FIRST Schedule

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

DragonLight by Donita K. Paul

It is June FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and her book:

WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)


Donita K. Paul is a retired teacher and award-winning author of seven novels, including DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, and DragonFire. When not writing, she is often engaged in mentoring writers of all ages. Donita lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she is learning to paint–walls and furniture! Visit her website at

The Books of the DragonKeeper Series:


Visit her website.


Castle Passages

Kale wrinkled her nose at the dank air drifting up from the stone staircase. Below, utter darkness created a formidable barrier.

Toopka stood close to her knee. Sparks skittered across the doneel child’s furry hand where she clasped the flowing, soft material of Kale’s wizard robe. Kale frowned down at her ward. The little doneel spent too much time attached to her skirts to be captivated by the light show. Instead, Toopka glowered into the forbidding corridor. “What’s down

Kale sighed. “I’m not sure.”

“Is it the dungeon?”

“I don’t think we have a dungeon.”

Toopka furrowed her brow in confusion. “Don’t you know? It’s your castle.”

“A castle built by committee.” Kale’s face grimaced at the memory of weeks of creative chaos. She put her hand on Toopka’s soft head.

The doneel dragged her gaze away from the stairway, tilted her head back, and frowned at her guardian. “What’s ‘by committee’?”

“You remember, don’t you? It was just five years ago.”

“I remember the wizards coming and the pretty tents in the meadow.” Toopka pursed her lips. “And shouting. I remember shouting.” “They were shouting because no one was listening. Twenty-one wizards came for the castle raising. Each had their own idea about what we needed. So they each constructed their fragment of the castle structure according to their whims.”

Toopka giggled.

“I don’t think it’s funny. The chunks of castle were erected, juxtaposed with the others, but not as a whole unit. I thank Wulder that at least my parents had some sense. My mother and father connected the tads, bits, and smidgens together with steps and short halls. When nothing else would work, they formed gateways from one portion to another.”

The little doneel laughed out loud and hid her face in Kale’s silky wizard’s robe. Miniature lightning flashes enveloped Toopka’s head and cascaded down her neck, over her back, and onto the floor like a waterfall of sparks.

Kale cut off the flow of energy and placed a hand on the doneel’s shoulder. “Surely you remember this, Toopka.”

She looked up, her face growing serious. “I was very young then.”

Kale narrowed her eyes and examined the child’s innocent face. “As long as I have known you, you’ve appeared to be the same age. Are you ever going to grow up?”

Toopka shrugged, then the typical smile of a doneel spread across her face. Her thin black lips stretched, almost reaching from ear to ear. “I’m growing up as fast as I can, but I don’t think I’m the one in charge. If I were in charge, I would be big enough to have my own dragon, instead of searching for yours.”

The statement pulled Kale back to her original purpose. No doubt she had been manipulated yet again by the tiny doneel, but dropping the subject of Toopka’s age for the time being seemed prudent.

Kale rubbed the top of Toopka’s head. The shorter fur between her ears felt softer than the hair on the child’s arms. Kale always found it soothing to stroke Toopka’s head, and the doneel liked it as well.

Kale let her hand fall to her side and pursued their mission. “Gally and Mince have been missing for a day and a half. We must find them. Taylaminkadot said she heard an odd noise when she came down to the storeroom.” Kale squared her shoulders and took a step down into the dark, dank stairwell. “Gally and Mince may be down here, and they may be in trouble.”

“How can you know who’s missing?” Toopka tugged on Kale’s robe, letting loose a spray of sparkles. “You have hundreds of minor dragons in the castle and more big dragons in the fields.”

“I know.” Kale put her hand in front of her, and a globe of light appeared, resting on her palm. “I’m a Dragon Keeper. I know when any of my dragons have missed a meal or two.” She stepped through the doorway.

Toopka tugged on Kale’s gown. “May I have a light too?”

“Of course.” She handed the globe to the doneel. The light flickered. Kale tapped it, and the glow steadied. She produced another light to sit in her own hand and proceeded down the steps.

Toopka followed, clutching the sparkling cloth of Kale’s robe in one hand and the light in the other. “I think we should take a dozen guards with us.”

