"Distractions was written for the World Fantasy Con 2001 CD-Rom edited by Nancy Kilpatrick.  The CD covered writing, art and music from Canadians slotted to match themes retrospective of previous World Fantasy Cons.  My story was to be tied to the 1985 Con "Fantasy Writers of the Southwest" which was held in Tucsan, Arizona.  My main character, Maxwell, was suffering through a problem that often plagues me as a writer -- Distractions (yes, with a capital "D").  I thought it would be interesting if Maxwell sought help in the cult of a modern day self-help guru." (Mark Leslie)

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by Mark Leslie

Maxwell wasn’t surprised when the rubber ball smashed through the window, dropped to the floor and rolled to a stop near his feet. In fact, he hardly flinched as the shards of glass flew through the air, some of them nesting in his blond curly locks.

He’d known that it was only a matter of time before the ball being bounced against the side of the house strayed just enough to hit the window.

Maxwell looked down at the signed copy of Andy Robinson’s latest self-help bestseller: MAXIM POWER II: GETTING THROUGH DISTRACTIONS. Andy’s proud, smiling face (with his unique trademark oversized cleft chin and dimples) on the cover brought the book’s first words to his mind.

Distractions should be seen as evil.

Calmly, Maxwell reached down, picked up the ball, got to his feet, and walked out of the study. The ball was made of Indian rubber, warm and hard with just a little give as he pressed his thumb into it. Tossing the ball into the air and catching it with the same hand, he headed down the hall on his way to the door.

The packed book shelf at the end of the hall caught his eye, as it often did. He paused to run the tips of his fingers across the spines of the books. His fingers stopped on a book with golden lettering down the spine reading: The Brazen Herald.

He pulled the book off the shelf, admiring the cover lettering, the artwork, the dark winged-dragon silhouette against a purple-red sky, and below that, a blue-black sea, and the lone figure standing in the foreground on the edge of the cliff, mostly in silhouette, the blue and yellow tunic showing, the glinting shine of the sword in hand. Turning the hardcover book in his hand, he admired the black and white photo on the back, how the smiling face captured there resembled him, yet was different. A fuller head of hair, the confident smile of an author still producing. Then he read the text. ‘Maxwell Bronte lives with his wife Doris in Arizona and is hard at work on his next novel, furthering the chronicles of Sebastien Eldritch.’ He smiled and fondly remembered those days. The novel had been praised and cheered—he had been the talk of the town, described as that up and coming fantasy writer from the Southwest, the way that King was the horror writer from New England. He’d been interviewed and featured in all the major SF & Fantasy journals.

That, of course, had been five years ago. He still hadn’t finished the follow up novel about Sebastien Eldritch, the one he had been planning on calling Herald in Peril. No, between that first blockbuster novel and now, he’d gone through two job changes, the loss of his father, a near divorce and a house fire. Getting back to working on his novel had not been a priority during those changes.

The world around you shouldn’t decide your priorities for you. Only you can do that.

Until he discovered Andy Robinson, that was, and learned that all of it, all that change, turmoil and upset, were really nothing more than distractions that had been getting in his way of fulfilling his destiny.

He’d bumped into Andy at Roc*Kon, a science fiction convention in Little Rock just a few months ago. Maxwell was still touring the conventions, riding on his one past publishing success and hoping to revitalize his career by being around other successful authors. He’d ended up reminding himself of a certain television star from 20 years ago whose soul quest seemed to be to work non-stop at rallying fans to help bring back STARSHIP ACADEMY, despite the fact that most of the other main cast members from that series had either all but disappeared from acting or had died.

Almost minutes after making that realization and wondering if he would be doing this for another fifteen years, he’d gotten off the elevator at the wrong floor, where he’d stumbled into a business leaders convention, and Andy Robinson, the convention’s main speaker. Across from the elevators and just outside of the lecture room, Andy was involved in an animated discussion with a few men in suits.

The way he moved, gestured, the passion and excitement in his voice, caught Maxwell’s attention immediately. Andy actually reminded Maxwell of a character in his novel, the one faithful companion of Sebastien Eldrich, Marvis Cranley, who was a sometimes sidekick, a sometimes court jester, and a full-time spiritual advisor. He started watching Andy because of this fascinating parallel, but then continued watching him because he was such a captivating speaker. When Andy and the two men (who were also listening to him with rapt attention) moved down the hall, Maxwell spotted the poster-board bearing Andy’s grin, and a table covered with the man’s motivational books.

