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, Johnna!

Thank you! I'm delighted to hear that you like the story! It's also important to me that you said you like Cymbril's personality. That's something we writers worry about: especially since I'm an adult and a male, I have no way of being 100% sure that Cymbril comes across as realistic to girls her age. You're a good judge of that, so your compliment really encourages me!

I'm glad you like the Rake, too. I'm also fascinated by big structures with a lot of hidden areas, like a castle or an old, rambling mansion. I thought it would be interesting to put one of those on wheels! That way, we can get the best parts of a "ship" story (sailing with a specific crew from place to place) together with the best parts of a "castle" story (the long hallways and different rooms, discoveries, etc.). That's one thing in writing that's a lot of fun: putting together elements that you like in new ways. J.K. Rowling did that with the Harry Potter books, putting together fantasy adventure with a traditional "school" story. There's no shortage of things you can combine in the world to make new, interesting concepts!

How wonderful that you come from a family of writers! That must be a great time! I'm glad that your Grandpa got his book published! I'm also excited to hear about Dragon Rider of Fantasia! Forty pages is quite a lot -- I guess this is going to be a novel? It must be fun to collaborate with your sister. Do you pass the manuscript back and forth, each keeping it for several days, or do you sit down together and think and write? One of my friends says this is the "Age of Collaboration" -- a lot of people are working together on creative projects.

Anyway, I hope it goes well! Please continue writing fiction, and never give up! And thanks for writing your letter, too!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(December 1, 2008 - 1:02 pm)

Do you know when the drawing contest is over?

submitted by Olivia W., age 13, Tortall
(December 16, 2008 - 9:43 pm)

Olivia, the deadline for the cat art contest was November 25. There's currently a poetry contest about a 2008 Cricket cover. The deadline for that is Decembre 25. Be sure to check all the rules under Show Rules.

submitted by Old Cricket, age ?, In the library
(December 16, 2008 - 10:55 pm)

Dear Fred Durbin,

My friend and I are both into The Star Shard. She's always borrowing my Cricket magazines so she can read it, since she doesn't have a subscripsion. I think The Star Shard is great. I've never read anything like it.

I am a writer myself. Currently I'm writing four books, and I'm not very far in any of them. But I'm really working on this one right now, trying to do a chapter a day.(Yeah right--I'm so busy!Wink) But anyway, I don't have many people read my books. Everyone who's read them says they're great, but they're supposed to say that, they're my friends! I wish I could get constructive criticism from someone who knows what they're talking about! Is there any way you think I could send to you?

submitted by Julia R., age 12, Another Realm
(December 23, 2008 - 8:18 pm)

Hi, Julia!

Thank you for your letter! I'm so glad you like The Star Shard (and your friend does, too)! I'm also very happy to hear that you're a writer! It's great that you have four books going. That means you have a lot of good ideas. One quote I use in class with my writing students is by Linus Pauling, who won Nobel prizes twice! He said, "You can't have good ideas unless you have a lot of ideas." It sounds like you have a lot of ideas, so some of them are bound to be good!

I'd like to encourage you in your writing in every way I possibly can. I'm trying to think of how I might help. We can't give out our addresses on-line, but you can write to me in care of Cricket. If you included a sample of your writing, I could probably give you some constructive criticism.

Anyway, the most important thing for you is to keep writing! Everyone gets better with practice. School teachers are also good sources of unbiased, constructive criticism. If you're persistent and write a lot, most people (even your friends) will begin to tell you if they don't like certain things.

Thank you again, and happy writing!

submitted by Fred D., Japan
(December 25, 2008 - 3:24 pm)

Dear Mr. Durbin,

Thank you so much! I'm glad you responded, I was checking every day to see if you did. I've actually already shown my language arts teacher one of the books I'm working on, but she knows me well and likes me, so I don't really know if that counts.

When you say in care of Cricket, do you mean on the website, or to send a letter to the Cricket address?

Thanks again!


submitted by Julia R., age 12, Another Realm
(December 30, 2008 - 7:21 pm)

Julia, you can either send an e-mail to or a letter to: Cricket's Letterbox, PO Box 300, Peru, IL 61354.

submitted by Old Cricket, age Old, House on the kn
(December 31, 2008 - 1:16 am)

I love "The Star Shard."  I have to say, "The Star Shard" is what got me reading Cricket magazine.  Cricket agazine before has always been my sister's magazine; I would look at the magazine and sometimes read a few stories occasionally, but that was it.  It wasn't until I read "The Star Shard" that I started to wait eagerly every month for Cricket magazine to show up in the mailbox.  It was actually pretty funny. I first read part five of "The Star Shard" when I was bored one day and decided to read.  Being a big fan of fantasy stories I loved "The Star Shard." I remember scouring the house for the other missing Cricket magazines so that I could read the whole story. (There are a lot of different magazines floating around my house, and I had to dig through tons of National Geographics to find the other Cricket magazines. Anyway, I really enjoy "The Star Shard" and when I looked up this Web site I was really excited to learn that you are trying to publish a book or series about it.  I hope you succeed, and if you do I will definitely be buying your Star Shard or Witching Wild (whatever you decide on the title to be) books.

submitted by Kelsey D., age 17, NH
(January 8, 2009 - 7:21 pm)

Hi, Kelsey!

