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."

Dear Mr. Durbin,

I am a total fantasy/sci-fi nut!! Not only do I read and love fantasy (like your Star Shard story), but I also write a little, too. I was wondering two things: first, what is your method of keeping a steady writing schedule, and second, how do you limit yourself to writing a short story? I would love to get one of my stories published, but all of them are far too long already, and none are finished! Also, I would just like to say that "The Star Shard" is an awesome story, and I can hardly wait for Part 3!


submitted by Michael
(June 27, 2008 - 3:21 pm)

Dear Michael,


Hey there, fellow writer and fantasy nut! First of all, thank you for your wonderful, encouraging comments about "The Star Shard"! I'm thrilled that you like it. Coming from a reader of lots of fantasy, your reaction means a lot!


I hope you'll keep writing your stories! About keeping to a regular schedule: it can be very hard when you've got school or work. I do a lot more writing on vacation times than I do when I'm really busy with teaching. But if you're really determined, you can write even during busy times.

One thing that I've found very helpful is to pay attention to your word count. It's easy if you're using a computer! Notice how many words you can reasonably manage to write in a day or a week, and try to meet that goal whenever you write, just as if you were practicing the piano or something and keeping track of your "minutes spent practicing." (I remember filling out a little yellow card for my band teacher each week when I was first learning the trombone--I had to write down the minutes each day that I practiced over the summer.)


I have noticed that I'm able to write more now than I used to be. On a vacation, when I can do a lot of writing in a day, I used to think 1,600 words was a lot to write in one day. This past spring vacation, I was often writing 2,500 or even 3,000 words in a day. So it's like sports training, in a way: you build up your writing "muscles," and you're able to write more (and more smoothly). If those numbers seem like a lot, you can start much, much smaller, of course! Even 300 or 500 words is a good amount. If you do that on a regular schedule, those words will add up!


It sounds, though, like you don't have any trouble turning out a LOT of words! I know exactly what you mean--I have real trouble writing short fiction, too! If I were you, I wouldn't worry about the stories being too long. Maybe they're books, not short stories! If you want to tell big, long stories, then tell big, long stories!


You do have to finish them, though. They can't be published unless they have endings! Stick with it, and I know you'll be able to grab hold of your story and bring it to a good conclusion.


If you want to practice writing shorter stories, it might help to make a plan or an outline before you start. If you know exactly where you're going, maybe you can get there in fewer words. But again, don't worry too much about length. The most important thing is writing good stories, not long ones or short ones. And "good" means "the story you want to tell." If it's fun, interesting, and exciting for you, it will very likely be that way for your readers!


Thanks again for your reaction to "The Star Shard"! I'm looking forward to part 3, too, because I can't wait to see the illustrations!

submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 29, 2008 - 12:04 pm)

Dear Mr. Durbin,

I play the saxaphone and I'm currently 1st chair in my school band. I was just reading that as a kid you played instrumental music. What did you play? I'm writing a short story of my own, but I'm experencing writer's block when it comes to inventing characters. Where did you get your inspirtation to create Cymbril and Loric? I love "The Star Shard" and can never wait to get my hands on the next issue of Cricket.


submitted by Da pip
(June 27, 2008 - 7:25 pm)

Dear pip,


You must play the saxophone well if you're 1st chair! That's great! Band was one of my favorite things about school. With the sax, you have the best of two worlds, don't you? Your instrument is part woodwind, part brass!


I play the trombone. I still play it in church sometimes.


Good for you for writing a story! I love meeting fellow writers! Isn't writing great? There's nothing like the fun of making something (a story) where before there was only blank paper or a blank computer screen!


About creating characters: well, first, you're reading a lot, right? And you're paying attention to the people around you in your life? Those are two excellent sources of starter-ideas for characters. Of course you can't use a character from someone else's story, and you shouldn't use a person from real life exactly as he or she is . . . but people have a lot in common with each other. You might take one friend's bright red hair, another friend's love of pizzas with strange toppings, and some famous historical person's reputation for courage--and voila!--you're on your way to creating a character! It's a good idea not to make your characters "too perfect." It's most fun to read about people who have the same worries and weaknesses that we do.


Or how about this? Think of a time in your life when you were really looking forward to something . . . or wanted something . . . or were worried about something . . . or felt really nervous or lonely. Think through your situation then and what it felt like. Then consider how you might put your fictional character in a similar situation in that character's own world. You have lots of the details already in your own experience--just transfer your situation to your character, with special alterations for the ways that character's life is different from yours. Does that help?

I think I did that with Cymbril and Loric. They're both parts of me. I love to sing, like Cymbril. I've sung in front of audiences. And, like Cymbril, I've sometimes had to do things I didn't want to do--sometimes I've wanted to be somewhere else. At the same time, I'm a little like Loric. When I'm in a new situation, I observe more than I talk, and I try to learn the new system. That's how Loric acts aboard the Rake, right? Like Loric, I try to be patient and use my head, but it doesn't always work!


I've heard other professional writers say that every character we write is based on some part of ourselves. I think it's true!

submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 29, 2008 - 11:35 am)

Hi! How do you write like that??? I am trying to write a story, but I haven't gotten past the first sentence. How can I think of good ideas for my story? "The Star Shard" is the best story ever to be published in Cricket! Where did you get the idea for it?


Hoping-for-an-answer Jayna

submitted by Jayna
(June 28, 2008 - 7:26 am)

Hi, Jayna!


Thank you! I'm really happy that you like the story so much! It's also great that you're writing a story! I hope you'll keep working on it, even if it's difficult at first. Don't give up!


