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."

Hello, Altariel!

You have such a wonderful name! It could easily be the name of an elf or Sidhe--a beautiful name. Anyway, thank you so much for your encouraging comments about the story! As to your question at the beginning, I think the world we live in is enchanting and magical. To "create" an enchanting world in a story, the writer really just has to observe carefully and be faithful to the world around us. If you study a tree, for instance, and describe exactly what you see--the sunlight shimmering on the leaves, the icy blue shade underneath, the pitted gray bark, the knothole in which things rustle and eyes glitter--it sounds like you're describing something magical. But we have such trees in our own backyards, or in the nearby park at least! I would say that's the key to writing tales of magical worlds: look very carefully at our own world, and describe the features you like most about it. And we haven't even started on people!

I've often had just that same thought when reading fantasy books: "I wish the world were like that!" When we find a story we love, we want to live inside it! It sounds as if you haven't discovered Middle-earth yet--in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. What fantastic adventures await you! Those are my favorite fantasy books of all, along with Richard Adams's Watership Down.

And never fear: the adventures of Loric and Cymbril won't be ending anytime soon! Even when "The Star Shard" is over, the story continues. I'm hard at work writing about that right now! I hope and dream that "The Star Shard" will be the first book in a series about Cymbril.

Thank you again for your fantastic letter! And happy reading always!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(September 16, 2008 - 10:30 am)

I just read parts 1-4 and have become completely captured by both the story and the art.  I read part 4 first and then realized it was a continuation, so I went looking through old issues to find the first 3.  I can't say it enough, what an incredible character (or characters) you have written.  My head is spinning with wonder and excitement!  My biggest question is how many parts are there going to be total and what month will the last one be in?  I am dieing here and if it were a book I'd go buy it NOW!  Thank you for writing it and thanks to Cricket for publishing it as well as so many great stories for kids (and their moms).  Simply WONDERFUL!!!

submitted by Tricia A., age 42, PA
(September 14, 2008 - 12:05 am)

Tricia, I believe "The Star Shard"  will continue in each issue until the last episode appears in the April 2009 Cricket.

submitted by Old Cricket, age As old as , The Library
(September 14, 2008 - 8:04 pm)

Hi, Tricia!

Thank you so much for writing! Old Cricket has answered your main question better than I could have--I never know exactly where the story will be divided, either, or how many issues it will appear in, so I'm glad to have read that answer, too (thanks, Old Cricket)!

But, again, I'm so delighted and grateful to hear how much you are enjoying the story! I have an agent who is working hard to sell "The Star Shard" as a book--and I have a very kind editor who is working with me to expand it a little to make it book-length. I envision this as Book One in a fantasy series about Cymbril. So please help me by keeping your fingers crossed! And thank you once more for your great encouragement. The very best moment for a writer is receiving a letter like yours!

