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."

Hi, Ethan!

I think you've already gotten the message about how much I like your picture of Loric! Yes, I hope lots of people will send in their artwork, too--it's so exciting to see! As to Farlong--well, it's a little too complicated to get into in this message, I think. I will try to work him into the book.

Yes, you can definitely expect battles in this series! A war is the central underlying reality. But it's a war that is not yet revealed in "The Star Shard". . . .


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 27, 2008 - 2:35 pm)



Can u please put more adventure stories in the mag? Stories like "The Starshard."

submitted by Maria X., age 9, Singapore
(October 27, 2008 - 9:39 pm)

Hi, Maria X.!

I'm really happy you like "The Star Shard"! I love adventure stories, too. The editors of Cricket make the decisions about what goes into the magazine, but I know they pay attention to what readers like you enjoy and say. And I'll do my best to keep writing adventure stories and submitting them to Cricket!

Thanks again!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(November 17, 2008 - 10:08 pm)

Well, I don't think of plots to go to sleep.  I dream of adventures or a character is trying to fall asleep so then I fall sleep, too.  Most of the time I'm dreaming of the latest book that I'm reading, changing scenes, putting characters in, things like that.  Or I spin a story from something I read on the news or heard about or whatever.  When I want to though, I can come up with plots.  Which, now that I think about it, I do more often than I realize.

Well, have to go!



submitted by Julianna H., age 16, Missouri, US
(October 28, 2008 - 12:03 pm)

WinkIs anyone writing in?

submitted by just wondering?
(November 12, 2008 - 5:58 pm)

Hi, Just Wondering!

Are you asking me, or are you asking the readers? Smile I really appreciate everyone's letters, and I'm always watching for new ones. As the writer, I'd like to say that the picture of Cymbril listening at the door in the Nov./Dec. Cricket is my favorite portrait of her that Ms. Fiegenschuh has done yet--that is exactly how I picture Cymbril! And I loved the illustration of the harpy! Isn't that a great, terrifying image? Interestingly, when a friend in Japan saw that picture, she thought it looked like a tengu, a monstrous mountain-spirit from Japanese folklore.

In Peter S. Beagle's book The Last Unicorn there's a harpy. I read that book as a kid, and I've never forgotten how that harpy chilled me. I'm sure that's why I put a harpy into "The Star Shard"!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(November 13, 2008 - 3:35 am)


I loved The Last Unicorn!  My Cricket hasn't come yet with part six hmmmmmm.  I can't wait to read it!

submitted by Thanks
(November 13, 2008 - 12:34 pm)

I love The Star Shard! I think that reading fantasy is fun, but sometimes I need something different and read nonfiction. Are you ever like that?  I am also always looking for good books to read. Some of my favorites are The Wind on Fire triology and Howle's Moving Castle. They both have moving places where people live in them, just like the Thunder Rake. I have a journal where I write stories, but I can never find the perfect ending. How do you find endings for your stories? How long have you lived in Japan? I can't wait to read the rest of The Star Shard! I think it would be a great book! One more question--when did you begin writing? (I borrowed Lyra from a book.)

submitted by Lyra, age 13, MA
(November 15, 2008 - 5:01 pm)

Hi, Lyra!

Thank you for your wonderful letter! I'm thrilled that you love "The Star Shard"! Yes, I sometimes read nonfiction, too. We get our writing "fuel" and ideas from everywhere. Sometimes it's a nonfiction article that will give me the inspiration for a story. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least twice that's happened to me with stories that eventually got published: my two stories that were in Cicada!

Yes, I'm also always looking for good books to read! I'll have to look for The Wind on Fire trilogy. I have Howl's Moving Castle, but I haven't read it yet! I like stories that take place on big moving places such as ships--and stories set inside huge, magical places, such as the Chocolate Factory in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Your story-writing journal sounds like a great idea! Hmm . . . finding "the perfect ending" is a hard question. Usually when I start writing a story, I have a general idea of how it's going to end. But the ending changes as I write the story. Usually, when you write through to the end of the story -- when you spend all that time with the characters as they face and overcome their problems -- you come to understand the ending by the time you get there. Or, to say it another way, the ending shows itself to you. You usually know how the story is supposed to end by the time you get there. Does that make sense? So I'd say: Don't worry too much about finding the "perfect" ending before you write the story. I think you'll discover the ending as you write. Just listen and think carefully as you write, to see where the story wants to go.

