Every detail surrounding Gregory Landers was shrouded in secrecy. The name of this mysterious man was recognized by millions, and yet he was personally known by few. For those who did manage to meet him in person, he tended to be easily forgettable. But that was because he had no interest whatsoever in making any kind of impression.
Quiet and withdrawn, Gregory could never be described as the life of the party. The truth was, he had no desire to even be at the party. He was a soft-spoken introvert who preferred the world he had created in his mind to the one he was forced to exist in. Thankfully, others picked up on his hesitancy to interact, and, consequently, they willingly left him alone.
In the neighborhood where he had lived for over forty years, the common perception was that he was somewhat eccentric, and, to a degree, that was accurate. He rarely left his house, and on the odd occasion when he did venture out, he avoided people as much as possible. The simple fact was, the less he could be in public, the better he liked it. Gregory Landers was more than a homebody. He was a fully committed recluse who coveted his privacy at all costs.
Having reached the age of sixty-six, it appeared he had accomplished nothing of significance – but that was by design. For thirty-five years, he had zealously guarded a surprising secret that would, out of necessity, be revealed in short order.
With great reluctance, he had chosen this day to disclose that he was being forced, by a grim state of affairs beyond his control, to give up the very thing he loved most.
There was no other way to put it; this was a dream come true. But Lacey Marshall was still having trouble believing she’d been chosen to do the feature story on an individual she had idolized since childhood. A reporter for almost a decade, this was by far her most prestigious assignment to date.
Usually confident about her writing and interviewing skills, she couldn’t help but feel intimidated to be meeting the most successful children’s author in history. Gregory Landers, known to his throngs of fans as just Greg, was a literary legend. His book sales for his long-running children’s series dwarfed his nearest competitors and the hold he had on small children who learned to read from his books seemed to last a lifetime.
Such was the case with Lacey. Now thirty-four, with three children of her own, she had passed countless hours as a small child having Greg’s books read to her until she could navigate them on her own. Once she became a mother, the stories meant just as much to her kids as they once did to her, and she had little doubt it would remain the same for generations to come.
Typically a person of Gregory Landers’ stature would hold the interview either in his publisher’s office or some other public place, but he had specifically requested that it be conducted in his home – and that was fine with Lacey. She was thrilled to meet him, no matter what the location. Additionally, there was the bonus of getting to see how a multi-millionaire lived, an opportunity she would have after a three-hour flight to the heartland of America.
All things considered, it was safe to say that the reporter was excited about every aspect of this trip. However, as she would soon discover, nothing about this day would turn out as expected.
After landing and renting a car, Lacey, who admittedly was somewhat disappointed that Mr. Landers had not sent a limo to pick her up, carefully followed her GPS. But it didn’t take long before she became concerned that something was seriously amiss. Her route had taken her past several beautiful gated communities, but now she was endlessly driving past older middle-class homes that, although well-maintained, were certainly not spectacular.
Eventually, after winding around through a particularly large neighborhood, she came to the street she was looking for. Realizing that the author’s house was at the end of the block, Lacey was hopelessly confused. These were not magnificent mansions. There was nothing remotely upscale about this area. She herself lived in a nicer housing addition than this one.
She turned left and proceeded to the last house on the right. It was the correct address. She pulled her rental into the driveway and killed the engine, but instead of getting out, Lacey spent a few moments staring at the small frame house trying to understand how an internationally acclaimed writer, who had accumulated incredible wealth, could possibly live in such a modest home.
The reporter could not prevent her inquisitive brain from creating a succession of unsettling scenarios that might offer an explanation. Maybe he had somehow squandered his fortune on bad investments, gambling, or worse. Perhaps there had been financial advisors who had taken advantage of him, or maybe there had been some type of issue with the IRS.
Whatever the reason, Lacey had to put those thoughts out of her mind because it was time to go to work. Being the first person to ever interview the elusive Gregory Landers was a glorious opportunity, and she wanted to take full advantage it. Grabbing her briefcase, she stepped out of the car, nervously strolled up to the front porch, and rang the bell.
After an unusually long wait, she finally heard a noise on the other side followed by the distinct sound of locks being undone. Slowly the wood door opened revealing another surprise.
Lacey had never seen a photo of the reclusive author, and the back of his books only featured a hand-drawn caricature of him, but she knew she was at the right house, so this had to be him.
Sadly, the haggard appearance of the individual standing in front of her was shocking. Ghostly pale and emaciated, Lacey doubted the frail man weighed more than 120 pounds. Standing only with the aid of a walker, he was dressed in baggy sweatpants, a golf shirt that seemed several sizes too large for his wasted frame, and a thick heavy bathrobe.