Warmest regards,


submitted by Fred D., age 42, Japan
(September 16, 2008 - 10:44 am)
Dear Fred,
I am excited about the possibility of "The Star Shard" becoming a series.  Great writing is something I am constantly on the search for.  I had a learning disability as a child and reading was almost impossible for me but great books in my teens and twenties were sufficient motivation to tempt past the early pages.  Now I homeschool my children and my son also has a similar issue with reading, so I have really tried to supply his world with wonderful literature and stories that take you on a grand adventure.  He is reading The Hobbit right now, which I see from reading through your answers to readers you are a fan of as well.  I would love your story to become a series so we can to add it to our beloved collection of favorites.  My son read The Chronicles of Narnia last year for fifth grade and he has asked so many times for another "set" of books like them, so I know there is a market for what you have written!  There is something "magical" about C.S. Lewis and JRRT (my personal favorite authors) and your story is the first one to come along that has excited me in the same way.  I will cross my fingers, or eyes, or anything that will help your book become a book, I will cross.
I have read "The Star Shard" to my family as well as to children I am close to and to friends children and it has been unanimously agreed that I am not overreacting here.  I am going this weekend to visit friends who have seven kids and I am taking all my issues of Cricket with me from April to September and have a reading of "The Star Shard." I know they will love it and add instantly to your fan base which is already a great group.  I have to say your questions and answers to young writers is very well done, you and Cricket make a great pair.  You are very encouraging in regards to the creative process, it really is helpful and inspiring. 
Thank you also for writing me back, I wondered if my note would even go in, as I was not a child but I was happy to find out how much longer Cymbril's story is going to be.  So now I am delighted that I have more to read about her but I am also tortured to find out this is a year long process from start to finish, at least I came in late so it won't take as long.  As I told you I started to read part 4 before I knew there were previous sections and as soon as I realized that it was a continuation I tried to set it down and go find the other months... but I couldn't stop reading it.  I kept thinking "go get the other parts and then read this" but I found myself at the end of the last page facing those dreaded words 'to be continued' before I could set it down to go search out part 1-3.  Now THATS great writing.     
I guess in all of this I should get to a question.  I saw the title The Witching Wild discussed here (which I like BTW) and wondered if you could explain a bit more about that.  Is it the name of the series with "The Star Shard" being the first volume?  From the parts of the site I read, it looks like the series will still be about Cymbril and what happens in her life, which is great news, what a fantastic character you have written.  Did you get the idea of her from anywhere or anyone in your life?  I love the way she has the "who she is" that just comes from deep inside of herself and shapes her.  And then in contrast we see the ideas and understanding of Loric who hasn't been exposed to Cymbril's world (or prison) aboard the Thunder Rake.  I loved this moment between them- "Oh, you can come. It's just that you make it sound like ... a 'deal,' like something Master Rombol would say. 'If you'll promise, then I'll help you.' I think you've been here too long."
And I have many many others but this is already way to long and I must leave some room on your site for everyone else. Thank you again for your beautiful story, it will touch many people.  I am looking forward to April of 09 in a whole new way! 
All the Best and GOOD LUCK- 
submitted by Tricia A., PA
(September 17, 2008 - 10:12 am)

Dear Tricia,

Thank you for that wonderful letter! I am quite overwhelmed by your encouragement and enthusiasm for this story--THANK YOU times several thousand! :-) Tolkien and Richard Adams are certainly my two favorites, and to be compared with Tolkien and Lewis is . . . well, indescribable! All I can say is thank you and all glory to God!

I totally hear you about the joys of reading at an early age. My parents opened our town's first bookstore, and I have very fond memories of curling up in the back room of it with whatever book I was reading at the time. I was the type of kid who lived in the world of this or that book. Middle-earth was about all I talked about from ages 11-16. It's so fantastic that you are passing along the love of reading to your kids! And thank you for sharing "The Star Shard" with other people, too!

As to your questions: you know, I haven't completely decided whether The Witching Wild will be the title of the series overall or the title of the second book. The second book, I think. This idea has become clearer since some of the letters on this site were written, so if you're reading back through them, you'll see The Witching Wild mentioned as the working title of the first book--that's no longer the plan. The Witching Wild is a geographic place, and the first book simply isn't going to get that far! Another title to search for every year or so is Halcyon Fey. That might be the title for the overall series. A lot will depend on exactly how it takes shape. But yes, I believe the whole series will be about Cymbril. (Oops, that's a giveaway! Now you know that she's going to survive! Heh, heh!)

I'm delighted that you like the character of Cymbril so much! As to where the idea of her came from, I think she's basically me--she's a lot like how I was as a kid. I was a boy, of course, so I'm not sure why she's a girl, except that's the way she came to me. For me, characters often grow from their names, and I knew her name before I knew much about her. In my novel Dragonfly, the main character is also a young girl. Some readers have asked me how I was able to "know the thoughts of a pre-teen girl so well," which sort of mystifies me. Again, I was just writing myself into the part . . . probably there's a certain amount of the writer in every character s/he writes, no matter how extreme or evil the character may be. But I don't know as there's anything uniquely girl about either Cymbril or Dragonfly, the main character in Dragonfly. I'll give you one quick example of how Cymbril springs from me myself: I live in Japan, and especially when I first came over here, foreigners were rarer (especially in small towns) and were sometimes treated as "pets" in a way, much like how Cymbril is treated by the market crowds. So the emotions Cymbril feels in such circumstances are very much the same ones I've felt in similar situations. And like Cymbril, I love to sing . . . and I dislike having to dress up in fancy clothes . . . and I like to explore, just as she explores the Thunder Rake. . . . (etc.)