“I don’t think there’s anything scary down here, Toopka. After all, as you reminded me, this is our castle, and we certainly haven’t invited anything nasty to live with us.”

“It’s the things that come uninvited that worry me.”

“All right. Just a moment.” Kale turned to face the archway at the top of the stairs, a few steps up from where they stood.

She reached with her mind to the nearest band of minor dragons. Soon chittering dragon voices, a rainbow vision of soft, flapping, leathery wings, and a ripple of excitement swept through her senses. She heard Artross, the leader of this watch, call for his band to mind their manners, listen to orders, and calm themselves.

Kale smiled her greeting as they entered the stairway and circled above her. She turned to Toopka, pleased with her solution, but Toopka scowled. Obviously, the doneel was not impressed with the arrival of a courageous escort.

Kale opened her mouth to inform Toopka that a watch of dragons provides sentries, scouts, and fighters. And Bardon had seen to their training. But the doneel child knew this.

Each watch formed without a Dragon Keeper’s instigation. Usually eleven to fifteen minor dragons developed camaraderie, and a leader emerged. A social structure developed within each watch. Kale marveled at the process. Even though she didn’t always understand the choices, she did nothing to alter the natural way of establishing the hierarchy and respectfully worked with what was in place.

Artross, a milky white dragon who glowed in the dark, had caught Kale’s affections. She sent a warm greeting to the serious-minded leader and received a curt acknowledgment. The straight-laced young dragon with his tiny, mottled white body tickled her. Although they didn’t look alike in the least, Artross’s behavior reminded Kale of her husband’s personality.

Kale nodded at Toopka and winked. “Now we have defenders.”

“I think,” said the doneel, letting go of Kale’s robe and stepping down a stair, “it would be better if they were bigger and carried swords.”

Kale smiled as one of the younger dragons landed on her shoulder. He pushed his violet head against her chin, rubbing with soft scales circling between small bumps that looked like stunted horns. Toopka skipped ahead with the other minor dragons flying just above her head.

“Hello, Crain,” said Kale, using a fingertip to stroke his pink belly. She’d been at his hatching a week before. The little dragon chirred his contentment. “With your love of learning, I’m surprised you’re not in the library with Librettowit.”

A scene emerged in Kale’s mind from the small dragon’s thoughts. She hid a smile. “I’m sorry you got thrown out, but you must not bring your snacks into Librettowit’s reading rooms. A tumanhofer usually likes a morsel of food to tide him over, but not when the treat threatens to smudge the pages of his precious books.” She felt the small beast shudder at the memory of the librarian’s angry voice. “It’s all right, Crain. He’ll forgive you and let you come back into his bookish sanctum. And he’ll delight in helping you find all sorts of wonderful facts.”

Toopka came scurrying back. She’d deserted her lead position in the company of intrepid dragons. The tiny doneel dodged behind Kale and once more clutched the sparkling robe. Kale shifted her attention to a commotion ahead and sought out the thoughts of the leader Artross. “What’s wrong?” asked Kale, but her answer came as she tuned in to the leader of the dragon watch.

Artross trilled orders to his subordinates. Kale saw the enemy through the eyes of this friend.

An anvilhead snake slid over the stone floor of a room stacked high with large kegs. His long black body stretched out from a nook between two barrels. With the tail of the serpent hidden, she had no way of knowing its size. These reptiles’ heads outweighed their bodies. The muscled section behind the base of the jaws could be as much as six inches wide. But the length of the snake could be from three feet to thirty.

Kale shuddered but took another step down the passage.

Artross looked around the room and spotted another section of ropelike body against the opposite wall. Kegs hid most of the snake.

Kale grimaced. Another snake? Or the end of the one threatening my dragons?

The viper’s heavy head advanced, and the distant portion moved with the same speed.

One snake.

“Toopka, stay here,” she ordered and ran down the remaining steps. She tossed the globe from her right hand to her left and pulled her sword from its hiding place beneath her robe. Nothing appeared to be in her hand, but Kale felt the leather-bound hilt secure in her grip. The old sword had been given to her by her mother, and Kale knew
how to use the invisible blade with deadly precision.

“Don’t let him get away,” she called as she increased her speed through the narrow corridor.

