That's life in the public domain.

What I struggle with, what really brings me down (and brings on a rant like the previous unforgiveable blog), is silence. Your deafening, echoing silence.

Why you need to speak up

Last month I published my ninth book, the sixth in the Ghostwriter Mystery series and my eighth crime novel. I think it's okay, I don't believe it's drivel. I certainly spent more time and money on it than I did any of the others. I had it properly edited by not one but two professionals, at no small cost. I begged the cover designer to come out of semi-retirement (from cover designing) to do the cover, and I spent the usual time cursing aloud as I formatted it for Amazon and then Smashwords, which can take hours at a time.

And then I uploaded it to the intenet, crossed my fingers and felt that familiar jolt of excitement. Would my cherished readers enjoy it more than the last? Would this one be the one that turns everything around?!

A month later, over 150 of you have downloaded it and I am so grateful, honestly I am. I thank you for that. I really, really do! BUT I am yet to record a single review. Not one teeny weeny sentence, like, "Yeah, it was okay" or "Horray, Roxy's back!" or "What the hell does she call this slop?!" 

Worse, no one has even clicked on the star ratings, the easiest job online. It's just a button, you just need to click it a couple of times. But nope. Not so much as half a star.

I know, I know! I shouldn't care, right?! I should stop being so self indulgent and needy and all that. Surely I don't write my novels for a few Amazon stars?! Surely that's not what it's all about?! 

But it kinda is. 

Let me explain why

Writers need feedback, and it's not just because we're such sad sacks, although that's a very big part of it, let's be honest. (Hell we locked ourselves away for six months, neglected the kids and hubbies, not to mention paid work, to hammer the bloody thing out. Be lovely to know if you actually thought it was worth the effort.)

But that's not really why we need those reviews and star ratings on sites like Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble. We need them to survive. It's basic economics, people, and bloody boring, but stay with me if you can. 

Without your reviews and star ratings, it's extremely difficult to kick our careers along. For starters, less people are inclined to download a book that has no favourable reviews, let alone any reviews at all. They mean a lot to readers, you and I both know that. 

On top of that, it's very difficult for a writer to publicise her work when it looks like nobody's reading it. Most of the world's top book review websites and competition platforms REFUSE to even look at our books unless they have received a certain amount of Amazon stars (four) or reviews (usually 10).

Without these sites, publicising our work is so much more difficult. Without PR, sales begin to dwindle and then drop off, royalty checks get smaller and smaller, and eventually we have to return to our (paid) day jobs and have no more time to write novels. It's that simple.

No reviews/stars from you = no more Ghostwriter Mysteries. It's Economics 101.

Then again...

Then there's the courtesy factor. I don't expect everybody to write a review, of course I don't. That really would be self-indulgent twaddle. But some of you, at least a dozen, have written to me in the past, begging me to write another Roxy Parker mystery, and, feeling inspired by this, obliged even, I have dropped my other work and created a new adventure for you. I had fun doing it, I'm not saying it was a sacrifice. But it would still be so lovely if you could tell me what you think, repay the favour, maybe, with a teeny weeny one-line review.

Or, if that's too tricky, half a star would suffice.

I can't emphasise this enough: If you don't take the time, every now and then when you can manage it, to review an author's book or give them a star or two, that author will not be able to write any more books. Nor, I am sorry to say, will she want to. It's a lonely life being a writer. A little feedback makes it all worthwhile.

Happy reading everyone (but remember, there's a human being with feelings and bills behind that book).
xo Christina