Even though extremely sick, he managed a faint smile and said softly, “Hello, Mrs. Marshall. You know me as Gregory Landers. It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for making such a long trip.”
Lacey instantly noticed that his illness had slurred his speech requiring her full attention to catch every word accurately. “It’s my pleasure, Mr. Landers.” With some effort, he opened the door wide, and she stepped into a small entryway.
In a weary voice that matched his appearance, he said, “If you would please close the door and follow me.”
She did as he asked, and walked behind her host as he haltingly guided his walker through the living room to a small dining area. Lacey made a mental note that the interior of the home was clean and neat, however, the furnishings were austere and outdated.
Pulling out a chair for his guest, he said, “We should be comfortable here.”
They sat down across from each other, and Lacy laid her briefcase and purse containing her phone on the tabletop.
Sounding exhausted, the famous author started the conversation. “First of all, thank you again for coming all the way out here. Unfortunately, I’m afraid my traveling days are over. I don’t have the physical stamina for it anymore.”
“I am happy to be here. I’m just sorry that your health is an issue. I hope you’ll be feeling better soon.” It was the polite thing to say, but Lacey could sense that Gregory Landers’ condition was grimly serious. She decided to quickly change the subject. “I admit I was absolutely astounded when I was given this assignment. I still don’t know how I got so lucky.”
Without hesitation, he replied, “I asked for you.”
“That’s right. Every once in a while it’s nice to be able to throw your weight around. I pulled a few strings and was able to get you.”
“I was told that you were familiar with my work and that you had children who had also read the books. So I checked out your reporting and saw that you are a talented writer.”
Lacey’s face flushed. She was amazed that this great man had requested her. “Thank you, Mr. Landers!”
“You are welcome, But before we get started, I need to ask you a favor.”
“Of course, anything.”
“Gregory Landers is a pen name. My real name is Christopher Packwood. So if you would please call me Christopher that would be great. No need for formalities.”
“And please call me Lacey.”
She smiled and said, “If it’s okay, I’m going to get set up for the interview.”
“Yes. Go right ahead.”
She unpacked her briefcase which included a small recording device, several legal pads, and pens. Switching on the recorder, Lacey spoke into the microphone. “Wednesday, May 19, 2021. 1:30 p.m. I am with Christopher Packwood, better known as Gregory Landers, world-renowned children’s author.” Turning to him, she asked, “Mr. Packwood, do I have your permission to record our conversation?”
“Yes. But please call me Christopher.”
Still finding it hard to believe that she was sitting across from someone she had admired her entire life, Lacey knew how important it was to remain objective. This story deserved to be told truthfully from an unbiased perspective. With that in mind, she plunged ahead. “I always wondered if you used a pen name. One of the most intriguing aspects of your life is how you’ve been able to keep so many secrets from your audience. In many ways, you are a complete mystery.”
Christopher confessed. “I’ve had a great deal of help. My publisher and editors have gone above and beyond in helping me protect my identity and privacy.”
“That is unusual. Typically, publishers are adamant about promoting a bestselling franchise, especially one with such longevity…… Sorry. I didn’t mean to reduce your writing to a commercial product.”
“No. You are right. The people I’ve dealt with have treated me with great love and care. It makes me feel guilty that I’m retiring and letting them down.”
“And that is the big issue; your retirement.”
Being a good reporter, she was aware that he was not married and had no children. Still, there was much to discover about him. Taking a chance, she asked, “Would it be okay if we talked a little bit about your personal life?”
Grimacing, Christopher said, “I’d prefer not to right now. Maybe we can later in the interview. At the beginning, I’d rather discuss the writing.”
Wary of pushing him too hard, Lacey explained, “It’s just that you have so many fans around the world, entire families actually, who are intensely interested in the person who created these magical books.”
Politely, he replied, “That might be true, but for now, I’d prefer to talk about the work.”
Lacey took a moment and regrouped. “Okay…… Let’s start with an overview of your writing career. During the last thirty-five years, you have written the most successful series of children’s stories ever published; The Adventures of Adam and Addison. That series has sold more than 700 million books and has been translated into over 80 languages, and now you’re about to publish your last story in the series.”
“That’s correct, but it is clearly time to retire. That is why I’m doing this interview.”
“Your first interview ever.”
Sheepishly, Christopher admitted, “Yes, I’ve never done this before, so I may not be any good at it.”
