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Monday, July 5, 2010


Dear Secret Agent:

Please consider representing my 37,000-word upper middle grade novel, THE TWELFTH OF NEVER, a contemporary coming-of-age story.

Presley may be one of the smartest kids in her eighth-grade class, but she buckles under pressure – or more specifically, she alphabetizes. In stressful moments her mind grabs words from conversation or thoughts and compulsively sorts the letters, like a guard dog chasing its tail as robbers steal the loot. So it’s no surprise when signs from the universe constantly warn her: stay out of the spotlight.

That’s hard to do when her Elvis-loving mom, the school secretary, plays embarrassing snippets of The King’s hits on the PA every day. It’s even harder when the school’s biggest goofball nominates Presley for president and her campaign speech turns disastrous. Her greatest refuge from the drama is her adorable nephew. But Luke’s mom – Presley’s teenage sister – has a secret that threatens to tear the boy from the family forever, unless Presley can stop it.

Suddenly it seems the universe is out to get her – or maybe she's not reading it right. Perhaps the cosmos is whispering a new message with her troubles at school and home: Stay cool. Step into the spotlight. Summon your inner Elvis.

I worked as a reporter at The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times before becoming an English teacher. I also happen to be a compulsive alphabetizer since childhood. I’ve learned to quiet the volume of it, although my method did not involve Elvis. Thank you for your consideration.


If this were a movie, you’d be hearing an Elvis tune right now, the soundtrack to my life. Mom says she gave birth to me serenaded by his love song, “The Twelfth of Never.” And since I entered the world crying in perfect harmony, she named me Presley. Presley Ann Marr.

I try to enjoy his music as any self-respecting eighth grader would -- secretly -- but Mom is Elvis crazy. She even bought a potato chip on eBay because it supposedly resembles his facial profile. If you squint, one burnt edge sort of looks like his hair and those thick sideburns from the 1970s, when he was heavy and wore the sparkly one-piece outfits.

She had the potato chip shellacked, and she keeps it on a tiny foam pad in a clear plastic display box on her desk at work. Which also happens to be at my school. She’s the secretary at Greenhaven Middle, and I’m about to tell her the music has to stop.

First thing every day she plays a cut of some Elvis number over the PA system, instead of doing the school announcements straight. This morning it was “Jailhouse Rock,” the one where the warden throws a party in the county jail.

Deep down I love that song, but it’s always a bad sign when she plays it.