The wizard robe dissolved as she rushed to join her guard. Her long dress of azure and plum reformed itself into leggings and a tunic. The color drained away and returned as a pink that would rival a stunning sunset. When she reached the cold, dark room, she cast her globe into the air. Floating in the middle of the room, it tripled in size and gave off a brighter light.

The dragons circled above the snake, spitting their caustic saliva with great accuracy. Kale’s skin crawled at the sight of the coiling reptile. More and more of the serpentine body emerged from the shadowy protection of the stacked kegs. Obviously, the snake did not fear these intruders.

Even covered with splotches of brightly colored spit, the creature looked like the loathsome killer it was. Kale’s two missing dragons could have been dinner for the serpent. She searched the room with the talent Wulder had bestowed upon her and concluded the little ones still lived.

The reptile hissed at her, raised its massive head, and swayed in a threatening posture. The creature slithered toward her, propelled by the elongated body still on the floor. Just out of reach of Kale’s sword, the beast stopped, pulled its head back for the strike, and let out a slow, menacing hiss. The snake lunged, and Kale swung her invisible weapon. The severed head sailed across the room and slammed against the stone wall.

Kale eyed the writhing body for a moment. “You won’t be eating any more small animals.” She turned her attention to the missing dragons and pointed her sword hand at a barrel at the top of one stack. “There. Gally and Mince are in that keg.”

Several dragons landed on the wooden staves, and a brown dragon examined the cask to determine how best to open it. Toopka ran into the room and over to the barrel. “I’ll help.”

Kale tilted her head. “There is also a nest of snake eggs.” She consulted the dragon most likely to know facts about anvilhead vipers. Crain landed on her shoulder and poured out all he knew in a combination of chittering and thoughts.

The odd reptiles preferred eating young farm animals, grain, and feed. They did nothing to combat the population of rats, insects, and vermin. No farmer allowed the snakes on his property if he could help it. “Find the nest,” Kale ordered. “Destroy them all.”

The watch of dragons took flight again, zooming into lightrockilluminated passages leading off from this central room. Kale waited until a small group raised an alarm. Four minor dragons had found the nest.

She plunged down a dim passage, sending a plume of light ahead and calling for the dispersed dragons to join her. Eleven came from the other corridors, and nine flew in a V formation in front of her. Gally and Mince landed on her shoulders.

“You’re all right. I’m so glad.”

They scooted next to her neck, shivering. From their minds she deciphered the details of their ordeal. A game of hide-and-seek had led them into the depths of the castle. When the snake surprised them, they’d flown under the off-center lid of the barrel. As Mince dove into the narrow opening, he knocked the top just enough for it to rattle down into place. This successfully kept the serpent out, but also trapped them within.

Kale offered sympathy, and they cuddled against her, rubbing their heads on her chin as she whisked through the underground tunnel in pursuit of the other dragons.

Numerous rooms jutted off the main hallway, each stacked with boxes, crates, barrels, and huge burlap bags. Kale had no idea this vast amount of storage lay beneath the castle. Taylaminkadot, their efficient housekeeper and wife to Librettowit, probably had a tally sheet listing each item. Kale and the dragons passed rooms that contained fewer and fewer supplies until the stores dwindled to nothing.

How long does this hallway continue on? She slowed to creep along and tiptoed over the stone floor, noticing the rougher texture under her feet. Approaching a corner, she detected the four minor dragons destroying the snake’s nest in the next room. Her escort of flying dragons veered off into the room, and she followed. The small dragons swooped over the nest, grabbed an egg, then flew to the beamed roof of the storage room. They hurled the eggs to the floor, and most broke open on contact. Some had more rubbery shells, a sign that they would soon hatch. The minor dragons attacked these eggs with tooth and claw. Once each shell gave way, the content was pulled out and examined. No
hatchling snake survived.

The smell alone halted Kale in her tracks and sent her back a pace. She screwed up her face, but no amount of pinching her nose muscles cut off the odor of raw eggs and the bodies of unborn snakes. She produced a square of moonbeam material from her pocket and covered the lower half of her face. The properties of the handkerchief filtered the unpleasant aroma.

Her gaze fell on the scene of annihilation. Usually, Kale found infant animals to be endearing, attractive in a gangly way. But the small snake bodies looked more like huge blackened worms than babies.

