Worlds Collide – Chris Colfer

Bookworm Paradise had never been so crowded. Over a thousand guests were cramped inside the bookstore’s event space, until there were no more open chairs and no standing room left. A small stage was flooded with light and set with two chairs and two microphones for the evening’s program. It was difficult to see over the row of journalists and photographers crouched in front of the stage, but the attendees were assured the press would only be there for the first few minutes of the event. The multigenerational crowd had come to the bookstore to see their favorite author in the flesh. The guests fidgeted as they stood and squirmed in their seats as they anxiously waited for him to make his first public appearance in years. Not only were they there to celebrate the writer’s five-decadeslong career, but the event was also marking a very special day in the author’s life. A colorful banner painted by students from the local elementary school hung above the stage that said HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY, MR. BAILEY! Just as the bookstore promised, at eight o’clock sharp a man in a chic suit stepped onstage and the evening’s festivities began. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Bookworm Paradise,” the man said into a microphone. “I’m Gregory Quinn from the New York Times Book Review and I couldn’t be more honored to be moderating tonight’s event. We’re all here to celebrate a man who has made the world a much more magical place, thanks to over a hundred published works of children’s fiction.” The crowd cheered at the mention of Mr. Bailey’s accomplished career. All the author’s books could be found in the audience as the guests held their favorite titles close to their hearts.

“As I look around the room, I’m very pleased to see such a diverse group of people,” Mr. Quinn continued. “Mr. Bailey has always said his greatest accomplishment isn’t the number of books he’s written or the number of copies sold, but the rich diversity of his readership. I can’t think of a better testament to his work than knowing it’s enjoyed by families all over the world.” Many people in the audience placed a hand over their chests as they remembered the joy the author had brought them over the years. Some even became teary-eyed recalling what an impact Mr. Bailey’s stories had had on their young lives. Luckily, they’d found his work when they needed a good story the most. “It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t smile at the mention of his name,” Mr.

Quinn went on. “Mr. Bailey filled our childhoods with adventure and suspense, his characters taught us the difference between right and wrong, and his stories showed us that the imagination is the most powerful weapon in the world. You know someone is special when the whole world considers them family, so now, let’s remind him just how special he is. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please give a warm welcome to the one and only Mr. Conner Jonathan Bailey.” The seated guests leaped to their feet and the event space filled with thunderous applause. The photographers raised their cameras and covered the stage in quick pulsating flashes. An adorable and skinny old man slowly made his way onto the stage and waved at the excited audience. He had big eyes the color of the sky and messy white hair that sat on his head like a fluffy cloud.

He wore thick glasses, bright blue suspenders, and neon-red sneakers. From the way he dressed and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, it was clear that Mr. Bailey was just as colorful as the characters in his books. Mr. Quinn tried to help the author into his seat, but the old man waved the attempt off, insisting he didn’t need assistance. Even after Mr. Bailey sat down, the crowd continued to shower him with their affectionate applause. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Mr. Bailey said into his microphone. “You’re too kind, but it’s probably best you stop clapping so we can get on with the show.

I’m eighty years old—time is of the essence.” The crowd laughed and took their seats, each sitting a little more on edge than before. “We can’t thank you enough for joining us, Mr. Bailey,” Mr. Quinn said. “I’m delighted to have the opportunity,” the author said. “And thank you, Mr. Quinn, for such a lovely introduction. I didn’t realize you were talking about me until I heard my full name. After all those compliments, I was afraid the store had booked the wrong Mr.

Bailey.” “The praise was all for you, sir,” the moderator reassured him. “First things first: Happy birthday! It’s such a privilege to celebrate this milestone with you.” “You’ve got to dig deep to find dirt older than me,” Mr. Bailey joked. “It’s funny, when I was young there was nothing I looked forward to more than my birthday. Nowadays, with every passing year, I feel more and more like an expired can of beans that God forgot to toss out.” “I don’t believe that for a second,” Mr. Quinn said. “Every time I hear your name mentioned, it’s always followed with a comment about your impressive stamina.

Do you have any secrets for staying in shape or how you keep your energy up?” “As you get older, it’s important to select the shape you most identify with, and as you can see, I’ve chosen a squash,” Mr. Bailey teased. “When it comes to maintaining a good energy level, I simply make the most out of the four hours a day I’m awake.” A cheeky grin spread across the author’s face, and the audience roared with laughter. They were pleased to hear him speak with the same trademark wit he wrote with. “We’re also joined tonight by Mr. Bailey’s family,” Mr. Quinn said, and gestured to the people sitting in the front row. “Thank you for sharing your father and grandfather with us. Mr.

Bailey, would you like to introduce your children and grandchildren?” “I’d be happy to,” Mr. Bailey said. “That’s my older daughter, Elizabeth, her husband, Ben, and their daughter, Charlie. Next we have my son, Matthew, his husband, Henry, and their boys, Ayden and Grayson. Last but certainly not least, my daughter Carrie, her husband, Scott, and their children, Brighton, Sammy, and Levi. As you can see, they’re all adopted—a bunch that good-looking couldn’t possibly share my DNA.” The audience chuckled and gave the author’s family a warm round of applause, forcing them to stand and wave bashfully. “We were very saddened to hear of your wife’s passing earlier this year,” Mr. Quinn said. “As most of our audience knows, Mr.