Thanks for the part you quoted that you especially liked! I had a great deal of fun writing the clash between the cultural values of the Sidhe and humankind. I like how Loric takes things literally and absorbs everything, like when Rombol tells him not to look at things that don't belong to him, so he really can't look at anything! Heh, heh. Some readers have said Loric is their favorite character, and I think Emily Fiegenschuh's illustrations have a lot to do with that--her Loric looks great!

Thanks again for your tremendously uplifting letters!

Warmest regards,


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(September 17, 2008 - 3:57 pm)

Dear Mr. Durbin,
I really like your story so far.  The name Halcyon Fey sounds very familiar.  Have you talked about it before?  Is that the place the Sidhe are from originally?  How do you say it? Is it like Falcon the bird of prey or is it Hal-see-on?  It sounds cool.  It sounds elvish somehow.  I like Loric very much and the Strongarms.  I am an artist and I think the pictures are great.  I hope you get to be a book someday. 
Why do you live in Japan?  Do you still come to the USA to visit? 
My favorite book is also The Hobbit.  I have never read Watership Down but now I will.  Star Wars is my very favorite story of all though.
May the force be with you-

submitted by Ethan A., age 11, Tantooine
(September 18, 2008 - 6:32 pm)

Dear Ethan,

Hello, and thank you for writing! I'm really happy
that you like the story! I see that you're 11. That's exactly how old I
was when the first Star Wars movie (now called Episode 4) 
came out! I loved it so much that I saw it 13 times in theaters, and I
still have all the lines memorized. I agree that Star Wars is an amazingly wonderful story.

Fey--Hmm. I'm not sure how much of "The Star Shard" you've read so far,
but a "Halcyon Fey" (according to my story) is a person who is
half-human, half-Sidhe. It's pronounced "HAL-see-on." It's actually a
real English word with a different meaning (see any dictionary). :-) I
do that a lot in writing fantasy: I borrow real English words and give
them new meanings, but there's always some part of the original meaning
that I want readers to remember. The Thunder Rake is another example.
"Thunder" and "rake"  have their meanings that everyone knows, of
course--but put them together in this story, and they have another

The Sidhe in my story (or, rather, some of them) are from a place called Gorhyv Glyn, which is only one part of the Fey Realm.

live in Japan in order to teach English to Japanese university
students. I first came to Japan as a Lutheran volunteer missionary
teacher. Now I work directly for Niigata University. Yes--I visit the
States every summer, and again briefly every fall for the World Fantasy
Convention, where writers, editors, ARTISTS, agents, and fans of
fantasy gather. It's a huge amount of fun! If you ever have the chance
to go, you'd probably love it.

It's wonderful that you're an
artist! Have you written to Emily Fiegenschuh, who is doing the artwork
for "The Star Shard"? I'm sure she'd  love to  hear from you!

I really like the Strongarms, too! They may be my favorite characters in this story. I'm glad you like The Hobbit! Yes, I totally recommend Watership Down!

May the Force be with you, too!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(September 19, 2008 - 4:45 pm)

Dear Mr. Durbin how cool that you saw star wars 13 times in the theater. I have all the lines from A New Hope memorized also. I came in third at a Star Wars trivia contest and I was the only child.  I had 38 out of 40 and first place had all 40 right. I was almost 10 when I saw the first movie (episode 4) and for my 11th birthday I just saw Clone Wars.  I have seen all the movies now except the last one and it will be a while before I get to see Revenge of the Sith because it is PG-THIRTEEN and I am eleven.  I bet it was cool though to see them in the big screen at the theatre. What state is the Fall World Fantasy Convention in and when? 

When will part 4 come out on the computer of The Star Shard? It is hard to wait for them. The summer is terrible because two months in a row you have to wait two months for one part. I can't wait to see what happens. I will write to Emily Fiegenschuh too I think her art is great.  If you publish your story into a book will her art still be in it? I hope so.  If I wanted to write you a letter or send a picture I drew to you or to Emily can I send it to the Cricket adress? Will you get it in Japan? [Note from Cricket: We will soon be posting Star Shard fan art on our Web site, where everybody can see it. Check back for instructions soon.]