Toopka raced up behind her and came to a skidding stop when she reached the doorway. “Ew!” She buried her face in the hem of Kale’s tunic, then peeked out with her nose still covered.

The minor dragons continued to destroy the huge nest. Kale estimated over a hundred snake eggs must have been deposited in the old shallow basket. The woven edges sagged where the weight of the female snake had broken the reeds. Kale shuddered at the thought of all those snakes hatching and occupying the lowest level of the castle, her home. The urge to be above ground, in the light, and with her loved ones compelled her out of the room.

Good work, she commended the dragons as she backed into the passage. Artross, be sure that no egg is left unshattered.

She received his assurance, thanked him, then turned about and ran. She must find Bardon.

“Wait for me!” Toopka called. Her tiny, booted feet pounded the stone floor in a frantic effort to catch up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Never Ceese by Sue Dent

This Friday the 13th -- A vampire . . . a werewolf . . . can two who were wronged make it right? By their Faith!

FIRST Wild Card Tour for Never Ceese by Sue Dent will be on June 13, 2008

Genre: Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, Horror

Contact: Sue Dent

If you want to receive a reviewer copy:

Press the contact's name to send an e-mail with the subject line of: FIRST Wild Card Tour: Title of the book and author name. Give your name, address, and link to the blogsite you will post the tour on.

There are unlimited review copies available. First come, first served!

Contact no later than 5PM on the tour date: June 13, 2008 if you want a reviewer copy.

When the tour date arrives, copy and paste the HTML Provided in the box on the FIRST Wild Card Tour Blog. Don't forget to add your honest review if you wish!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Wild Card: A Bride so Fair by Carol Cox

FIRST Wild Card Tour for A Bride so Fair will be on June 11, 2008

Genre: Romance

Contact: Danielle Douglas

If you want to receive a reviewer copy:

Press the contact's name to send an e-mail with the subject line of: FIRST Wild Card Tour: A Bride so Fair. Give your name, address, and link to the blogsite you will post the tour on.

Danielle has 35 review copies available. First come, first served!

Contact her no later than 5PM on May 16, 2008 if you want to be dealt in the game.

When the tour date arrives, copy and paste the HTML Provided in the box. Don't forget to add your honest review if you wish!

Wild Card: The Molech Prophecy by Thomas Phillips

FIRST Wild Card Tour for The Molech Prophecy by Thomas Phillips will be on June 27

Genre: Suspence/Thiller/Mystery

Contact: Caleb Newell

If you want to receive a reviewer copy:

Press the contact's name to send an e-mail with the subject line of: FIRST Wild Card Tour: The Molech Prophecy by Thomas Phillips. Give your name, address, and link to the blogsite you will post the tour on.

There are 50 review copies available. First come, first served!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Finding Hollywood Nobody by Lisa Samson: Technorati Update #2

On the day after the tour, we got Hollywood Nobody to #1, Finding Hollywood Nobody to #2...and all the other top ten slots for Lisa Samson on Technorati! An overwhelming 125 blog reactions for FIRST tours!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Technorati: Finding Hollywood Nobody by Lisa Samson

Wow. Would you look at how many of you guys posted about FHN...119!!!

Thanks guys and gals. You rock!

Let's keep spreading the Gospel through Christian fiction!

On the first day of the tour, we had Hollywood Nobody at number 2, FHN at number 5, and 6-13 were all Lisa's books on Technorati.

Finding Hollywood Nobody by Lisa Samson

It is May FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

Today's feature author is:

and her book:

Finding Hollywood Nobody

Navpress Publishing Group (February 15, 2008)


Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.


Chapter One

Hollywood Nobody: Sunday, June 4

Well, Nobodies, it's a wrap! Jeremy's latest film, yet another remake of The Great Gatsby, now titled Green Light, has shipped out from location and will be going into postproduction. Look for it next spring in theaters. It may just be his most widely distributed film yet with Annette Bening on board. Toledo Island will never be the same after that wacky bunch filled in their shores.

