>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.

7 Responses to “#25-THE TWELFTH OF NEVER (REVISED)”

  1. Kelly Hashway says:

    >Query: I don't think you need to say it's upper middle grade and a "tween" story. Pick one or the other because they are saying the same thing.

    First 250:
    I questioned the voice at times. Presley is in 8th grade (which I taught for seven years) but she sounds older at times. I've never heard an 8th grader use the expression "for its likeness." That phrase is way to old. An 8th grader would simply say "because it looked like…"
    Also, there is a lot of telling in here. I'm wondering what the MC is doing while she's telling us this. Could she maybe be walking into school and seeing the potato chip on her mom's desk and then tell us about it? And then her mom plays the song on the PA system.
    My only other concern is that the focus is on the mother right now instead of on the MC. While the mom is certainly interesting, I want to know more about the MC.

  2. Laura Pauling says:

    >Query -I really like the character you have and that her mom loves Elvis. I've seen this on the blue boards. And I liked it then. I'm assuming Presley's goal is to help her teenage sister but you don't get to that in the query until the end of the second paragraph. And then you mention her running for president. I'm not sure which is the main plot. I'd stick to the main plot. I like the first paragraph because Presley is unique but I'd get to the main plot faster. The last paragraph of the summary is vague. You don't need it unless you get more specific.

    Opening – I'm wondering if you open with too much about the mom? (I love the potato chip detail) How about if she's entering the school(or wherever) to talk to her mom and you drop in this backstory through the action and showing. That would add in more conflict too.

    Telling is not wrong. A lot of great mg's open with telling. So it's your choice. But I think it's a little risky. But I do like the voice and would read on. Hope I see this on the shelf someday!

    I'd like to see this move on, esp. if it were revised a bit.

  3. Jen says:

    >Query: You have a good opening paragraph. I got lost in the second though. I felt like there was too much to keep up with. I tighten it up and make it more focused on the plot of the story, which I'm assuming is trying to keep her nephew in the family.

    Opening: The first couple of sentences were good. I liked the explanation of how she was named. I would recommend taking that and leading into an action of her walking into the school and seeing the chip. Unless her mom plays a large role in the overall plot of the story I would limit the description you give of her. Draw the reader into the mind of the MC up front. I feel like I know more about mom than the mc. I would read more of this.

  4. K says:

    >This is definitely a cute idea, and your query is fairly strong. The nitpick I have was already mentioned- saying "tween" and MG is a bit redundant.

    Also (and this might just be me), the secret you allude to, which seems to be the pinnacle of the novel's conflict, I feel like I don't know enough about it. That's good, because by the end of the query, I was eager to read the first 250. It's also possibly bad, because I was frustrated that I had no idea what the secret was about.

    As for the first 250, I don't think there was a show vs tell issue. You eventually dive into the action, and I got a sense of coming conflict- Jailhouse Rock=bad. I wanted to keep reading to find out WHY it was bad.

    Good job!

  5. Dorothy Dreyer says:

    >Query: Using "upper middle grade" and "tween" together seems redundant. Otherwise it has a good voice and seems to fit the genre well.

    Opening: I'm wondering if the voice fits the age. I don't mind some of the backstory, like why she was named Presley, but some of it might drag on for a middle grader reading it. You might want to move the potato chip snippet to somewhere later on in the story. Otherwise, it's a good start. I'd keep reading.

  6. Pam Harris says:

    >I absolutely LOVED this! I do agree with a few others in that you do not have to use both middle grade and tween, but aside from that, I thought your query was crisp and creative. I especially loved in your bio paragraph how you mentioned that you were a chronic alphabetizer, and gave a minor shout-out to Elvis. I think this would make your query stick out in a slush pile. It may even be clever if you could actually incorporate alphabetizing somewhere–it would help the MC's voice shine through more.

    I equally enjoyed your writing sample, as well. The formatting was a little odd, but I'm not sure if that was intentional or an error in how you submitted. I do agree with Kelly in that Presley sounded a bit older, but I got the impression that she is supposed to be a little more mature than her peers. Additionally, there does seem to be a lot of focus on mom in the very beginning. If I'm following Presley's journey, I want to know about her first before learning about her family. Overall, this is terrific–I would definitely read more! 🙂

  7. ChristaCarol says:

    >Query: Agreed on the tween part. It started out good, but I got lost in the middle. It was as if you were trying to throw me all the subplots, or a lot of them, along with the core conflict and I'm not quite sure which is which. Which plot is the anchor to the story? Focus on that and try not to dilute the query with all the other plots. Keep the focus on the main, because I got confused.

    First 250: I like the voice here but have to agree with what's already been said. I need more focus to be on Presley, not her mom, so find a way to work that in along with some of the backstory you're giving us. Maybe have her thinking about the song first, and how it made her feel in class to hear it and have all her friends looking at her. That gives us the knowledge of her motivation as to why she's in the office to begin with, then you can have her see the potato chip and go into that. This would cut some of it and make the pace go smoother I think.