The phone began to ring, bringing him out of his silent reminiscence. Maxwell turned and regarded the phone, answering machine and key cup on the small table near the front door.

You can only deal with one distraction at a time. Don’t let them gang up on you.

He slid the novel back into place on the shelf between THE ARMIES OF DAYLIGHT by Barbara Hambly and FROSTWING by Richard A. Knaak, two of his favourite fantasy authors. The answering machine picked up after the second ring.

"Hi, Sweetie." His mother’s voice, slightly tinny coming through the answer machine speaker, filled the hallway. "I’m just worried because I haven’t heard from you in a couple of days. Call me." Damn woman, he thought, continuing his journey down the hallway, making him call her twice a week, as if there were anything important to discuss that often. What a waste of time.

Without breaking his stride, Maxwell ripped the phone cord out of the wall and carried the unit out the door. In the entranceway, he lifted the lid off the trash can and dropped the phone inside. "I’m busy, Mom," he said as he dropped the lid back into place. "I’ll deal with you later."

Put aside those extra distractions until you have the time to deal with them.

Maxwell then rounded the house. In the front yard, a red-haired kid with a speckling of freckles across his nose stood waving his arms in the air. It was his neighbour’s kid, Danny.

"Sorry, Mr. Bronte. I’m so sorry."

Reaching the boy, Maxwell stopped. "Danny, what did I say about throwing the ball against the side of my house?"

Danny didn’t answer.

"Danny. What did I say?"

The boy shifted his left foot in front of his right one, softly digging his toe into the grass as he looked up. "You said not to."

"Not to what?"

"Not to throw the ball against the house because it distracts you when you’re..."

"That’s right," Maxwell said, cutting the child off. "And you disobeyed me. Again."

"I’m sorry, Mr. Bronte. I’m sorry. Can I have my ball back?" Danny sobbed.

As Maxwell stood there looking at the boy, he was reminded of the fact that this distraction was taking up even more time. Andy Robinson’s smooth calm voice of reason filled his head. Distractions are anti-traction. You must give yourself traction by eliminating distraction.

"Eliminate distraction," Maxwell mumbled. "You want your ball? Here!" He drew his arm back, and with that, the boy immediately stopped sobbing. He started to stumble backwards, his wide eyes never leaving the ball, as Maxwell followed through on his pitch and sent the ball straight at the boy’s head.

The ball bounced off of the boy’s forehead, the shock, more than anything, dropping him onto the ground on his backside.

"And stay out of my yard!" He boomed.

The boy turned, scrambled forward about a foot on his hands and knees and then successfully got to his feet and ran across the other side of the yard to the neighbour’s house.

After watching the boy run inside and hearing the satisfying slam of the door, Maxwell stood there a moment, taking in a breath full of fresh air, carried in on a dry warm desert wind. Then he headed back into the house.

"Oh great," he said, noticing the grass stains on his hand that must have come from the ball. "Running out of time, here."

Andy’s voice came to him again. Time is your friend, not your enemy. Embrace it. Make the most of it.

He glanced at his watch as he headed toward the bathroom. He only got one day off a week to work on his writing and so far he’d been wasting his time with minor distractions. But, as he now knew, there is no such thing as a minor distraction. Every single distraction is evil and must be dealt with or they will soon stockpile and run your life. For the past five years, he’d let distractions get in his way. They’d stockpiled in front of him, preventing him from getting anything accomplished. Job Interviews, Funerals, Marriage Counsellors. Distractions with capital letters, all of them, preventing him from getting down to his novel. But not anymore.

Not with the sound words of Andy Robinson to inspire him along.

When Maxwell got to the washroom, he turned on the water, not bothering to wait for the hot water to start coming out. No. That would be a waste of time. He smiled at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands. The new Maxwell smiled back at him.

Say goodbye to the you that says, ‘Perhaps I’ll do it later.’ And say hello to the you that says, ‘I want it right now!’

The new Maxwell didn’t procrastinate and thought of time as his best friend. Because time was too powerful to work against.

Hey, that was a good one which he’d just made up on his own.

Not only was Maxwell taking charge of his life, but he was able to rework Andy’s strong and powerful words into his own life. After all, it was Andy who said: Don’t just follow these tips blindly. Take them. Use them as your own, and they will evolve into your own words, your own tips, your own maxims.

Still smiling, Maxwell felt something soft and furry rubbing up against his leg. He looked down at an orange tabby, Smuckers, as it purred and strode back and forth between his legs, rubbing itself against him. Maxwell’s smile began to falter as it continued to rub at his legs without letting up. And he knew that it wouldn’t stop until it was either fed or petted or perhaps both.