Bailey’s wife, Breanne Campbell-Bailey, was also an accomplished writer and served as a United States senator for twenty-four years until her retirement.” “Would you believe we were middle school sweethearts?” Mr. Bailey said with a smile. “As far as I’m concerned, I was the first and only mistake she ever made.” “How long were you married?” Mr. Quinn asked. “Fifty-two years,” Mr. Bailey said. “She insisted on finishing her master’s degree before marriage and publishing her fifth book before starting a family.” “I’m not surprised,” Mr.

Quinn said. “The late senator was a major advocate for women’s rights.” “Yes, but I must clarify, Bree was never late for anything,” the author said with a laugh. “She did absolutely everything on her own time, and her death was no exception. But in my family we don’t say died or passed away, we say returned to magic—it suits her much better. Before she returned to magic, my wife hid thousands of notes in our home for me to find after she was gone. Not a day goes by I don’t discover a Post-it reminding me to take my medicine or eat breakfast.” “Magic indeed,” Mr. Quinn said. “You were both born and raised in Willow Crest, California.

Is that correct?” “That’s right,” Mr. Bailey said with a nod. “And what a different world it was. Paper came from trees, cars ran on gasoline, and caffeine was legal. It was practically the Dark Ages.” “Can you remember the first person who inspired you to write?” the moderator asked. “It was my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Peters,” the author said. “At first we didn’t see eye-to-eye; she thought her classroom was a place for education, I thought it was a great place for naps. A year later she became principal of the middle school and read some short stories I had written for my English class.

Mrs. Peters saw potential in my writing and planted the seeds in my head. I’ll always be so grateful to her. I dedicated one of my books to her—but I can’t recall which one.” “It’s Fairytaletopia 4: The Literary Journey!” shouted an excited little girl in the back row. “Oh yes, that’s the one,” Mr. Bailey said, and scratched his head. “You’ll have to be patient with me; my memory has been on vacation since my early seventies. These days I’ll pick up a book and read the whole thing without realizing I wrote it.” “Speaking of which, let’s talk about your remarkable writing career,” Mr.

Quinn said. “As I said before, you’ve published more than a hundred books over the course of five decades. Among those are the Starboardia sagas, the Adventures of Blimp Boy mysteries, the Galaxy Queen chronicles, the Ziblings graphic novels, and most notably, the Fairytaletopia series.” The crowd cheered the loudest at the mention of Mr. Bailey’s fantasy series, Fairytaletopia. The author’s six-book franchise was the most successful and acclaimed publication of his career. The series had been translated into fifty languages, was sold in over a hundred countries, and had helped improve children’s literacy around the world. The Fairytaletopia books had also been adapted into several major motion pictures, a dozen television shows, and countless items of tacky merchandise. “Although the majority of your work has been bestsellers and critical hits, you’re most known for writing Fairytaletopia,” Mr. Quinn said.

“What is the special ingredient that makes that series so beloved?” “That’s an easy answer. It was written by a child,” Mr. Bailey confessed. “Not many people know this, but I finished the first draft of Fairytaletopia: The Wishing Charm when I was about thirteen years old. I was very embarrassed about writing, so I kept it a secret; I didn’t even show it to my family. Later, in my twenties, after a few mild literary successes, I came across a dusty old manuscript in my mother’s attic. I brushed it off, fixed some typos, and had it published. Had I known what a hit it would be I would have pursued it much sooner.” “How interesting,” Mr. Quinn said.

“So you’re saying the series is successful with children because it was conceived by one.” “Precisely,” Mr. Bailey said. “Children will always be drawn to stories written in their own language. And as children’s authors, it’s our job never to lose touch with that language.” “You’ve had plenty of opportunities to write for adults, but you’ve always stayed in the realm of middle grade. Why do you enjoy writing for children?” “I suppose I just like children more than I like adults,” the author said with a shameless shrug. “No matter how much the world evolves, the children of the world will never change. Every child is born with the same need for love, respect, and understanding. They’re unified by the same fears, compassion, and convictions.

They’re tormented by an endless curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, and a desire for adventure. The greatest tragedy in life is how soon children get robbed of these qualities. We could accomplish great things if we held on to such a fresh point of view. Think about how wonderful this world could be if we all saw it through the eyes of a child.” “What would your advice be for aspiring authors?” Mr. Quinn asked. It was a very important question to the author, and he went silent for a moment while he thought of a worthy answer. “Always let the world inspire and influence you, but never let it discourage you. In fact, the more the world discourages you, the more it needs you. As writers we have the profound privilege and responsibility to create a new world when the current one takes a turn for the worse.