“You’re doing fine.” Lacey paused briefly before asking her next question. Judging from his distressing appearance, she believed she already knew the answer, but she still had to confirm her suspicion. “Could you tell me what prompted your decision to retire now?”
Trying to disguise his sadness, he answered in an even tone, “I had hoped to keep writing because I still have more stories to tell. But twenty-four months ago, I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The prognosis is not good. My doctors are telling me I have another year or possibly two. But there are no guarantees. Facing my own mortality has crystallized my thinking. It has helped me focus on the remaining things I’d like to accomplish before it’s too late.”
As an interviewer, Lacey’s job was to write the article without undue emotion, but learning that Christopher was living with ALS was deeply disturbing. She had a friend in college who was later diagnosed with the disease, so she knew what he was facing. Still, she was here to do a job and to do it to the best of her ability. Trying to keep her voice steady, Lacey said, “I’m sure the reading public will be as sorry to hear the news concerning your health as I am.”
She took a breath before continuing. “Let’s change gears and talk about how you got to this point. How did you originally come up with the idea for The Adventures of Adam and Addison Was there something specific that triggered it?”
Glad to talk about his writing rather than his illness, Christopher hedged his answer. “Not exactly. I started trying to write in early 1986, but lacking experience, I had no confidence. Each night when I got home from my job, I would sit down at the typewriter and try to come up with a children’s story, but nothing ever came together the way I envisioned it.”
“So what made the difference for you?”
“Eventually, I became frustrated, and I was ready to give up.” He stopped and pointed to her tape recorder. “Then one night, the TV was on and one of the characters in the show used a tape recorder to get his thoughts down and later he transcribed them. So the next evening, I got a tape recorder, sat down at the kitchen table, and spent maybe a half-hour making up a story. Then I played it back, typed it up, and looked it over.”
“What did you think of it?”
“I was surprised that it turned out okay. It seemed that I was much better at telling stories than writing them. With very few exceptions, I’ve worked that way ever since.”
“So once you got the basic outline done, how much editing took place? How many revisions did it go through?”
Laughing weakly, Christopher said, “It often seemed endless. I guess I’m a perfectionist. I kept creating draft after draft. In fact, I hated to let it go.”
“I understand. Even though I deal with tight deadlines, I still try to make everything perfect. But as someone who strictly writes nonfiction, I’m curious if you ever struggled to come up with story ideas.”
“No. It wasn’t so much that. The issue I had was making sure I didn’t repeat myself. My intent was for each story to be unique. There is never any carryover from one book to the next. Each is a stand-alone. That way you can pick up any book in the series and enjoy it without having read any of the others.”
“Did you ever reject ideas that, for whatever reason, didn’t seem right?”
“Sort of. Usually, it was a case of not fulfilling my vision for the series. What would occasionally happen was I would come up with an okay idea, but then it would undergo a significant change that ended up making it much better. It brought it into line with what I was trying to achieve with my writing.”
“Can you think of an example?”
“Sure. Just give me a second.” Christopher rubbed his forehead while he thought about it. “Okay, here’s one. I was going to have Adam and Addison visit a zoo.” Chuckling, he said, “That’s certainly not the most original idea for a children’s book, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t adding anything new or different to a subject that had already been covered from every possible angle.”
Smiling, Lacey said, “I remember that one! Please tell our readers what you did to make it stand out from the crowd.”
“It was simple really. All I did was adjust the setting. Instead of going to a typical city zoo, I had the two characters visit a wildlife rehabilitation center. That changed the entire focus, and it became a lesson about caring for animals who were injured and who needed human care and compassion.
“In the book, some of the animals lived there permanently because the severity of their injuries required them to have constant protection for the rest of their lives. I attempted to draw a parallel to how it is the same for human beings. And, most importantly, I tried to point out that every life, whether it’s a person or an animal deserves to live in a safe environment. I stressed that we all have an obligation to care for the living things around us.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, your philosophy was a reoccurring theme in all of the books. Sometimes it was subtle, and other times it was more overt, but it was always there.”
Nodding, Christopher agreed. “I tried to incorporate it into every story. In each book, there is a gentle lesson about love and acceptance. Each one relays the importance of treating others with the dignity and respect they deserve. My goal was for the books to contain the values we should try to instill in our children.”
“You succeeded on a miraculous scale,” Lacey declared. “Look at all of the joy you have given the world. Generations will continue to be touched by your efforts. You are leaving a body of work that most of us can only dream of.”
“Thank you. You are very kind.”
With genuine admiration, Lacey said, “It is amazing that you achieved such success without the constant promotion and publicity that typically drives the publishing world.”
