Author & Artist's Corner: Author

Frederic S. Durbin

Frederic S. Durbin was born in rural Taylorville, Illinois. Throughout childhood, he was active in getting muddy, lost, and injured--as well as in creative and interpretive literary performances, writing, puppetry, vocal and instrumental music, and filmmaking.

He attended Concordia College (now University) in River Forest, Illinois, where he majored in classical languages. At Concordia, he served as chapel cantor and sacristan, worked as an international resident assistant, and edited the creative writing section of the college newspaper. He spent his college summers helping with vacation Bible schools in remote Cree and Ojibwe villages in northern Ontario, Canada. He graduated summa cum laude and traveled to Japan as a part of the Overseas Volunteer Youth Ministry program of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Fred has lived in Japan since 1988, where he teaches courses in writing and English conversation at Niigata University. He is a frequent speaker on the joys and practical aspects of fiction writing.

"I can't tell you what an honor it is to have my story appear in a magazine that has been a part of my life for 36 years," Fred says.

"I'm of the first generation of children that grew up with Cricket, so I've always felt very close to the magazine. My mom was a teacher, writer, and elementary school librarian, and she got me a charter subscription to Cricket when I was in first grade. I remember receiving the first-ever issue, Volume 1 Number 1, in September 1973. (I suppose I shouldn't brag about that, age-wise!) My friend in the same class was absolutely convinced that he had the very first copy of Cricket ever to be printed because it said 'Number 1' on the cover! Even when I showed him the 'Number 1' on my copy, he was unwilling to believe that all the copies said that! I have the entire collection of Crickets, from that issue onward.

One of my favorite aspects of writing is being able to speak with readers. So I am absolutely delighted to respond to any questions or comments from kids reading Cricket today."

Where did you get your idea for the story? I really love it!

submitted by Jiji P.
(June 24, 2008 - 11:08 am)

Hi, Jiji!

Thank you! I'm very happy that you love the story!

Ideas for stories don't usually come from just one place. I've always been interested in adventures that take place aboard large vessels such as ships, submarines, dirigibles, hot-air balloons, etc. The idea for the Urrmsh rowing probably came from the old, old movie Ben-Hur, in which slaves row a ship of the ancient Roman Empire.


I like mazes and mysterious underground places. The Thunder Rake came partly from thinking about those. In the folklore of the American West, there are stories of wind-wagons: wagons with big sails that would race over the prairies, driven by the wind. That's probably what got me to thinking about a ship on land. And of course, the Rake is a little like the Jawas' Sandcrawler in Star Wars, Episode 4. Actually, the Rake was an idea I developed for a story long ago, but I ended up not using it then. But with a few changes, I was able to use it in "The Star Shard." I guess that's a good lesson that we should save our ideas, because we never know when they'll come in handy!

submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 24, 2008 - 1:33 pm)

Your story is the best Cricket has ever had. Your writing style is unique and fantastic. Many fiction stories these days are all alike. You have created something new and fun. Who is your favorite author?



submitted by Mayr S.
(June 24, 2008 - 8:09 pm)

Hi, Mayr!

Oh, wow! Thank you for those wonderful compliments! It really makes me happy to know that you are enjoying the story so much! It's tough to pick a favorite author--there are so many I love! The book that touched me the most deeply when I read it was Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I was in fifth grade then, and I loved the book so much that I cried when I finished it, because I didn't want to leave the characters. The story seemed to have everything. When I was in sixth grade, I discovered The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was so fanatical about those books that they're pretty much all I talked about all through junior high and into high school. I used to write quizzes about The Lord of the Rings and make my parents take them, although they hadn't read the book! So I guess I'll do it this way: I'll give the Best Book prize to Watership Down, and the Best Author prize to J.R.R. Tolkien. (But there are many, many books and authors I love!) Who is your favorite author?

Very gratefully,


submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 25, 2008 - 12:15 pm)

Dear Fred,

Like you, I find it hard to pick a favorite author. However. I love Eva Ibbotson. She wrote Which Witch, Secret of Platform 13, and Island of the Aunts. She also writed amazing and original fiction. The cool part about her stories is that these amazing adventures happen to modern-day, normal kids. My dad absolutaly adores Watership Down. I plan on reading it soon.

Fondly, Mayr

submitted by Mayr S.
(June 25, 2008 - 5:27 pm)

Dear Mayr,

I have The Secret of Platform 13, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet! Yes, I think a great many readers find it easy to identify with characters who are ordinary kids from the modern world.

Yes--please, please, pleeeeease read Watership Down! (Here's a high-five to your dad!)



submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 26, 2008 - 12:11 pm)

Watership Down is probably one of the very best books I have ever, ever, read. That and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell...and His Dark Materials... and The Dark is Rising... and Lord of the Rings... and Lord of the Flies... and Swallows and Amazons... and Juniper and Wise Child and the Wolves chronicles... and anything by Shakespeare and...


Well, you get the picture. The worst question anyone can ever ask is "What's your favorite book?"


Due to the fact that I no longer subscribe to Cricket, I have read only the first part of The Star Shard, the bit that was posted on this site. It's really good. I agree that it should be a novel (The Witching Wild is an amazing title, by the way), but that is only my natural bias towards novels.


Treasure Island was first published in installments, though, so I can't complain.


I'm not a huge fan of Eva Ibbotson as a whole, although some of her things are great, in particular Journey to the River Sea, which reminded me of Joan Aiken's Wolves chronicles.


Question: What do you find is the hardest part of writing?


