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  • Damosel
  • Written by Stephanie Spinner
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780553495119
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  • Damosel
  • Written by Stephanie Spinner
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375891397
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Damosel

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In Which the Lady of the Lake Renders a Frank and Often Startling Account of her Wondrous Life and Times

Written by Stephanie SpinnerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Stephanie Spinner

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On Sale: October 14, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-89139-7
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

WATER SPIRIT DAMOSEL, the Lady of the Lake, glides through Arthurian legend like a glamorous wraith, shimmering and shifting between the worlds of fairies and humans. Her knowledge is vast (magic, metal, men’s hearts) and leads to her greatest honor—and worst mistake. Damosel makes a promise to the wizard Merlin to protect young King Arthur, and then dares to break it—with devastating results. All the while, 17-year-old Twixt—a dwarf in a world where difference can be deadly—finds himself freed from his cruel masters and moving closer to the one place he never expected to see: King Arthur’s court at Camelot.

Stephanie Spinner intertwines the two narratives of Damosel and Twixt to draw us straight into the rich Arthurian land of enchantment.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

I am so well versed in The Rules Governing the Ladies of the Lake that I could recite them backward on a dare, but the wisdom I treasure most was gleaned not from that vast, ancient compendium but from my own earnest blundering. To wit: learn the Rules so you know when to break them.
It took me half a lifetime to understand this.

Long ago I had no inkling. I was a feckless young lake spirit, living in damp contentment in a place called Looe Pool. My home was deep and wide, the limpid blue of an aquamarine. Because it was only a stone's throw from the ocean, I could hear waves breaking day and night--a steady, soothing sound, like a giant breathing through a stuffy nose.

Grand as the ocean was, nothing compared to my Lake, for its water was refreshing in summer, bracing in winter, and, unlike the surf, very drinkable. I loved its taste of ducks' feet and shale.

I treasured solitude in those days, so I kept the Lake hidden. It was a feat well within my powers, for as a Lady, I commanded significant magic, just as my forebears had. There are severe restrictions to what I can divulge ("A Lady Does Not Discuss Her Ancestry or Her Training"), but I will say that I could obscure most things (including myself) to mere shadows and could move from one element to another as smoothly as rain gliding off a leaf. Like other Ladies, I knew countless helping and hindering spells, and I need hardly mention that I was bewitching, with every sort of glamour at my disposal--from the subtler ones all the way up to the dizzying, the blinding, and the stupefying.

Moreover, I could see what was hidden in men's hearts--which had its advantages, as men are always trying to hide something. But it was a gift I seldom used, for in those days I avoided mortals, deeming them rough, hasty creatures with indifferent manners and unfathomable customs. They were boistous, too--noisier than birds but without the pretty feathers. So I kept my distance, and they kept their secrets.
Another of my talents (and an unusual one for a Lady) was the ability to work metal, which I could shape and forge as well as any cave-dwelling gnome. I made necklaces of silver droplets, gold armbands shaped like leafy vines, candlesticks, pitchers, ewers, and tongs. I went through a long goblet phase--fifty years at least. Eventually I moved on to weapons--but more of that later.

Finally, as I have said, I could recite each and every one of the Rules Governing the Ladies of the Lake, having committed the entire body to memory when I was ninety-eight. I was only a child then and eager to prove my cleverness, but my achievement (such as it was) proved to be of questionable value, for, having memorized the Rules, I was then bound to follow them--not only by honor, but also because the skin between my toes itched (sometimes quite painfully) if I did not.

This could be irksome.

Which brings me to Merlin.

Far too much has been said (and sung) about what passed between the great wizard and me, and almost all of it is irritating nonsense. I did not flirt with him, nor did I charm him into loving me. I did not crave his powers, and I most emphatically did not lock him up by turning his own magic against him. The truth--sordid and shocking enough to make me cringe for at least a hundred years--is far more interesting, and I fully intend to reveal it. Until then, I will say only this: Merlin did introduce me to Arthur, and in doing so changed my life forever.

***

Merlin called on me one spring morning, just as the water lilies were opening to the sun. He did me the courtesy of coming into the Lake, but after I assured him that we could speak just as well on land, we floated to the shallows and then walked ashore. By this time the thrushes were singing, a lovely song, very liquid, about mayflies and grubs. We listened for a moment, and then Merlin told me why he had come.

"The future king of Britain will soon be needing a sword and scabbard," he said. "Will you fashion them?"

I said I would. As I mentioned, a Lady who can work metal is a rarity--like a sweet-voiced goblin or a fairy who likes numbers. But I enjoyed the gift and never questioned it. Perhaps--and this occurred to me many years later--I was given it so that I could perform this very task, which was more important than I knew.
In any event, even if I had wanted to refuse (and I did not), I was disallowed. The Rule of Service to Future Kings was clear about that.

"The sword must be invincible, and the scabbard must have the power to stanch his blood if he is wounded," Merlin continued.

Good idea for the scabbard, I thought, hoping I had the spell for it.

"Both should be heavily jeweled," he said, "as befits a king," and I nodded. I liked jewels. In fact, I loved them like a dragon.

"And they must be ready in three years," he concluded.

"Impossible."

The wizard's long, thin nostrils flared, as if the word smelled bad.

"It will take me almost three years to forge and temper the blade," I told him, "and the grip alone requires a year. I will need nine years."