“I suppose people seek fame for a variety of reasons. I guess they crave the spotlight and the notoriety because they like being a celebrity. But I am the opposite. I’ve done everything I can to be invisible. I’ve never had a social media account, and I’ve never done anything that would attract attention to myself. Thankfully, my writing was accepted without any intrusion on my private life.”
Moving on to another question she was interested in, Lacey asked, “There have been occasional reports that you personally answered the fan mail you received from both children and parents. Is that true?”
“Up to a point. At first, it was just me. My address has never been disclosed, so the letters were sent to my publisher and then on to here. But after a while, it got to be too much. The mail came in at such a rate that there were not enough hours in the day, so I asked my publisher to scan the mail and forward me the ones where the child or adult seemed to be in distress. All of those, I’ve tried to respond to, although I have no more insight than anyone else. However, the fact that they cared enough to write, made me want to extend the courtesy of answering them.”
“Could you possibly give me an example of one?”
Fighting against his constant fatigue, Christopher shook his head. “I’m reluctant to do that. Most of them were very touching. I’m sure the person never expected their thoughts to be made public. On top of that, the correspondence was frequently filled with flattery and praise, and I have no desire to engage in self-promotion.”
Despite his hesitancy, Lacey was convinced this was an idea worth pursuing, so she tried to be persuasive without being confrontational. “I believe it would be beneficial to include at least one of those letters in the article to show how your readers connected with you on a human level.”
There was an awkward silence before the author said, “Let me think about it for a while. I do have copies of some of them. Remind me when we are finished, and maybe I will show you one. But I’m not making any promises.”
Willing to take even a partial victory, Lacey replied, “Okay. Thank you for at least considering it.”
She took a moment to study the man in front of her. Although brilliant, he was still humble, modest, and self-effacing, but she could sense that there was far more to Christopher Packwood than he was willing to share at this point. Hoping she would be able to eventually get to the truth, Lacey pushed her glasses up and asked, “So, after more than three decades of keeping such a low profile, why did you decide to do this interview?”
Gathering what energy he could, Christopher spoke from his heart. “One of the reasons is so I could have the opportunity, on a large scale, to encourage parents to spend time with their children and, specifically, to read to them. When their kids are grown, those moms and dads will look back and realize that it was the simple quiet moments that mattered most.”
Although they were just getting started, Lacey was finding Christopher Packwood to be everything she had hoped for and more. Now she was anxious to explore the details behind his writing. Her next question was one she had often wondered about. “How did you decide on the two characters of Adam and Addison?”
“Obviously, by writing about a boy and a girl, I hoped the books would appeal to everyone. But one thing I was cautious about was never mentioning their ages. As I wrote about them, they were always four years old in my mind. There is even a book that deals with birthdays, but it is purposely vague.
“I would also like to give credit to my long-time illustrator Gretchen Meade who did an excellent job of keeping the appearance of the characters consistent. In their world, Adam and Addison never age, so a child doesn’t get caught up in whether the children in the book are older or younger than them. It doesn’t matter to the story.”
“Why did you choose to make them fraternal twins?”
“For my writing, it seemed to work better. When children are different ages, it creates a dynamic that can be a distraction.”
“It’s only my opinion,” Lacey offered, “But I think making them siblings, particularly twins, was ingenious.”
“Obviously, not every child who picked up the books had siblings, but it was important that the characters had as strong a bond as possible. And it allowed me to show that brothers and sisters could be close and share interesting adventures together.”
Lacey said, “It’s distressing that after creating an extraordinary world that has captivated multiple generations of children, your career has to end this way.”
Christopher shrugged. “I have no choice. That’s just the way it is. The physical issues of ALS are challenging, but the mental deterioration that is beginning to occur is even more frightening. Due to my disease, I’m now experiencing cognitive issues that are progressively getting worse. I’ll spare you the details, but the end result is I’m not able to write anymore – at least not at the level I’ve achieved in the past.
“So the book that will be published in a few weeks will be the last one. I have chosen not to allow anyone to continue writing the series. That might seem selfish, but the characters are too personal for me to hand off to someone else.”
She studied his face with a mixture of sadness and wonder. “That will be book number seventy in the series. You have created an enduring legacy.”
As his face flushed with embarrassment, he replied, “Once the series was established, we published a book every six months, and, fortunately, the demand for new material held up. I would love to keep writing, but I can’t bear the thought of publishing something substandard. I’m afraid parents might buy the books just because they have my name on them. That would seem like some kind of fraud.”
“Your integrity is admirable.”
