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, Hadar!

Thank you so much for writing! I'm really happy that you like "The Star Shard"! I'm also glad to hear that you're a writer. Keep it up!

About the difficulty you mentioned: I think the key is imagining yourself inside the story. Really picture it in your mind. Think about it until it's as real as the world around you. Usually, when I find a story of my own going wrong or feeling "stupid," it's because I've stepped outside of it, and I'm trying to tell it at a distance. It's easy to get lazy as writers and to write things we don't really mean or haven't thought through. We write them just because they're easy. So get close to your story. Put your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and fingertips inside it--and also your emotions. If you really focus on what your main character is perceiving and thinking and feeling, I can almost guarantee that your story will no longer seem "stupid"--it will be about a very real person in a real situation. (And remember, don't make things easy for your main character! The challenges should be real and very hard to overcome. Also, don't make your character a "superman"--s/he should be a normal person, with fears and weaknesses just like the rest of us.)

As to your question about writing on paper vs. writing on a computer: I've done both, but I almost always write on a computer now. For me, that's faster and easier, and it's much easier to make changes later. If you know how to type, the computer makes it very simple get your thoughts quickly into a fixed form. However, you don't have to do it that way. The brilliant writer Joyce Carol Oates writes her rough drafts by hand on paper, because she doesn't want to spend all her time looking at a computer screen. And Garrison Keillor has pointed out that maybe the computer makes things too fast and easy--that maybe we should be forced to think a little more about each sentence before it's in a fixed form. So if you prefer writing with a pen or pencil on paper, you're in good company. (What's funny is that Mark Twain raved about the new technology that allowed him to get his thoughts down on paper as fast as he had them--and he was talking about the manual typewriter, which was the brand-new technology in his day! He was one of the first professional writers to compose stories on a typewriter.)

Sometimes I switch for variety, or if I'm away from my computer. My Cricket story "The Enchanted Mountain" was written with a pen on paper.

You asked about time. The rough draft of "The Star Shard" took me about a month, as I recall. Maybe a little longer. Of course, there was a lot of revising after that!

No--I didn't have a really clear idea of the whole story before I started writing it. I knew very roughly how I wanted it to end, but I had no idea how the story would get there. I discovered the whole plot by letting the characters act naturally, by paying close attention to what they would be experiencing, and by asking myself questions at every step.

Keep on writing!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(July 31, 2008 - 1:13 pm)

this is really freaky, but i just wrote a letter alot like yours and then i found yours and was like oh my gosh! I have the exact same problem! it can b really anoying when i  like the begining!

submitted by Gabrielle, age 13, MI
(August 11, 2008 - 11:19 am)

You have the FIRST ISSSSUE of Cricket that is awesome. Do you read the old issues a lot?

submitted by Zoe, age 12, Maine
(August 8, 2008 - 4:51 pm)

Hi, Zoe!

I wish I could say yes, but to be honest, I have to say no -- I haven't read the old issues in a long time. But being reminded of them by this discussion, and especially hearing your question, I really want to read them again!

P.S.--It's great that you live in Maine! I can remember one of the first books my parents read to me when I was a baby was One Morning in Maine. I loved the illustrations and the idea of digging clams to eat I also loved the idea of blueberries growing all over the place!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(August 10, 2008 - 11:49 am)

That is so cool that you have been reading Cricket since the begining! Do you have a favorite isssue? What is your favorite story? What is it about? I also write a little bit, but I only get ideas (unless I am writing for school- then for some reason I can get through the story), so I get the first page and then I stop. I have about ten started ideas, but I can never get past that! Any ideas? Thanks!

submitted by gabrielle, age 13, MI
(August 11, 2008 - 11:10 am)

Hi, Gabrielle!

That is funny that your letter was so much like the other one that came in at around the same time! I guess I've already answered some of your questions. As for the others: I don't think I can choose a favorite issue or story. There have been so many good ones!