Today's Hottie Watch: Seth Haas has moved to Hollywood. An obscure film he did in college, Catching Regina's Heels (a five-star film in my opinion), was mentioned on the Today show last week. He was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. Hmm. Could it be he'll receive the widespread acclaim he deserves before the release of Green Light? For his sake and the film's, I hope so.

Rehab Alert: I've never hidden the fact that I don't care for bratty actress Karissa Bonano, but she just checked into rehab for a cocaine addiction. Her maternal grandfather, Doug Fairmore, famous in the forties for swashbuckling and digging up clues, made a public statement declaring the Royal Family of Hollywood was "indeed throwing all of our love, support, and prayers behind Karissa." The man must be a thousand years old by now. This isn't Ms. Bonano's first stint in rehab, but let's hope it's her last. Even I'm not too catty to wish her well in this battle. But I'm as skeptical as the next person. In Hollywood, rehab is mostly just a fad.

Today's Quote: "It's a scientific fact. For every year a person lives in Hollywood, they lose two points of their IQ." Truman Capote

Today's Rant: SWAG, or Party Favors. Folks, do you ever wonder what's inside those SWAG bags the stars get? Items which, if sold, could feed a third-world country for a week! And have you noticed how the people who can afford to buy this stuff seem to get it for free? I'm just sayin'. So here's my idea, stars: Refuse to take these high-priced bags o' stuff and gently suggest the advertisers give to a charitable organization on behalf of the movie, the stars, the whoever. Like you need another cell phone.

Today's Kudo: Violette Dillinger will be appearing on the MTV Video Music Awards in August. She told Hollywood Nobody she's going to prove to this crowd you can be young, elegant, decent, and still rock out. Go Violette!

Summer calls. Later!

Monday, September 15, 4:00 a.m.

Maybe I'm looking for the wrong thing in a parent.

I turn over in bed at the insistence of Charley's forefinger poking me in the shoulder. "Please tell me you've MapQuested this jaunt, Charley."

She shakes her tousled head, silhouetted by the yellow light emanating from the RV's bathroom. "You're kidding me right?" She slides off the dinette seat. Charley's been overflowing with relief since she told me the truth about our life: that she's not really my mother, but my grandmother, that somebody's chasing us for way too good of a reason, that my life isn't as boring as I thought. We're still being chased, but Charley can at least breathe more freely in her home on the road now that I know the truth.

Home in this case happens to be a brand-spanking-new Trailmaster RV, a huge step forward from the ancient Travco we used to have, the ancient Travco with a rainbow Charley spread in bright colors over its nose.

"Where to?" Having set my vintage cat glasses, love 'em, on my nose, I scramble my hair into its signature ponytail: messy, curly, and frightening. I can so picture myself in the Thriller video.

"Marshall, Texas."

"East Texas?"

"I guess."

"It is." I shake my head. Charley. I love her, I really do, but when it comes to geography, despite the fact that we've traveled all over the country going to her gigs ever since I can remember, she's about as intelligent as a bottle of mustard. And boy do I know a lot about bottles of mustard. But that was my last adventure.

"If you knew, then why did you ask?" She flips the left side of her long, blonde hair, straighter than Russell Crowe, over her shoulder. Charley's beautiful. Silvery blonde (she uses a cheap rinse to cover up the gray), thin (she's vegan), and a little airy (she's frightened of a lot and tries not to think about anything else that may scare her), she wears all sorts of embroidered vests and large skirts and painted blue jeans. And they're all the real deal, because Charley's an environmentalist and wouldn't dream of buying something she didn't need when what she's got is wearing perfectly well. She calls my penchant for vintage clothing "recycling," and I don't disagree.

"Is this really a gig, Charley, or are we escaping again?"

She shakes her head. "No phone call. I really do have a job."

I feel the thrill of fear inside me, though there's no need right now. Biker Guy almost got me back on Toledo Island. (Yeah, he looks like a grizzled old biker.) To call the guy rough around the edges would be like saying Pam Anderson has had "a little work done."

I've been looking over my shoulder ever since.

But more on that later. We need to get on the road. And I need to get on with my life. I'm so sick of thinking about how things aren't nearly what I'd like them to be.

I mean, do you ever get tired of hearing yourself complain?