“Having my work accepted has been a tremendous blessing, and I’ve been privileged to make a good living as a writer. I’d like to leave feeling good about how I’ve treated people.”
Glancing around the room, Lacey said, “Yes, I’m sure you made an excellent living.”
Christopher fixed her with a steady gaze and said, “I bet you’re curious why I live like this.”
“I’d be lying if I said no.”
Hoping her host would be forthcoming, Lacey was disappointed as he sat in silence.
Respectfully, she said, “Since everything about you is a mystery to your fans, I have to keep prodding you. Earlier when I asked you why you were willing to do this interview, you said ‘one of the reasons’ was so you could encourage parents to spend time with their children.” Feeling like there might be more to it than that, Lacey asked, “Is there another reason you agreed to speak publicly at the end of your incredible career?”
She watched Christopher’s expression begin to change. Unable to hide his reaction, he turned away as he fought back tears. This was the moment he had been dreading. After a few more seconds, he faced Lacey and in a rough whisper said, “I confess that I used my health as an excuse not to travel. Although it would have been exhausting, I might have been able to make the trip. I’m not sure. The truth is, I needed to do the interview in my home so I could show you something.”
Lacey could tell how painful this was for him, so she asked gently, “Show me what?”
Wobbling as he stood up, Christopher grabbed his walker and said, “Please come with me.” Unsure about what was happening, Lacey switched the recorder off, grabbed a legal pad and pen, and began to follow as he slowly led her down the hallway. At the end, there was a door on the left and one on the right. Both were closed.
She looked at the author quizzically.
In a hoarse rasp, Christopher said, “Please pick a door and open it. No matter which one you choose, it will require an explanation.”
Lacey could not possibly imagine what this was about. Her uncertainty caused her to hesitate before choosing the door on the right. When it swung open, the reporter was stunned by what she saw. Staring in disbelief, she had difficulty processing the contents of the room.
Behind her, Christopher said, “It’s okay to go in.”
At first, her feet wouldn’t move, but with some effort, Lacey managed a few steps forward as she tried to take everything in, however, making sense of what she was seeing was almost impossible. The only thing she knew for certain was that she was standing in a little girl’s bedroom – but she had no idea why.
Mostly decorated in pink, the room was adorable. There was a large collection of dolls and a play area in one corner with a cardboard stove and a small table with chairs. There were posters of cartoon characters on the wall and stuffed animals tucked away in almost every available space. Wherever Lacey looked, she saw the innocence of childhood, and it made her apprehensive about what she was going to hear.
Gathering her nerve, she turned to Christopher and said, “I don’t understand this, and I’m not going to guess. If you want me to know, you’re going to have to tell me.”
Christopher used his right hand to reach into a pocket on his sweatpants and pull out a handkerchief he would soon need. With his voice shaking, he said, “This was my daughter’s room. Her name was Carly. She was only four when she died.” He wiped away the first tear that trickled down his cheek.
Lacey gasped. “Oh, my God! I never knew you had a child.”
Struggling to speak clearly, Christopher said, “I had two children. The room across the hall was my son’s. His name was Corey. They were twins, and both of them were born with Down syndrome.” Trying in vain to control his despair, Christopher lost the battle and began to cry softly as he choked out the horrifying words, “Thirty-five years ago, they were killed in a car accident.”
Lacey was momentarily speechless. What this man had been forced to endure, compounded at this point by his failing health, was too much. She never thought the interview would reveal such pain and loss. On a human level, his suffering was deeply troubling, but as a reporter, she also realized that the tragedy explained a great deal about Christopher Packwood’s life.
She quickly jotted down a note stating that the author had begun writing after his children died. Their deaths must have provided the inspiration for his stories. But then she stopped as the reality of where she was struck her with full force. How could she be so calloused to another person’s suffering? This was not the time to be a reporter. This was the time to be a caring human being.
Lacey stopped writing and put her arm through his. Startled by how thin he was, she carefully, led him to the edge of the bed where they sat down. Taking his hands in hers, she said, “Christopher, I cannot comprehend what it was like to lose your family. Saying I’m sorry for your loss is not enough.”
Brushing away more tears, he tried to defend the secrecy. “I wanted people to buy the books and appreciate them on their merit, not out of pity or sympathy. But my biggest concern was that it might appear that I was exploiting the deaths of my children to somehow further my career. I could not allow that to happen.”
Lacey looked at the man who now seemed completely different from the person he was only minutes before. “This is the real reason you granted the interview, isn’t it.”