As to how to get from the idea stage to the finished story stage: in the Chatterbox on this site, some people have talked about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It's an activity based on the premise that the reason we usually don't finish writing a book is because we don't have a deadline. When you write stories for school, you have a deadline. The teacher tells you exactly when something needs to be turned in. If we can apply that same discipline to our creative stories, we can finish them in the same way. So one technique is to give yourself a deadline -- preferably, decide what days you'll be writing (every day, or however many days a week your schedule will allow -- maybe it's an hour in the evening three nights a week -- or whatever fits with your schedule). Then decide how many words you can reasonably write during that time. (Computers make it easy to count your words.) Then stick to the schedule! It's amazing how the finished pages pile up when you make yourself keep to a quota.

I hope that helps!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(August 15, 2008 - 10:39 am)

What advice do you have for young writers who wish to become published authors?

submitted by Kendra P., age 13, B.C. Canada
(August 20, 2008 - 3:48 pm)

Hi, Kendra! Thanks for writing!

And thanks for writing! I'm always excited to hear from someone else who loves to put words on paper. My advice to young writers who want to become published authors?

1. Read. If you don't already, give yourself permission to read voraciously. Read for pleasure; read what you love. (Isn't that wonderful homework to have?)

2. Write. That's really the only way you're going to get published: write a lot. Keep on writing, and never give up. Finish your stories--lots of people start stories, but not very many keep writing until the stories are done. And don't be reluctant to revise and edit your stories until they're as good as they can be.

Have you been watching the Olympics? There's a lesson we writers can learn from the Olympics. Think about how much those athletes train for those games. Their whole lives are focused on what they do best. They work and work and work and strive to get better and better. That's what it takes for us, too. If you want to be a published author, writing can't just be something you "play with" now and then. You have to focus on it and work at it. If you can find good "coaches" along the way, so much the better. Meet other writers, join writers' groups, go to conferences, and learn all you can.

But most of all, just keep reading the books you love and writing what you want to write. Write the stories you love to read. Don't give up!

I wish you the best in your writing efforts. It's definitely worth it!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(August 21, 2008 - 2:44 pm)


I love your story, Mr. Durbin!  I just got the September/October issue and I can't wait for more!  I'm with you on the illustrations.  I love them!  I wish I could put some on my wall.  One of the many things that I love about this magazine is the art.

I really hope that someone buys the book!  And soon!  I love "The Star Shard," and to think this is only a piece and not the full story!  It makes me so excited!  If it comes out, it WILL be on my bookshelf.

I've been writing since I was 11.  I have 2 complete stories.  They aren't good.  One was my first book, and I was addicted to Lord of the Rings at the time so most of the story in a way is stolen.  It's fun to read (for me) because it shows how young and innocent I was!  I can remember writing certain scenes, what I was thinking at the time.  It can be like traveling back in time! 

My second one is ok.  If I really worked on it, it most likely would be great.  But I don't want to work on it right now, so I'll keep it and work on it some other time.  I still learned a lot writing it.

I'm working on another story right now.  (See, I have all of these ideas in my head, had them in there for years, and I'm figuring out how to put them on paper.)  I barely know the ending.  I just started writing, and this story just came out!  I understand now what it means to let the characters tell the story.  On my second book, I had it all planned out, and I think I told the story, not the characters, if that makes sense.  I can't wait to get back to writing it!

Thank you for writing such a great story!  I knew Cymbril wasn't a pure human!  My word!  Just writing that one sentence has me all wired up again!  Man, I can't wait for more!  Can't wait for more story and illistrations!

Julianna H.

P.S. I'm addicted to books!  Sometimes I prefer books to TV.  I have a whole bookshelf of books, lists of books to read in my dresser, and I'm finding more books to read every day!  I simply don't have enough time!

submitted by Julianna H., age 16, Missouri, US
(August 25, 2008 - 6:35 pm)

Hi, Julianna!