"Nine." He drew the word out, as if considering the number; at the same time the sky darkened and thunder rumbled directly overhead. "The boy is twelve," he said pointedly, "and will very soon be ready to take the throne." A bolt of lightning hit a tree on the horizon, and it toppled in flames.

Merlin, Merlin, Merlin! I thought. Do you really think that roiling the weather will make me hurry? Think again! I gave him a smile with just a hint of glamour in it (the girlish, honeylike sort). "Nine years," I repeated.

I was pleased to see his face soften. "Nine years it is," he said, as if there had never been a difference of opinion.

I nodded. The sky cleared. We touched palms and bowed, and I began to sink into the Lake.

"You won't forget the scabbard?" he called.

I shook my head. "Be sure to bring him when you return," I called back.
"Done," he promised, fading into the atmosphere.


From the Hardcover edition.
Stephanie Spinner

About Stephanie Spinner

Stephanie Spinner - Damosel
A little about my life
I was born in Davenport, Iowa, and grew up in Rockaway Beach, New York. I read straight through my childhood, with breaks for food, sleep, and the bathroom. I went to college in Bennington, Vermont, moved to New York City, and took a job in publishing so I could get paid for reading. I read so much bad fiction that I needed a break, so I moved to London, and from there I traveled to Morocco, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan India, Nepal, and Ceylon. I came back to America, wandered around some more–to Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize–and on returning to New York decided to study Tibetan Buddhist painting (called thangka painting) in Boulder, Colorado.
I painted thangkas for many years. Each one took anywhere from several weeks to a few months to complete, and at long last I understood that this was not the ideal way for me to make a living. Only a few hundred Americans collected thangkas, and they wanted old ones, painted by Tibetan monks. It was time to make a change.
So I took another publishing job, this time in children’s books. I found that I liked children’s books a lot, and before long, I became an editor.
Years passed. I was encouraged to write. I scoffed at the idea that I had anything to write about. I edited some wonderfully talented authors–Virginia Hamilton, Philip Isaacson, Clyde Robert Bulla, Gloria Whelan, Robin McKinley, Joan Vinge, Garth Nix, and Chris Lynch, among others–with great enjoyment. Writing seemed like torture by comparison.
Then, to my amazement, I found myself writing a book and having a good time–simultaneously! The book was ALIENS FOR BREAKFAST, and I enjoyed writing it because my co-author was Jonathan Etra. Jon (who died of heart disease in 1990), was a close friend with a wild sense of humor, and collaborating with him changed my opinion of writing forever. After ALIENS FOR BREAKFAST, and ALIENS FOR LUNCH, which we also co-wrote, I began to think that writing could be interesting fun.
And now that I’ve been doing it full-time for seven years, I can tell you why I like it better than a job. First, I can work in my bathrobe. (To the FedEx man and the UPS man, I am “the woman in the plaid flannel robe.”) Second, I can eat when I’m hungry, choose when to take phone calls, and walk my dog at 12 and 6. Third, the only meetings I have–and they’re short--are with the dry cleaner and Mike the postal worker. Fourth, I can read whatever I please. I may tell people I’m doing research when I read about horse-trekking, or hunting in ancient Greece, or 16 ways to better compost, but the truth is, I’m not doing research, I’m having a good time. Which I think is still allowed.
Career Advice: If the life of a born-again bookworm sounds appealing to you, consider becoming a writer.

Frequently asked questions
1.How do you get the ideas for your books?
The start of something can pop into my head at any time. I’ve often had good ideas on waking, yet another reason to get a good night’s sleep.
2. How do you work when you collaborate with someone?
Depends who it is. When I worked with my friend Jon Etra, I had a full-time job and he didn’t, so he agreed to supply a first draft, chapter by chapter. I rewrote his material, and did all the revisions. We outlined our books together in great detail. And we followed the outlines at least half the time.
When I worked with my friend Terry Bisson, we were both writing full-time, so we took turns generating chapters, and then revising them. We also outlined our books together carefully, and then forgot the outlines once in a while.
Career advice: If you plan to collaborate with another writer, pick one with a really good sense of humor.
3. How did being an editor affect your writing?
I had high standards. I was conscious of the marketplace because I was in the business. I was careful about deadlines. And, knowing their importance, I was horribly demanding about copyediting, artwork, cover copy, and marketing copy. In short, I was the writer from hell, and I still am.
4. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
There was no single moment of blinding light. It came on gradually, like a disease.
5. Describe your work habits.
I write in the morning for a few hours, break for the afternoon, and get back to work after tea/dog feeding. When I’m working very hard, I’ll write in the evenings, too. At such times I use the morning to revise what I’ve written the night before.
6. Who are your favorite writers?
The list is long, and changes all the time. Charles Dickens, Isaac Babel, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Stone, Isaac Singer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Angela Carter, Beryl Bainbridge, Clyde Robert Bulla, William Gibson, John Cheever, Paula Fox, Homer, Ovid, Mary Renault, Philip Larkin, Bill Bryson, Cecilia Holland, Don DeLillo, Sir Thomas Malory, and on and on.
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Bernard Malamud once said, “Writers kiss with one eye open.” In other words, there’s an watcher in the writer that almost never takes time off. I’d say, foster your curiosity, be observant, take notes, read a lot, and pay attention to the way good writers write–you can learn from them.

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