Storytellers are more than just entertainers; we’re the shepherds of ideology, the street pavers of progress, and the scientists of the soul. If it weren’t for people like us, who imagine a better world and are brave enough to question and stand up to the authorities that suppress them… well, we’d still be living in the Dark Ages I was born into.” It became so quiet the crowd could hear the ticking of a clock. At first the author was afraid he had said something to upset the audience, but once they’d had a few seconds to process his words, the event space erupted into another thunderous round of applause. “I’m afraid to follow that answer with another question, so why don’t we open the questions to our audience members?” Mr. Quinn proposed. Nearly all the hands in the room shot up at once. Mr. Bailey chuckled at the sight, tickled by how many people wanted to ask a question of an old geezer like him. “Let’s start with the woman in the brown shirt,” Mr.

Quinn said. “The Starboardia series is much darker than most of your work, especially the history about American slavery. Were you worried that might be too much for your younger audience?” “Not once,” Mr. Bailey said. “I will never sugarcoat history so that certain people sleep better at night. The more we shed light on the problems of the world, past and present, the easier it will be to fix them.” “Now let’s go to the boy in the front,” Mr. Quinn said. “How many of your characters are based on yourself?” “All of them—especially the villains,” Mr. Bailey said with a wink.

“Now we’ll go to the young man in the middle,” Mr. Quinn said. “What inspired you to write the Fairytaletopia series?” The mischievous twinkle in the author’s eye grew so bright, it practically shined like a searchlight. “Would you believe me if I told you it was all autobiographical?” he said. The crowd giggled, and Mr. Bailey’s children collectively sighed at their father’s remark—not this again. However, Mr. Bailey’s twinkle never faded. He looked around the room as if he was disappointed the audience wasn’t taking the answer as seriously as the others. “It’s true,” he said with conviction.

“This world is full of magic if you choose to see it, but it’s a choice I can’t make for you.” The comment inspired a little girl in the third row to stand on her seat and wave her hand energetically in the air. Whatever her question was, she was more desperate to ask it than anyone else in the room. “Yes, the young lady wearing pigtails,” Mr. Quinn said. “Hello, Mr. Bailey,” she said. “My name is Annie and I love your books. I’ve read all six Fairytaletopia books a dozen times each.” “I appreciate that more than words could describe,” the author said.

“What’s your question?” “Well, it has to do with what you just said, about Fairytaletopia being true,” she said. “Everyone knows Fairytaletopia is about a pair of twins who travel into the fairy-tale world, but I bet a lot of people don’t know you’re a twin yourself. I looked you up online and saw you have a sister named Alex. So I assume you based Alec and Connie Baxter from Fairytaletopia on you and your sister.” The question took Mr. Bailey off guard. His readers were usually so invested in the worlds he wrote about that they rarely asked him questions about his personal life, especially ones about his family. “That is both creepy and correct, Annie,” Mr. Bailey said. “I’d say you have what it takes to be a private investigator some—” “That’s not my question,” the girl said.

“According to my research, Alex Bailey attended school in Willow Crest until the seventh grade, but then she vanishes from all public records. I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find a single document about where she went or what became of her after that. So I guess my question is less about the books and more about your sister. Whatever happened to Alex?” The world-renowned author went dead silent and the twinkle faded from his eye. He was shocked, not because of the question, but because he couldn’t remember the answer. He searched every corner of his patchy memory, but he couldn’t recall where his sister was or the last time he had spoken to her. The only memories coming to mind were from when Alex was a teenager, but he refused to believe that was the last time he’d seen her. He was certain he’d had some communication with Alex since then. She couldn’t just have disappeared, as the girl in pigtails claimed… or could she? “I… I…” Mr. Bailey mumbled as he tried to focus.

It was obvious something was wrong, and the crowd began to shift in their seats. When the author realized his audience was growing uncomfortable, he laughed at their reactions like he was only playing a joke on them. “Well, it’s a simple answer,” he said. “What happened to Connie at the end of Fairytaletopia?” He phrased the question like he was playing a trivia game with the young girl—but secretly, the author couldn’t remember the conclusion of his beloved series, either. Trying to recall the whereabouts of his sister made him realize how much information was missing from his memory. “She and Alec both had a happily ever after,” Annie said. “Did they?” the author asked. “I mean, of course they did! Then that’s your answer.” “But, Mr. Bailey—” “Well, this has been a wonderful evening, but I have to cut it short,” the author said.

“I would love to stay and answer all your questions, but my four hours of consciousness are almost up.” The author yawned and stretched like he was tired, but it wasn’t a convincing performance. In truth, the mental void had terrified him, and he didn’t know how much longer he could keep his fear from surfacing. Mr. Bailey always made jokes about his fading memory, but it wasn’t until tonight that he’d realized it wasn’t a laughing matter. Later that evening, once his children had dropped him off at home and made sure he was settled, Mr. Bailey searched his house for any clues he could find leading to his sister’s location, but he found nothing—not even a photograph. His children already treated him like a toddler, so he was afraid to ask one of them what had happened to her. For peace of mind, he had to find her on his own. The author could envision every detail of his sister’s face.

Her pale skin, her rosy cheeks, her pale blue eyes, the freckles on the bridge of her nose, and her long strawberry-blonde hair were instantly accessible every time he closed his eyes and thought of her. However, this was how Alex had looked in her youth. She most certainly would have been an old woman by now—so why couldn’t he picture it?

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