Thank you so much for your letter and for your wonderful compliments on "The Star Shard"! I am thrilled that you like the story so much! (Yes, those illustrations continue to be wonderful, don't they? I can't wait, either, to see them each month!)

As a writer, you sound a whole lot like me in several ways. When I started writing, I was also addicted to The Lord of the Rings, so my earliest stories were imitations of it. You're very right with both of your stories to keep them in a safe place. It's not only fun to look back at them, but also you never know when parts of them may come in handy in what you'll be writing. Yes, by all means, save what you write! And I think you're right, too, that different projects have their own times. You may not feel like working on that second one right now, but maybe the time will come when you are ready to work on it again. Sometimes old stories call out to you and demand to be finished. Yes, it sounds as if you're on the right track with writing: don't rush things, and let the characters tell their story. Don't try to force them to do things. Be sensitive to what the characters would do . . . what they are telling you.

I know what you mean about having so many books you want to read. I'm the same way: books in drawers, books in boxes, books on shelves, and lists of books I haven't bought yet but want to read. We really have to choose carefully, because we can't possibly read them all. But isn't it a great choice to have before you?

Everything you've told me sounds excellent for you as a writer. Just go to it, keep reading and writing -- and thank you again for your kind letter!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(August 27, 2008 - 2:48 pm)

It doesn't look like anyone's been on here for a while but I'll write anyway.

Fred, I LOVE "The Star Shard"!! I enjoy any fantasy story that inclues elves or pixies. Yours is awesome, but I don't really like it when you get an issue, there's a large cliffhanger, and you have to wait another month (or 2) to get the next issue!!

Do you have any other books? If so, what are they and what's the plot?



P.S. Mehoo is NOT my name... it is my INTERNET name...

submitted by Mehoo
(September 13, 2008 - 8:10 am)

Hi, Mehoo!

Thank you! I'm really happy that you like the story! I know what you mean about cliffhangers--they're frustrating. To be honest, when I was a kid reading Cricket and other magazines or comic books, I didn't like serialized stories. I preferred ones that were finished in one installment. Some people seem to like that suspense of waiting, and others don't. But when the story is big (long), I guess there's really no choice--it can't fit into one issue!

I have some other stories in magazines, and my one book so far is called Dragonfly. It's the story of a girl who goes into an underground kingdom where it's constantly Hallowe'en night. She has to escape from (and overcome) vampires, monsters, and all kinds of dangers. It's an eerie adventure story. If you like "The Star Shard," you would probably like Dragonfly. (And the good thing about a book is that you can have the whole story right there--you won't have to wait a month or two to read the next part!) :-)

Thanks again for your great letter!


submitted by Fred Durbin, Japan
(September 16, 2008 - 10:16 am)

Just how do you make "The Star Shard" so enchanting?! 

I do enjoy "The Star Shard" very much! Ever since I've started on fantasy books like Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series and C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, I've been hooked to them immensely. Most of the time, I sit around and said, (I don't know how many times I've done that) "How I wish the world was like that!"


I love the way you describe Cymbril's world in such a realistic manner. I can imagine myself in them, most of the time! The animals themselves seem very magical as well. From the second chapter, I thought that Cymbril was Loric's sibling. They do look very much alike in Ms. Emily's illustrations. Do send her my great regards as well!


Oh please, pleaseee. Don't let their adventure end so soon! I really want to read more about their enchanting world, and do continue as you are!


Wishing you a good day,


submitted by Altariel P., Singapore
(September 13, 2008 - 7:36 am)

Duh! Of course you love it!

submitted by JC, USA
(September 14, 2008 - 4:44 pm)

Hi, JC!

I'll take that as a compliment. :-) Thank you! But I wouldn't say "Duh" about it--I don't take it for granted that readers will like the story. I'm really happy and grateful every time I hear from someone who enjoys the tale of Cymbril. Thank you for your super-confident vote of confidence!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(September 16, 2008 - 10:35 am)