I flip up my laptop, log on to the satellite Internet I installed (yes, I am that geeky) and Google directions to Marshall, Texas, from where we are in Theta, Tennessee—actually, on the farm of one of Charley's old art-school friends who gave her some work in advertising for the summer. Charley's a food stylist, which means she makes food look good for the camera. Still cameras, motion picture cameras, video, it doesn't matter. Charley can do it all.

"Oh, we've got plenty of time, Charley. Five hundred and fifty miles and . . . we have to go through Memphis . . ."

My verbal drop-off is a dead giveaway.

"Oh, no, Scotty, we're not going to Graceland again."

The kitsch that is Graceland speaks to me. What can I say?

And you've got to admit, it's starting to look vintage. Now ten years ago . . .

I cross my arms. "Do you have cooking to do on the way?"

Yes, highly illegal to cook in a rolling camper.

"Yeah, I do."

"And do you expect me, an unlicensed sixteen-year-old, to drive?" Again, highly illegal, but Charley's a free spirit. However, she refuses to copy CDs and DVDs, so in that regard, she's more moral than most people. I guess it evens up in the end.


"Then I think I deserve a trip through the Jungle Room."

She rolls her eyes, reaches down to the floor, and throws me my robe. "Oh, all right. Just don't take too long."

"I'll try. So." I look at the screen. "65 to route 40 west. Let's hit it. And we'll have time to stop for breakfast."

Charley shakes her head and plops down on the tan dinette bench. The interior of this whole RV is a nice sandy tan with botanical accents. Tasteful and so much better than the old Travco that looked like a cross between a genie's bottle and the Unabomber cabin. "You're going to eat cheese. Aren't you?"

"I sure am."

And Charley can't say anything, because months ago she told me this was a decision I could make on my own.


"I've rethought the cheese moratorium, baby. I know you're not going to like this, but three months of cheese is enough. I can't imagine what your arteries look like. I think it's time to stop."

"What?" Cheese is my life. "Charley! You can't do this to me."

"It's for your own good."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, I am."


"Because summer's over, baby, and we've got to get back to a better way of life."

I could continue to argue, but it won't do any good. Charley acts all hippie and egalitarian, but when push comes to shove, she's the boss. However, I'm great at hiding my cheese . . . and . . . I'm going to convince her eventually.

But still.

"This isn't right, Charley, and you know it. But it's too early to argue. And might I add, you have no idea what it's like to have a teen with real teen issues. You ought to be on your knees thanking God I'm not drinking, smoking, pregnant, or"—I was going to say sneaking out at night, but I've done that, just to get some space—"or writing suicidal poetry on the Internet!"

We stare at each other, then burst into laughter.

"Just humor me this time, baby," she says. "We'll come back to it soon, I promise."

I don't believe her, but I hop into the driver's seat, pull up the brake, throw the TrailMama into drive, and we are off.

Six hours later

I pull through Graceland's gatehouse at ten a.m., park near the back of the compound's cracked, tired parking lot, and change into some crazy seventies striped bell-bottoms, a poet shirt, and Charley's old crocheted, granny-square vest. Normally I go further back in my vintage-wear, but I'm trying to go with the groove that is Graceland.

I kiss Charley's cheek. "I'll be back by noon."

"When will that put us in Marshall?"

"By six thirty."

"Because I'm not sure where the shoot is."

"Please. Marshall's small. Jeremy and company will make a big splash no matter where they set up. Besides, growing up around this, I have a nose for it."

She awards me one of her big smiles. "You're somethin', baby. I forget that sometimes." She puts her arms around me, squeezes, pulls back, then smacks me lightly on my behind. "Tell Elvis I said hello."

"Oh, I will. He's one of the groundskeepers now, you know."

I've seen computer-generated pictures of what he would look like now, in his seventies. Scary.

I jump down from the RV, head across the parking lot, over the small bridge leading into the ticketing complex and walk by Elvis's jets, including the Lisa Marie. Gotta love anything with that name. Don't know why. Just has a nice ring to it.

Banners proclaim, "Elvis Is."

Is what? Dead? A legend? What? Because he isn't "izzing" as far as I'm concerned. Present tense, people! If the person's not alive, "is" can only be followed by a few options: Buried up in the memorial garden. Rotting in his casket. Missed by his family and friends. Not exactly banner copy, mind you.

