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."

Mr. Durbin,

I love your story and I read it over and over. I hope you will continue it and write more books about Cymbril and Loric. This is the best story I have ever read in Cricket magazine. I am a huge fan, please keep writing more stories like this!

Is Author corner still open? Will it close since the story has ended?

Just wanted to tell you how much I loved it and say thanks for writing it.

submitted by Alli, age 13, ca
(May 14, 2009 - 9:39 am)

Hey, it's me again!

I haven't been on in a long time... Trying to do two pages a day on KK, and it's actually working... I don't know if you're even still reading this...

Anyway, KK is now over 60,000 words! I have about 2 chapters to go until it's done, I think. Of course, you know how dangerous it is saying that...

Well, I came up with another question. Do you listen to music when you're writing? Here's how I write- my first draft is *always* in a notebook. I don't go *anywhere* without that notebook- if my mom doesn't want me to have it, she literally has to confiscate it! Then every so often I type the latest part into the computer (which is now a lot easier with my laptop, since I don't have to grab a sword from the story and duel for the computer!), and as I'm doing so I do my first big edit. For the second part, I have to have some kind of music playing. Right now my top five are:

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Don't Stop Believin'

Free Fallin'

Strange (Reba McEntire)

Good Run of Bad Luck (Clint Black)

So... Ugh, I wrote something really long again, didn't I? Darn...

~Bethany/Bee (what my best friend calls me)

PS I just sent a short (under 2000 words, believe it or not!) story to a contest by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Send good luck vibes!

submitted by Bethany, age 15, PA
(May 16, 2009 - 1:44 pm)

Did you write any other books? I would like to read them!

submitted by Erin R., age 10, Ann Arbor, MI
(May 17, 2009 - 11:07 am)

Mr. Durbin-

Wow, thank you for such amazing advice! Yes, you were a tremendous help in every way! Thanks for the great explanations as well. Also, thank you so much for the advice on characters, plots, everything! Thanks for letting me know about making things a little more original; I didn't really realize that I was using other authors and Europe as a huge crutch! I'm wondering, when Cricket is done publishing The Star Shard, is there a place to contact you for this type of advice? Well, I've got more questions. (you must be tired of this by now) Where did you get the inspiration to write The Star Shard? How did you come up with the different names? Did you take them from other languages? I am thinking about writing with multiple-complicated plots; is there a way to do this without confusing the reader? I'm a teenager, and am looking for ways to make a complicated but interesting story. I'm working on creating different languages for characters in this book I'm working on, and I'm in need of some advice. If you've got any input, it'd be welcome. I know from Tolkien's biography, he made his languages from other languages (Latin, Hebrew, Farsi, etc.) but changed things up a little. How does one do this without making it sound like, well, foolishness? As I'm only a teenager, I don't have much experience with languages, except for exposure to European languages. I've been taking French and Spanish lessons, but was wondering if it's possible to create a language from scratch. How does one connect sounds and textures of words, making it sound like a beautiful, flowing, or rough language? What is your website? Google tends to list about a million results, and I can't find time to search through them all. :) Also, thank you so much for your advice and suggestions on the plot lines; I've been thinking about something along those lines, but I wasn't sure how people would respond. I've read some other books, and was wondering if you thought they contained any certain principles or writing techniques that one should take note of. The books are, The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Tale of Two Cities, Gone With The Wind, Scarlet, Evangeline, The Chronicles of Narnia (a personal favorite), The Pendragon Cycle (about Talisen, Merlin, and Author: a trilogy), The Zion Chronicles (about WW2) and The House of Winslow. If you have read any of these books, let me know if you see anything that would be important to note as a writer. Thanks again, and I wish you good luck with The Star Shard as a movie!  

submitted by StarShardLover
(May 21, 2009 - 3:35 pm)

Dear Tricia, Hannah, Madeleine J., Cara/CC, Alli, Bethany, Erin R., and StarShardLover,

Hello, and thank you all VERY much for your wonderful letters! I don't know if Cricket will put my response on the site or not -- it will be up to the staff there, because the part of this page where I can click "reply" is officially closed -- but maybe they'll allow me to ring in like this from time to time. It doesn't hurt to try! :-)

I truly appreciate the kind words from all of you! Your letters mean so much. Here are my answers to specific questions:

Hannah: I don't think Cymbril has a last name. No one in the story does. I think that in her world, there aren't quite so many people yet, and they haven't developed an absolute need for last names.