In any case, it was just another distraction.

Still smiling, Maxwell scooped it up, carried it to the toilet and forced it’s head under the water. Within a couple of minutes the struggling was over, and he set the toilet lid back down, the cat’s orange tail still sticking out. He’d been surprised that the feline hadn’t put up more of a fight.

Soon, he would have to clean the body out of there. But he couldn’t worry about that now. He had to remain focused on the job at hand. Prioritize your list. What is important? What can wait?

As he washed his hands, Maxwell became aware of a stinging sensation on his left arm. He turned his wrist over and discovered that the cat must have indeed fought back at least a little. There, on his skin, was a puffed up red scratch. The center of the scratch had opened and a thin line of blood leaked out.

"Not another distraction," Maxwell mumbled, opening up the medicine cabinet. Unable to find any bandages, he stormed out into the hallway.

The doorbell rang.

Maxwell turned towards the door.

On the other side of the screen door stood his neighbour, Gus Sherrington. Gus had just as many freckles across his nose as his son Danny, but his red hair had receded to nothing more than a patch of wispy tufts a few inches above each ear and rounding the back of his head. The way he was breathing, in big dramatic gasps, and the look on the man’s face suggested that Gus was none too happy that Maxwell had beaned his son with the Indian rubber ball.

Gus raised a baseball bat where Maxwell could see it. "Get yoh ass out heah!" he screamed through the door. "I’ll kick yoh ass down the frickin’ street for touchin’ mah boy."

Distractions have a way of compounding themselves, becoming more than the sum of their parts. "No kidding," Maxwell mumbled, stepping over to the closet. He opened the closet door and reached in for his shotgun.

Eliminating distractions, at any cost, is often your only solution.

"Get yoh ass out heah!" Gus yelled again, unable to see Maxwell checking to ensure the gun was loaded behind the cover of the closet door.

"I said . . ." Gus started to say, but stopped as Maxwell closed the closet door and revealed the gun. Gus’s eyes were suddenly as wide as his son’s had been when he knew he was going to be getting his ball back the fast and hard way.

Stepping forward and raising the shotgun up to chest level, Maxwell fired. The glass and screen shattered to the explosive blast of the shotgun in an enclosed space, and Gus was knocked backward off his feet, almost as much from the sound as from the force hitting him in the chest.

Maxwell stepped forward, looking at the man lying on the sidewalk on his back. His eyes wide and terrified, were fixed on Maxwell; his chest, now hitching even more dramatically than before, was pretty much a stewed up mess of blood, skin, pellets and the remains of his yellow t-shirt. His right hand still clutched the baseball bat and his left hand pawed at the grass, as if it alone could drag him away from further pain.

Distractions are often over before you stop being distracted by them. Could that be the case now? Certainly. Gus wasn’t a distraction any longer; he should let him be.

Maxwell turned and headed back down the hallway.

A trickle of blood leaked down his forehead. He figured it must be a cut from the glass, either from the screen door just now or the glass that flew through the air when the ball came through his window.

Whatever it had been, it signalled a need for more bandages.

He stormed towards the master bedroom. "Doris, where are the bandag..." he paused at the bedroom door. His wife was lying on the floor, her dead hand still clutching the vacuum cleaner.

"Oh yeah," Maxwell muttered, remembering. His wife had had the nerve to start vacuuming when she knew he had a lot of work to get done. What a stupid thing to do. He was going to miss her. Strange how quickly he’d forgotten about killing her.

Once you eliminate a distraction, you should forget that it ever existed. Or else it will consume your mind, and your time. That is why distractions are so evil. That is why they must be vanquished.

He decided enough time had been wasted. Without Doris around to help find the bandages, he’d probably never locate them.

Instead, he headed back to his den. He sat himself in front of the computer, smiled as he propped the shotgun against his desk and lifted his coffee, now cool, to his lips, and relished in the silence of the afternoon.

Now that the distractions were removed, he could get some work done.

After all, there was only so much time to write.

Off in the distance, a wailing siren started to lurk up out of the silence.

Unless it pertains to you directly, ignore anything that threatens to distract you. Deal with it only when it begins to directly interfere with your goal.

Maxwell sent a sideways glance at the shotgun propped up against his desk and then typed, figuring he could at least finish his next paragraph before the police car reached his house.

As he typed, Andy Robinson’s smiling face watched him proudly from the cover of the book.

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