Well, I've added to this comment so many times that at this rate I'll never be finished, so I shall submit it immediately and have done.

submitted by Alice W.
(June 27, 2008 - 6:16 pm)

Hi, Alice!


You are a Reader with a capital "R"! My kind of people! My parents owned a bookstore when I was little, and I absolutely loved having books all around me as I was growing up.


If you're only reading "The Star Shard" on this site, you're missing out on Ms. Fiegenschuh's wonderful illustrations! Maybe you could go to your local library and find Cricket . . . .?


I'm glad you like The Witching Wild as a title! Thank you! First I was going to call the book Halcyon Fey, and my agent thought it was the worst title he'd ever heard! Then I was going to call it The Cry of the Nightbird, but that didn't really fit the story. When I came up with The Witching Wild, we both liked it--and you do, too, so that's three of us!


What's the hardest part of writing? I'd say it's getting started. Things generally go pretty well once I'm actually working on a story, but making myself sit down and start can be agonizing, and I'll come up with any excuse at all for not starting quite yet. Which is really odd, isn't it, because I love to write! I guess what we sometimes hear is true: writing is, in a way, the hardest work in the world, but if you love it, it's also the most fulfilling and joyful work in the world.

submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 29, 2008 - 12:32 pm)

Yay! A Reader! That's a very nice compliment. Thanks. :) I'm also a writer, but I don't think I've earned a capital W yet.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and I've been looking at those on the site too (although they're tons better in color). But they aren't all I'm missing out on. I found a copy of Cricket at the bakery (no, really, it makes sense!) and the story in the magazine is nothing like the story on the website! Firstly, the writing itself doesn't correspond. Secondly, the story on the website is further along than the story in the mag. Thirdly, events happened in the magazine that didn't happen on the website, and vice versa. But they were both "The Star Shard, Part 2." It's very odd...

I like Halcyon Fey, too, but The Witching Wild is a hundred times better.

Do you, like, start at the beginning and then write all the way to the end, or start in the middle and fill in later?

I love to write, but I'm very bad at plots.

submitted by Alice W.
(June 30, 2008 - 4:23 pm)

Hi again! That's very interesting about the differences between the print version and the on-line version. I'm delighted that you like The Witching Wild as a title! To answer your question: I start at the beginning and write all the way to the end. However, when I see what the middle is like, sometimes I'll go back and rewrite the beginning. But in general, I have to tell the story in order, because it's like life: characters aren't the same people at the end that they were at the beginning. They need to go through the story in order, and so do I.

I've always felt the same as you do, that I'm not very good at plots. But I'm learning that we really shouldn't worry too much about it. Plots just happen and grow naturally when lifelike characters are in situations and are simply reacting to them. You don't have to have your plot all figured out in advance! Sometimes you discover it through the writing.

Speaking of which, please keep writing your stories!


submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(July 3, 2008 - 11:53 am)

My teacher should listen to you! This year when we wrote stories, we had to plan out the whole thing before writing... :-P

submitted by Shannon, age 12
(July 14, 2008 - 7:56 pm)

Oh, but Shannon!--your teacher's method is also a perfectly good way to go about writing stories! There are both kinds of writers: those who plan the whole thing out before writing, and those who discover the story as they go along. (In interviews, J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini have both said they're the first kind--like your teacher! And certainly Ms. Rowling and Mr. Paolini know what they're doing! :-) )

I'm actually a blend of the two. I like to have some idea of where the story is going before I start, but I also like to leave it open and flexible enough that the story and characters can surprise me.

So, whether you plan or whether you don't, the important thing is to write!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(July 15, 2008 - 10:38 am)

My teacher did that, too. I'm not a huge fan of it. I like to think of it as I go on, and then stop and go over it every once in awhile and change things. When she makes us plan ahead, my stories turn out to be much less exciting than the ones I write during "free write" when we can write about anything. As I read my first of the "Free Stories" (as I like to call them) for a second, my teacher looked surprised. For I had written many while planning ahead and using that little planning sheet, and none were that good. So, I was guessing, she was surprised I wrote that. Me. The kid who writes the most boring stories about how a little boy Jack fell into the lake in his backyard and found that nothing ordinary was lying in the murky water. But the ones during free write were much more exciting. Well, to me they were much more exciting. I got to continue the story, but as we were nearing the end of the year, my teacher let us "free write" less and less. So now, my story lies, unfinished, in a stack of 4th grade spirals in a box that's in a dusty closet.

So that's the end of it. *grins* yes, I like to tell it so it sounds a bit dramatic, even though it's about a normal story, by an even more normal (kinda) kid. Just the tiniest hint. So tiny it is almost not even there.

-Archana U.

Used to be known as The Fool, and Others that I'd rather not say so I don't take too long.

submitted by Archana U., Illinois
(July 15, 2008 - 7:42 pm)

Hi, Archana!

First, I just have to say that you have a wonderful name! I'm sure you know about the English words "arcane" and "arcana"--your name calls to mind things magical, ancient, and mysterious, like half-forgotten books of wonder! I'll bet some girls in Loric's home, the Sidhe realm, have the name Archana.

Second, it sounds like you should get out your spiral-bound notebook, dust it off, and do a lot more "free writing"--that's the method that works best for you. You certainly don't have to wait for a teacher to tell you to write!

And by the way, the story about Jack falling into the lake has great possibilities--I'll bet there is something quite out of the ordinary in that murky water!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(July 18, 2008 - 12:11 pm)

I totally agree.

submitted by Miranda C.
(December 27, 2008 - 10:27 pm)