"Sidhe" is pronounced "Shee," just like "she" as in "she and he." It's an old Irish word that means simply "fairy" or one of the Fey Folk. Do you know the word "banshee" in English? That's made from the same "sidhe" word and means "female fairy."

As to ages, I think Cymbril and Loric must be about 12 or 13. What do you think?

Cara: The idea for "The Star Shard" came from various places, not one source. As I started thinking and writing, the parts came together. I think the ideas started for me with the mental picture of the Rake crawling over the land, the Urrmsh rowing it, and a girl who was a slave on board.

Bethany: I'm very happy to hear you're making good progress on KK! That's the way--2 pages a day! I'm working on a new story right now, too. I'm hoping it might be something I can submit to Cicada; it's for that age group. But it's already at 17,000 words and probably is only about half done, so I'm afraid it will be way too long for them! It will probably become another novel. The working title is The Sacred Woods. No, I don't listen to music while I'm writing. I like silence best, but I can usually write with a certain amount of noise going on. But if there's meaningful sound (such as music), I start listening to it instead of writing. My mind can do only one thing at once! Your writing process sounds GREAT! I have a friend who does it almost exactly the same way you do. The notebook is an excellent idea. Good luck with the Carnegie Library contest! That's an awe-inspiring library, isn't it? (I know it's not just in one location.) The Carnegie Library system has some copies of my book Dragonfly -- I happen to know that for a fact!

Erin: That answers your question, too! I have a book called Dragonfly, which is about a girl who goes into a spooky, dark, dangerous world and is trying to defeat the villains, rescue some other kids, and get home again.

StarShardLover: Taking character names from words in other languages is good! I have a playwright friend who does that. I often find words in dictionaries of our own English language that I think would make excellent names or parts of names. Also, I like to use old, archaic words in English that can become names, if the meaning and sound match up with what the character should be like. Remember to keep your ear happy! That is, if you're making up a name or creating a new language, read it aloud to yourself. It has to sound good in addition to looking good on the page! (By the way, your multiple-complicated plots sound great! I think readers today really enjoy that sort of thing!)

submitted by Fred D., Japan
(May 22, 2009 - 1:33 pm)

I  thought the Star Shard was amazing! Honestly, I never got to read it straight from the magazine, because I'm new to Cricket and my first  issue was the May/June one that came out right after the Star Shard, but I read the whole thing online and LOVED it! Smile

I love fantasy - and books - in general, really, and I read all the time. Watership Down is great! Have you read everything by JRR Tolkein? I've only read The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. I once tried to read The Silmarillian, but it was too confusing!  

I do a little bit of writing, mostly poetry. I try to write stories but I have a problem: I'll get a really good story idea and start. I get more ideas so fast I can't get it down in time. For example, let's say I'm writing abouut a girl, and she's in the woods. I'll start describingg her surroundings and think: Oh! What if she hears a man's voice out of nowhere, calling her name? And maybe she answers, and he tells her to do so-and-so, and. I'll have half  the plot figured out before I finish the first page! And when I already know what happens, the whole process is boring,like listening to someone drone on and onabout something he already said. But I think my writing is good, and I enjoy just thinking up stories to myself so muc she asks why, and he says... You get my pointh. I don't want to just not write stories though, so what should I do?

Oh, and what's the most interesting thing about living in Japan? What was the biggest surprise for you when you moved there?


Dear Katie,

Thank you for writing to Fred with your comments about "The Star Shard." I'm sure he will see your post, but he may or may not be able to reply, since we're in the process of changing the site. 



submitted by Katie Noble B, age 10
(May 25, 2009 - 9:55 pm)