To answer your other question -- I've lived in Japan for about 20 years now. But I usually spend part of every summer in Illinois, where I grew up. I need to spend time among corn fields and oak trees every now and then!

I am hard at work expanding "The Star Shard" a little to try to publish it as a book. An editor has made some very helpful notes for me on how to go about it!

When did I begin writing? I've always written. I always wanted to be a writer, and from the time I learned how to write the alphabet, I was writing little stories. Before I could write on paper, I used to tell my mom stories. But I didn't start getting stories published until much later -- I was around 30 years old or more when I made my first sale to a professional publisher. So . . . things happen at different times, when they're supposed to happen. The important thing is, if you love writing, keep doing it!

Thanks again for your excellent letter! It was great to hear from you!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(November 17, 2008 - 10:39 pm)

Thanks for your advice! I did borrow Lyra from The Golden Compass!

submitted by Lyra, age 13, MA
(November 20, 2008 - 7:15 pm)

Lyra, if I said that you got the name "Lyra" from The Golden Compass, would I be correct?

I miss Loric!  He's not in it as often as before, and I miss that!  That and there aren't as many pictures of him as before.  I love the picture of Cymbril listening at the door, too.  It was done perfectly.  I can't wait to get the next magazine!  That's going to be next year.  Man that's a long time to wait!

Well, that's it.

Julianna H.

submitted by Julianna H., age 16, Missouri, US
(November 16, 2008 - 12:23 pm)

Hi, Julianna!

That's my guess about Lyra, too. (Here's a funny fact: movies in Japan are often given different titles than they have in the U.S. and other countries. I guess the people in charge want to make the titles easily understandable to the Japanese, so that more people will go and see the films. The Golden Compass was released in Japan as Lyra's Adventure. Do you know the movie Mr. Holland's Opus? In Japan, it was called The Classroom Where the Sun Shines.)

I'm happy to hear you're looking forward to more of "The Star Shard"! I think you'll feel that Loric is more present in the next episode coming up. I can't wait to see the pictures, either!

Thanks for writing!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(November 18, 2008 - 12:16 pm)

Dear Fred, Where to start? I absolutely love "The Star Shard"! Your style of writing draws me into the story like I'm really there. That always, for me, signifies a very good author if you get lost in the book, and forget everything else.

I am debating on becoming an artist or an author... I love reading (and I have read so many books, including Watership Down, Lord of the Rings, and well, a whole bunch of others I saw on other comments), but I love drawing fantasy...

And I think it's really neat that you reply to everyone!

submitted by Hannah D., age 14, Wisconsin
(November 26, 2008 - 7:55 pm)

Dear Hannah,

Thank you! Those are some of the nicest things any reader has ever told me about "The Star Shard"! I'm really happy that you feel you can get lost in the story and forget the rest of the world. I love books like that, too, and I'm thrilled and honored that you think this story is one!

Well, if you're debating whether to become an artist or an author, you can't go wrong with either choice! They're both ways to express your creativity and deliver dreams to other people. And you know, there's no reason at all that you can't be both. There are writers who illustrate their own books, and there are artists who write text to go with their pictures. I'd suggest that you just keep on drawing and writing. If you discover along the way that you love one more than the other, that's fine.

About replying -- sometimes it takes me a little while, but I try to answer every letter I get, because every one of them is really exciting to me and brings me a lot of encouragement. Sometimes readers may wonder if their letters mean anything to a writer or artist whose work they like. Let me assure you, THEY DO! You'd be surprised: even when you're a working professional, it still changes your whole day for the better to hear from a real reader who cares enough to write and say, "I liked this!" It makes what we're doing seem so much more real! So, thank you very much!

Best wishes with your fantasy artwork and writing!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(December 1, 2008 - 12:40 pm)

Hi, Fred, I'm sure you've heard this a lot, but your story is AWESOME!! I like how you developed Cymbril's personality. Also the Rake is really interesting idea.

Most of the people in my family are writers. My Grandpa got one of his books published (only my family and a library in Iowa have a copy, however) named Life Begins at Forty? 

My sister and I are trying to write a story called Dragon Rider of Fantasia. We started it when I was in 4th grade and now I'm in 6th. We only have 40 pages. It's hard with school.

Happy Thanksgiving!



submitted by Johnna D., age 12, Beaver Dam, WI
(November 26, 2008 - 9:41 pm)