Good ideas can come from almost anywhere! Reading is one of the best things you can do for good ideas, because when you read, your mind is filled with new ideas that you weren't thinking about on your own, before you opened the book or magazine. Receiving all those new scenes and characters gives your mind exercise . . . and then it's very likely to start forming new, original scenes and characters all on its own. Many times something I read will get me to thinking . . . and that idea will combine with something else I see or hear . . . maybe I'll see something when I'm taking a walk that makes me think a little more. Sometimes three or four ideas from different places will come together to make one story.


A long, long, long time ago, Cricket had a wonderful essay by the author of Mary Poppins. It was about how Mary Poppins, the character, found the author! Some ideas seem like they can't be "invented"--I think we writers just have to pay attention. If we read, interact with people, and keep our eyes and ears open, amazing ideas will sometimes walk up and tap us on the shoulder!


Come to think of it, I believe I was just walking along outdoors when I had the first idea for "The Star Shard"!


Oh--and don't worry too much about your first sentence. Go on past it, and work on discovering your story. Sometimes we don't know what the first sentence should be until we're finished with the story. (You can always go back and change earlier parts--that's one of the best things about writing!)

submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 29, 2008 - 11:08 am)

Guten Tag (Hello) Fred!

I really like your story "The Star Shard"! It is awesome! I was reading some of the other comments and you said that you had read The Hobbit. I have read that book also (for a book report ). I have a question for you about the book: What is your favorite part of the story, and why? Could you also write a list of other stories you wrote?


Danke (Thank you),

Lena H. 

submitted by Lena H.
(June 28, 2008 - 7:44 am)

Guten Tag, Lena!

Thank you for your letter! I am so excited that you think "The Star Shard" is awesome! I'm also glad that you read The Hobbit, and three cheers for your teacher for assigning it as a book to report on! (Or did you choose it yourself?--in which case, three cheers for you!)


Are you asking me about my favorite part of The Hobbit? Wow! That's a tough question, because I love all of it. But if I have to pick just one part, I guess it would be the journey through Mirkwood. I simply LOVE reading about journeys through deep, dark, mysterious places. (And believe me, there's one such journey coming up in "The Star Shard"!) [If you go on and read The Lord of the Rings, which comes after The Hobbit, my favorite part in it is the journey through the mines of Moria--a huge, dark, dusty, echoing place beneath the mountains.]


As for a list of my other stories: the best way to find that is if you'll type my name into Google and visit my Web site, which is called The Threshold of Twilight. If you'll visit it and click on "Bibliography," you'll find a list of everything I've published so far.


By the way, do you have a favorite part of The Hobbit? And why do you like that part?


Auf wiedersehen! (Did I spell that right?) 

submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(June 29, 2008 - 10:42 am)

I've read The Hobbit too! It's very good!!!

submitted by Amy
(June 30, 2008 - 2:41 pm)

What is The Hobbit about?

submitted by Shannon, age 12
(July 14, 2008 - 8:10 pm)

Well, Shannon, if no one else is going to answer your question, I'm going to! The Hobbit is a wonderful story about a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. (Hobbits are a little people, about half as tall as a full-grown "big person." They love the simple pleasures of life--gardening, working and walking outdoors in the peaceful countryside, laughing, eating [six meals a day, when they can get them], and spending time with families and friends. They're good with tools but dislike machines.)

Anyway, Bilbo is minding his own business, when out of the blue a wizard shows up--followed by 13 Dwarves--and they rather forcibly recruit Bilbo to go with them on a grand adventure to reclaim the Dwarves' ancestral home (and their treasure) from the dragon Smaug. The journey takes them through all sorts of wonders and dangers in the wild lands.

When J.R.R. Tolkien, the author, submitted the book to a publisher, the publisher wasn't entirely sure what kids would think of it. So he (the publisher) gave it to his own son to read. That boy was about the age of the average Cricket reader. He read The Hobbit and gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, so it became a published book--and the rest is history!

By the way, The Hobbit also leads into the longer, larger story called The Lord of the Rings. I was in fifth grade when I read The Hobbit, sixth grade when I read The Lord of the Rings, and those books were pretty much all I talked about in junior high!

submitted by Fred D., Japan
(July 18, 2008 - 12:29 pm)

Hello, again, Fred!

My favorite part of The Hobbit is when Bilbo is captured by Goblins and then has to outsmart the precious. Then he magically finds the invisiblty ring and escapes from the Goblin mountain. I like this part, because when he had the riddle contest I liked trying to figure out what the answers where! Right now I am reading a series of books by Erin Hunter called Warriors it's about different Clans of wild cats fighting for survival. Another series I enjoy is Redwall by Brain Jacques. And I will most definitely check out your Web site.


P.S. My class was doing a book project and so I did pick it out for myself (three cheers for me!)

P.S.S. I LOVE your story "The Star Shard" so much! I think that Cymbril is part Sidhe!

submitted by Lena, age 11, Pennsylvania
(July 4, 2008 - 4:10 pm)

Hello again, Lena!

So you did pick out The Hobbit on your own! Yes, three cheers for you--no, FOUR cheers! (No, fourteen -- because that's the lucky number, like Bilbo!)

I like the part of The Hobbit that you wrote about, too: the riddle-game, and Bilbo's escape from Gollum and the tunnels under the Misty Mountains. (I also like the part in which Beorn gradually gets the truth about just how many of the company there are! Doesn't he have a line something like, "Don't tell me goblins can't count!"?)

Both Redwall and Warriors sound very interesting! And thank you again for letting me know you like "The Star Shard"!


submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(July 5, 2008 - 12:39 am)

Wow! My two favorite series are the Warriors series and the Redwall series! You should also try the Mistmantle Chronicles. They're really good!

submitted by Holly L., age 12, U.S.A.
(July 12, 2008 - 11:19 am)

Hi, Holly!

Thanks for the book recommendations! It sounds like I have a lot of reading to do!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(July 15, 2008 - 10:45 am)