Still, you've got to admit the name Elvis wreaks of cool. Perhaps the sign should read, "Elvis Is . . . A Really Cool Name."

But it's not nearly as cool as my name. You see, my real mother loved the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that's my name: Francis Scott Fitzgerald Dawn. Only Dawn's not my actual last name. I don't know what my real last name is. My real first name is Ariana. Being on the run, Charley renamed us to protect our identity. So she honored my mother by naming me after Mom's favorite novelist. More on that later too.

It sounds fun, traveling on the road from film shoot to film shoot, never settling down in one place for too long, but honestly, it's very sad.

I always knew Charley lived with a sadness down deep, and when I found out why this spring, her sadness became mine. See, my dad is dead and my mother, Charley's daughter Babette, is too. Or we think she must be, because she disappeared under questionable circumstances and never came back. Learn that when you're fifteen and see where you land.

When I thought Charley was my mother, I had such high hopes for who my father might be. Al Pacino was number one in the ranking. Don't ask.

Okay, Elvis, here we go. Let's you and me be "taking care of business."

I hand over my money to the lady behind the reservations counter. I called thirty minutes ago on my cell phone, compliments of my mother's friend Jeremy, and reserved a spot.

"You'll be on the first tour."

Yes! More time amid the shag carpeting and the gold records. And the jumpsuits. Can't forget the jumpsuits. I want a cape too.

The gift shop calls to me. Confession: I love gift shops. They even smell sparkly. Key chains dangling, saying, "You can take me with you wherever you go!" Mugs with the Saint Louis Gateway Arch or the Grand Ole Opry promising an even better cup of coffee. Earrings that advertise you've been somewhere. That's exactly what I choose while I wait for the tour, a little pair of dangly red guitars with the words Elvis Presley in gold script on the bodies, and how in the world they put that on so small is beyond me. See, gift shops can even be miraculous if you take your time and look.

A voice over the loudspeaker announces my tour number, so I stand in line. By myself. Just me in a group of twenty or so.

Okay, here is where it gets hard to be me. I know I should be thankful for my free-spirited life. But especially now that I know my parents are dead, it feels empty all of a sudden. I shouldn't be standing in line at Graceland alone. My mother and I should be giggling behind our hands at the man nearby who's actually grown a glorious pair o' mutton-chop sideburns, slicked back his salt-and-pepper curls, and shrugged his broad shoulders into a leather jacket. Really, right? My father, who was an FBI agent the mob shot right in a warehouse in Baltimore, would shake his head like a dad in a sixties TV show and laugh at his girls.

We'd get on the bus like I'm doing now, each of us putting on our tour headphones and hanging the little blue recorders around our necks in anticipation of the glory that is Elvis.

The driver welcomes us as he shuts the hydraulic doors of the little tour bus with its clean blue upholstery, a bus in which an assisted-living home might haul its residents to the mall.

It smells new in here, and my gross-out antennae aren't vibrating in the least like they do when I go into an old burger joint and the orange melamine booth hasn't been scrubbed since the place opened in 1987.

In my fantasy, my dad would sit beside me. And Mom, just across the aisle, holding onto the seatback in front of her, would look at me as we pass through those famed musical gates, because she would have introduced me to Elvis music. According to Charley, my vintage sentimentalism comes from my mom. I've learned a little about her this summer.

Charley said, "She'd wear my cousin's old poodle skirt and listen to Love Me Tender over and over again while writing in her diary." She became a respected journalist, loved books as much as I do. I pat my book in my backpack, looking forward to tonight when I can cuddle into my loft and get into one of Fitzgerald's glittering worlds. "She was different from me, Scotty. I tried to change the world through protest. Your mother wanted to build something completely different and much better." She sighed. "All my generation could do, I guess, was tear apart. It's going to take our children to put the pieces back together. Babette was a very careful person. Very purposeful."

If it drove my freewheeling grandmother crazy, she doesn't let on.

"I could try to describe how much she loved you, baby. But I don't think I could begin to do her devotion to you justice. I was so proud of her, for how much she loved and gave away. She was amazing."