I can't begin to express how happy I was to read your letter! Thank you so much for telling me how much you like "The Star Shard"! Series stories are kind of a risk for a magazine--readers tend to have different opinions about continued stories. Some look forward to the next part, and some don't like to be left hanging, so they deliberately don't read the story when they figure out it's a series. I am very grateful that CRICKET took the risk with this story! (And grateful to readers like you who are sticking with it!)

I'm sorry this reply is slow in coming. My computer has been having trouble accessing this page.

Here's a news update for you on the book: this very week I am finishing up the final edits to the manuscript of "The Star Shard" as a novel! It will be going to my agent by the end of this week, and if he doesn't find any problems with it, he'll send it on to the editor who has expressed interest in it and who made some detailed notes for me that I followed in expanding the book.

The book as I've rewritten it has 20 chapters. A lot more things happen aboard the Rake, and there are more towns and cities in between the ones we read about in the CRICKET story. I think the title will still be THE STAR SHARD . . . and then Book 2 may be THE WITCHING WILD . . . and I think the whole series may be called HALCYON FEY. But none of that is set in stone yet. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I am actively working on the book--and again, thank you so much for your wonderful letter!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(January 12, 2009 - 10:47 pm)

Thanks for the update!  I'll keep an eye out for your book! And by the way my computer has been having trouble with this site, too. There must be something wrong with it.  Anyway, Good luck with your book!

submitted by Kelsey D., age 17, NH
(January 13, 2009 - 6:49 pm)

My computer has a problem staying on this page, too.  It only started after the scroll got so long.  My friend said he can't go on it at all but the other Cricket pages all work fine. 

Part 7 was GREAT!  Only three more to go.  I can't wait to see how it ends.

submitted by Ethan A., age 11, PA
(January 18, 2009 - 2:49 pm)

Thanks, Ethan! That's exactly what happens with my computer and the computers at my school, too: everything else on Cricket's site works fine, but not this page. The Cricket people are working on the problem!

I'm glad you liked Part 7! Those illustrations just get better and better, don't they? Thanks for letting me know you're still following the story! Laughing


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(January 21, 2009 - 12:33 am)

Hi, Fred,

Of course I am still following along!  I can't wait to see how it ends!  My birthday is in April so I will get to read the end when I turn 12. 

I loved how Loric showed his friendship to Cymbril and stayed with her even though it meant he would be a slave again.  Cymbril has wanted to be free since the story started, but I think she needed a true friend even more.

You are right about the artwork being incredible!  I love Emily's illustrations, they are the best.  It is really great because sometimes art doesn't match a story and what I imagine is so different from the picture, but hers are just perfect to me.  What is your favorite picture she has done?

Oh, I am reading a book you talked about on this site and it is a great book!  I am on chapter 21 of Watership Down and I love it.  Thanks for recomending it.

And thanks for writing such a great story!


submitted by Ethan A., age 11, PA
(January 24, 2009 - 1:01 pm)

Hi, Ethan!

That's a really good insight you had: that Cymbril wants to escape, but she needs a friend like Loric even more. Good point! So your birthday is coming up in April! I see by this site that the new issue of Cricket is out now, but I haven't gotten mine yet. I think you probably see the new parts of the story before I do! I always watch my mailbox excitedly, waiting for the next installment.

Yes, I know what you mean about how sometimes pictures don't match a story at all, but I think Emily has everything just right for this one! It's hard to pick a favorite, and I like different ones for different reasons . . . but I think my favorite so far is still the picture of Cymbril listening at the door of her room. That one just captures Cymbril perfectly. I also love how she draws Urrt -- and Loric -- and the harpy is fantastic! Her Brigit and Wiltwain are different from how I imagined them, but her versions look great to me. Do you have a favorite one of her illustrations?

I'm delighted to hear you're reading Watership Down! I was close to your age when I first read it . . . well, I guess I was a little younger. I was 11 and in 5th grade. I think the great books we read at ages 10-13 or so have a way of staying with us all our lives. I'm glad you found Watership Down early in life!

Thank YOU for reading "The Star Shard"! :-)


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(January 29, 2009 - 2:31 am)

I absolutely adore your writing style. You've struck gold with this story! (Or these days better to say that you've struck oil.) I'm just itching to hear more! How do you organize your thoughts before you begin writing? Do you just write whenever you feel like it or do you sit down and say "I'm going to write the next section before I get up again"? I'm interested in starting my own story... do you have any tips on how to catch a reader's interest and how to keep it throughout the piece? Your writing seems to flow effortlessly from one scene to the next. What's the key to a successful transition? You seem to like to end your pieces with a suspenseful finish. How do I capture this essence without revealing too much or too little so that the reader stays hooked?  



submitted by Hayley O., age 13, Shrewsbury MA
(January 26, 2009 - 8:52 pm)