Trying to regain his composure, Christopher said, “Yes, it is. I never wanted my life to detract from the stories, but now that I’m retiring, it’s time to speak up. This will be my one and only public act. It’s my hope that I can show others who’ve lost family members, particularly a child, that they can go on. It’s not easy, in fact, it’s incredibly difficult, but if you can find something that has real meaning, you can survive. Nothing will ever be what it was before, but each day can be worth living.”
For Lacey, the full implication of what she had suddenly learned was still sinking in. “You had twins, a boy and a girl age four – just like the two characters in your books.”
Sighing heavily, Christopher said, “Some people visit a cemetery to talk to those they’ve lost. I chose to communicate with my children by continuing to write stories for them. It’s been an ongoing conversation for the last thirty-five years.
“Adam and Addison were fictitious names for Corey and Carly. Each time I sat down at the table and started the recorder, I simply told my son and daughter a story, the same way I did each night when they were alive. I guess it was more or less a form of therapy that kept me connected to them. Each book is a love letter to my children. Each one is a story I never got to tell them.”
Still scribbling notes, Lacey stopped and shook her head. “That is heartbreakingly beautiful. I never dreamed that discovering the truth about you would be so touching.”
Everything was beginning to make sense to her now. “Your books have sold hundreds of millions of copies in dozens of languages. I’m sure that over your career you’ve accumulated significant wealth, and yet you live in an average middle-class neighborhood.”
“You’re right. My books have generated unbelievable revenue, but I only kept enough to live modestly and to allow me to devote myself full-time to my writing. I did not want to profit from my family’s tragedy, so I never sought attention or acclaim. It didn’t seem right. Instead, I’ve spent decades systematically giving to charities that focus on improving the lives of children all over the world. Particularly organizations that were connected with the Down syndrome community. In that way, the deaths of Cory and Carly are not completely in vain.”
Lacey understood. “That explains why you chose not to live an extravagant lifestyle.”
“That’s right. And even if I had kept all of the money, I could never sell this house. It was my children’s home. That’s why I left their rooms undisturbed.”
Ignoring his physical discomfort, Christopher grabbed his walker and with considerable effort stood up. “Do you mind if we go back to the kitchen? I’d rather talk in there.”
They slowly retraced their steps and sat down at the table again. Lacey’s next question was going to be unpleasant, but she believed she was obligated to ask it in order to give an accurate account of what the author had been through. She turned the recorder on, and said, “Christopher, I am sorry, but I must inquire about the facts regarding the deaths of your children.”
Lacey watched the author’s face contort into an expression of agony. As an uncomfortable stillness settled over the room, Christopher’s thoughts returned to a day he did not want to remember.
A full minute passed before he shook off his despondency and said as firmly as he could, “I am willing to tell you the specifics, but only off the record. The circumstances surrounding their deaths cannot be part of the article. There are still many who would be hurt by the revelation. If you cannot agree to that condition, then I’m afraid I can’t discuss it.”
Lacey switched off the recorder. “All right. It will be off the record.”
He looked at her pleadingly and asked, “Can I have your word that you will keep this information to yourself and never divulge it to anyone? Ever? Even after I’m dead?”
Trying to keep her feelings at bay, Lacey nodded. “I give you my word.”
Christopher let out an immense sigh of relief. “Thank you. It is still extremely difficult to talk about.” He paused to steel himself and then began to explain as simply as he could. “My wife and I had been married for almost five years when the twins were born. She loved our children, but about a month after their birth, I began to notice subtle changes in her behavior. Over time, they became more pronounced, and, eventually, she was diagnosed with a form of depression.
“Gradually, her mental and emotional state deteriorated. The doctors tried everything, but the treatments and medications were unsuccessful. To compound matters, my wife began to drink to ease her pain, and by the time our twins were four, she had become a chronic alcoholic. I did everything I could to help her, but in the end, she couldn’t break free.”
Fearing what was coming, Lacey began to tense up as Christopher, aching with sorrow, hesitatingly said, “Late one afternoon while I was at work, my wife began to drink heavily. Completely incapacitated, she put the twins in the car and took off. I have no idea where she was going, but she lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a utility pole less than ten miles from our home. Corey and Carly were killed instantly, but my wife survived with non-life-threatening injuries. She was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to twelve years, but she was released after six. I guess you could say she only served three years for each child.
“Once she was released from prison, it took her less than twelve months to drink herself to death. Her family told me that she was consumed by guilt and lost the will to live. I have to take their word for it…… After her trial, I never saw my wife again. I have no idea where she’s buried.”
It was now obvious to Lacey why he was refusing to disclose such intensely personal information. “Christopher, what you’ve experienced is beyond my understanding. To lose your children in such a tragic way is unimaginable. Again, I am so sorry. I promise I will never say a word about how your son and daughter died.”