So in May I found out she existed, the same day I found out she is dead, or most likely dead. And now I'm going into Graceland alone, truly an orphan. Who wants to be an orphan?

We disembark from the bus—me, Elvis Lite, some folks from a Spanish-speaking country, and a lot of older people. I miss Grammie and Grampie right now. More later on them, too. And you'll get to meet them. Like the waters of the Gulf Stream, we seem to travel in the same general direction. I spent a week with them this summer in Tennessee. Yeah, we did Nashville right. They're loaded.

Standing beneath the front porch, my gaze skates up and down the soaring white pillars and comes to rest on the stone lions that guard the steps. My father was a lion. That's why he ended up with a bullet in his chest. Speaking in very broad terms, the story goes as follows:

Dad, undercover, worked his way into a portion of the mob, or mafia if you prefer, that was heavily financing the campaign of a Maryland gubernatorial candidate. When they discovered him, they shot him on site, in a warehouse in the Canton neighborhood of downtown Baltimore. My mother watched, gasped, and a chase ensued. She hid in a friend's gallery, called Charley and told her to keep watching me. (Charley had kept me the night before because my mom and dad had some glamorous function to attend.) And then she disappeared.

The Graceland tour recorder tells me to look to my right into the beautiful white living room with peacock stained-glass windows leading into the music room. This room really isn't so bad, I've got to admit. A picture of Elvis's dad hangs on the wall. He really loved his parents.

I've toured this house at least seven times before, and I'll tell you this, Elvis's love for his family soaked into the walls. A girl that lives in a camper, has dead parents, and is being chased by someone from the mob who knows my grandmother knows what went down, well, she can feel these things.

Charley thinks someone's trying to kill us. This guy is always trying to find us, but Charley's really great at evasion. She said the politician who won the governor's seat all those years ago just announced his candidacy for president and—oh, GREAT!—he's probably trying to make sure nothing comes back to haunt him and sent Biker Guy to finish off the entire matter.

The thing is, he seems to be after me too. And what in the world would I have to do with all of that?

I'll bet Charley's back in that camper shaking in her shoes because I'm over here by myself; I'll bet she's figuring out more ways to be utterly and overly protective of me. I wouldn't be surprised if she's wondering whether locking a kid in an RV is child abuse.

But I love Charley. I really do. I know she's scared back there, and despite the fact that I would be no real help if Biker Guy caught us, I can't leave her there so frightened and alone for long.

Elvis dear, I can only stay a little while. So love me tender, love me sweet, and for the sake of all that's decent, don't step on my blue suede shoes.

I hurry past the bedroom of Elvis's parents, decorated in shades of ivory and purple, very nice, and through the dining room—a little seventies tackiness I'll admit—into the kitchen with dark brown cabinetry and the ghosts of a million grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches, then on down into the basement. Okay, I admit, I've got to just stand for a second in the TV room and admire the man's ability to watch three TVs at once on that huge yellow couch with the sparkly pillows.

I shoot through the billiard room, which is, honestly, truly beautiful with its fabric-lined walls and ceiling, up the back steps and into the Jungle Room, probably Graceland's most famous room. Green shag carpet overlays the floor and the ceiling, and heavily carved, Polynesian-style furniture is arranged around a rock-wall waterfall at the end of the room. It really defies the imagination, folks. Google Jungle Room Graceland and see what I mean.

The second floor of Graceland is closed off to the public because Elvis died up there. On the toilet. Wise decision on the part of Priscilla I'd say.

Out the door, into the office building, down to the trophy hall, I whiz through all the gold and platinum records, the costumes, the awards, and even a wall full of checks he'd written for charity. According to my recorder, Elvis was an active community member in Memphis. And he obviously didn't care what race or religion people were. He supported Jewish organizations, Catholic, Baptist. Pretty cool.

Of course, this recorder isn't going to tell of the dark side of the man. But Elvis Isn't, despite what the banners say. So why drag a dead man through the mud?

I hurry through the racquetball court, more gold records, the infamous jumpsuits, back outside to the pool and memorial garden where Elvis has been laid to rest.

An older lady cries into a handkerchief. I don't ask why.

Good-bye Elvis. Thanks for the tour. Maybe one day I'll do something great too.

A few minutes later . . .