“Thank you. It’s important that people know my children were the inspiration for The Adventures of Adam and Addison – but knowing how my son and daughter died serves no purpose. I am trusting your discretion.”
Lacey started recording again. “It is amazing that you were able to take your pain and turn it into something positive with your writing.”
With a heavy weariness, he said, “After my children died, I was overwhelmed by rage and remorse. For months, I couldn’t function. I honestly believed that in a very real way, my life had ended along with theirs.”
Christopher’s face began to soften. “Then one night, I picked up a photo album and found a picture of me with Corey on one side and Carly on the other. I remembered the exact moment that picture was taken. The three of us were sitting on the sofa, and I was telling them a story. I told them one every night before they went to bed. It was always just something I made up on the spur of the moment.”
Dropping his voice, he said, “Those were some of the happiest times of my life. Entertaining my son and daughter was great fun, and it made me wonder if I still had the ability to tell those kinds of stories.” Shaking his head, the author added, “That is how all of this got started.”
“And look at the immeasurable joy you’ve brought to countless children with your writing.”
There was a slight pause, and then Christopher replied, “But look at the horrific price that was paid to be able to do it.”
The honesty of his words touched her heart. The price was more than any person should be expected to pay, and yet this man had found the strength to share his gift with families everywhere, making the world a warmer and kinder place.
Lacey took a few moments to mentally review everything they had covered, and she realized there was only one more topic to investigate. Trying not to sound demanding, she employed a pleasant tone of voice and said, “I now have almost everything I need…… But you said it might be possible for me to see an example of the mail you answered. Would you be comfortable with that?”
Christopher hesitated. “You said it would help the article, but I’m not sure it’s ethical. It seems like a betrayal of the writer’s trust. Their correspondence was private. They often shared very personal stories with me.”
In an effort to ease his concerns, Lacey made an offer. “Here’s what we can do. We can change any names and alter many details as long as the essential message remains the same. In that way, I am confident we can protect their privacy. But to be safe, I would be happy to send you something when I get it written up, and if it doesn’t meet with your approval, it will not be included. You will have the final say.”
She waited as Christopher anxiously rubbed his hands together while trying to make up his mind.
Feeling that this was worth gently pressing him on, Lacey said, “How about this. Could I at least see one and then we could reach a decision on whether or not it is appropriate to even consider it?”
There was an interminably long silence as Christopher thought about her suggestion. Finally, he said. “All right. You can look at one, and see what you think.”
“Good! Thank you.”
“If you will please retrieve a folder, I’ll see what I can find.” He pointed to a bookcase in the living room. “It’s on the lower shelf.”
Knowing his physical condition made movement laborious, she was more than happy to oblige. A few seconds later she returned with the large folder.
Christopher began to empty the contents until he found the letter he was looking for. He handed it to Lacey. “Here we go. This is a good example of a personal message. It will also give you an idea of the inspiration that kept me writing for so many years.”
Lacey carefully unfolded the handwritten note and began to read:
Dear Mr. Landers,
You must receive thousands of letters from your audience, so I do not expect you to ever see this – but I needed to write to you for my own benefit. It was something I had to do.
I want to tell you what your books meant to me and my son. Chad was born with Down syndrome, but when he was only five, he died from an aggressive form of cancer. It was just ten months from when he was diagnosed until we lost him. But during a journey filled with surgeries, treatments, pain, and heartache, your books were the things he treasured most, and I must say that the happiness your writing brought to him helped to sustain me as well.
During even the most difficult days and nights, you allowed my son to briefly escape from his nightmare. The adventures he enjoyed through your stories often proved to be the perfect medicine he needed to recharge and face another challenge.
However, there was one book that he liked best of all. It was a story about what it means to be brave when you are scared of something you don’t understand. It described almost perfectly what my child experienced. Just an hour before he passed away, Chad asked me to read it to him again, and those were the last words my son ever spoke. Because it was his favorite, we placed that book in his casket, so it would always be with him.
Mr. Landers, I don’t know if you will ever be able to appreciate what you have done for families like mine. With your creativity, you have touched countless lives, and that is the most that anyone can hope to accomplish in one lifetime.
Please accept my profound thanks for allowing me to hear my son laugh and watch him smile during our family’s darkest hours.
With best wishes and gratitude,
Lacey felt a lump forming in her throat as she struggled to maintain her composure. She glanced up at Christopher and saw tears streaming down his face.
With amazement, the humble author said, “Those letters never stopped coming, and I felt a compelling responsibility to respond to them. But they also served a great purpose. Whenever I grew tired of writing, or I was worn down by the demands of the publishing world, messages like this kept me going.”
“It must be immensely gratifying to see the powerful impact you’ve had on so many children and their parents.”
“Yes, it is.”
Knowing it was time for a decision, Lacey tried to voice her opinion without putting too much pressure on him. “I am convinced this letter should be included. It demonstrates how important your writing has been to countless families…… But it is your call. Whatever you say, I will abide by.”
Still struggling with the idea of making private correspondence available to the public, Christopher said, “I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.”
Lacey thought long and hard about the situation she had walked into. She had been hired to do a piece that would have her byline on it – but suddenly this had become something much different. She could not remain dispassionate and aloof. Of course, she would still write the article as professionally as possible, but for now, they were just two human beings sharing a moment that required sensitivity and empathy.
She took a deep breath and said, “I can’t imagine how upsetting it must be to give up something you care so deeply about, but there will continue to be many others like Mrs. Wyman that you will touch long after you’ve stopped writing. In a wonderful way, you will live on through these books, and you will keep affecting lives for generations to come.”
“I guess so.” Christopher still had doubts, but he had picked Lacey because of her expertise, and he believed he should trust her judgment, which, in this case, was far more objective than his. A few more seconds passed, and finally, he agreed. “All right. Go ahead and use it – but with all of the changes you promised.”
Knowing how powerful the grateful words of a grieving mother would be, the reporter gushed with relief, “Thank you!”
With the last bit of business taken care of, she switched off the recorder and leaned back in her chair. Lacey had mistakenly assumed this assignment would be simple and straightforward, but she now realized how wrong that assumption had been. This had multiple layers of surprises and complexity, and it would be extremely challenging to write it in a way that properly honored Christopher and his children. She hoped she was up to the task.
“Thank you for agreeing to do this,” Lacey said. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you physically or emotionally, but this interview will give your audience an even richer appreciation for your work, especially when they learn about the circumstances surrounding it.”
“You are welcome.” Although the conversation had worn him out, Christopher still managed a warm smile. “I’m glad I chose you, and I am sure you’ll do a fantastic job. I look forward to reading it.”
They sat and chatted for a few more minutes, and then Lacey packed everything up, taking great care to safely secure the letter she had been entrusted with. After saying their goodbyes, she headed back to the airport to catch her flight with an all-new understanding of a man who meant so much to so many.
Several hours later, cruising above the countryside at 35,000 feet, Lacey reviewed some of her notes and could not help but feel blessed that she had been given the privilege of telling Christopher Packwood’s amazing story. As she closed her eyes and began to drift off to sleep, she knew, without a doubt, that this was a day she would never forget.
Six weeks later, amid tremendous publicity and fanfare, the interview appeared in a mass-circulation magazine, as well as online, causing an instant sensation. Although the public was shocked by what they read, discovering that Gregory Landers was gravely ill and had led such a heartbreaking life only made them love him more.
Sales of The Adventures of Adam and Addison series soared to new heights, breaking all existing records and creating a buzz in the publishing industry that had never been seen before. Lacey won numerous writing awards and became a celebrity overnight – but the reporter never lost sight of the fact that she was not the story. Putting into practice a valuable lesson she learned from Christopher, Lacey steadfastly refused to be the center of attention, always endeavoring to keep the reclusive children’s author in the spotlight to ensure he received the recognition he so richly deserved.
Since meeting with her, the writer’s health had taken a slight turn for the worse. Still living at home, he was, unfortunately, requiring ever more intensive nursing care. But despite the challenges of his disease, Christopher was pleased that his personal journey had provoked such a positive response. People appreciated the courage it took for him to bare his soul, and, consequently, they showered him with get well wishes and expressions of sympathy for the loss of his family.
However, despite all of the fame and fortune, nothing could spare him from the inevitable. The course of his disease proved to be relentless, and thirteen months after the interview was published, the announcement was made that the universally loved author had lost his battle with ALS.
Although he had remained an enigma throughout his long career, the news left people on six continents feeling like they had lost a treasured member of the family.
Upon hearing of his passing, Lacey Marshall was devastated. The once anonymous reporter, who was forever changed by her meeting with the soft-spoken father of two, was saddened not only by her own sense of loss, but because she realized that the moment Christopher Packwood left this life, the world became a colder, less compassionate place.
His death was the loss of a gentle soul who overcame crippling grief and overwhelming sorrow to bring adventure, humor, and joy to millions.