It is so cool you were a missionary for your church.  How old were you when you started to do missionary work?  I want to go on a mission when I am older too.  Will you ever live in the states again someday?  Is it hard to be a writer and have a job at the same time? I like to write stories sometimes too. Do you have any advice for keeping writing when it is hard to finish a story you are working on? How old were you when you first thought of Cymbril, Loric, and the Strongarms? Or how long ago?

Thanks for writing to me I am glad you like the same stories I do. May the force be with you... Ethan
Ps. I like the name Halcyon Fey, I looked it up. 

submitted by Ethan, age 11, Tatooine
(September 23, 2008 - 9:47 am)

Hi again, Ethan!

That's awesome about the Star Wars trivia contest! 38/40! A New Hope seems to have the most quotable, memorizable lines. Do you have any of the other movies memorized? For me, it's only A New Hope. And Jaws, and I would do pretty well with all three The Lord of the Rings films! How was Clone Wars? I haven't seen it yet.

The World Fantasy Convention is held in a different place each fall. Last year it was in Saratoga Springs, New York. This year it's in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). It's always in the U.S. or Canada.

I'm sure it is hard to wait for the on-line installments of "The Star Shard"! I don't know exactly when Part 4 will be up on the site--that's up to the people at Cricket! :-) I'm guessing it will be soon, because I see the October issue is displayed on the website already.

If "The Star Shard" does become a book, I certainly hope we can get Emily Fiegenschuh to do the artwork! I'll definitely suggest/request her. That decision is normally made by the book's publisher, but usually the publisher asks the author if s/he has suggestions about the artwork. I would think that, since her illustrations for this story will already be done, and since they've been so popular with readers of Cricket, that there would be a strong possibility of her illustrating the book.

About letters and drawings you would like to send--yes, you could certainly write to me at Cricket--and did you notice what Cricket told you (above) about the call for fan art? We're all hoping to see pictures that readers draw for "The Star Shard"! I'd love to see your artwork and to hear from you!

About mission work: well,  when I was in college, I spent my summers going up to northern Ontario, Canada, to help with vacation Bible school programs in native North American villages. I started my work in Japan at age 22, just out of university. Yes, I will very likely live in the States again someday--probably as early as next year. I'm strongly considering that now.

In some ways, yes, it's hard to be a writer and have another job at the same time. Most writers wish they could spend all day writing! But the reality is that most of us can't; it's something we do because we love it, tucked in and around our jobs and other responsibilities. But it's not all bad having a job, either. Jobs teach us about other things, and they bring us into contact with people. All of that helps with writing! A famous writer said, "Being more than a writer makes you more of a writer." In other words, all experiences in life become fuel or raw ingredients for our writing. So having a job is good, too! Plus, I think we all need time away from our computers. If I didn't have to go outside and go to work, I might become a big space slug like Jabba!

It's wonderful that you are a writer, too! What kinds of stories do you write?

Hmm...advice for how to keep writing when it's hard to finish? Maybe you could count words (your computer has a way to do that, of course--usually in the Tools menu). Decide that you will write a certain number of words each time you write. Write that many words, even if the story isn't finished in that number. If you keep doing that each time, pretty soon the story will be finished. Does that make sense? In this idea, you focus on putting out words, and in doing that, you also put out "story." That's only one technique, and I'm sure not everyone would like it. You could read through the other letters in this column for lots of other ideas! :-)

How long ago did I think of Cymbril, Loric, and the Strongarms? About five or six years ago, I think, when I was writing this story. None of them were in my mind for a long time before the story--they all came pretty much together.

I'm glad you like the name Halcyon Fey! Thanks again for writing, and may the Force be with you!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(September 26, 2008 - 2:39 am)

Hi, Mr. Durbin,
Yeah, on the trivia it was awesome. There were lots of people there maybe 200 kids and adults and the top five teams went to the finals. I was in second place at the end of the all-around and I am 99% sure I was the only child to make it to the finals. I dropped to third place on this question; let's see if you know it without looking it up?
What sound did Obi Wan Kenobi make (what animal did he imitate) that scared away the sand people? (1min) :-)

I think I know all of the Original Trilogy movies and could quote most of the lines from them, but I am learning the Episode one and two also. Other movies I like to quote are The Three Musketeers and The Scarlet Pimpernel and Robin Hood. Oh, and The Princess Bride (I am not left-handed either).

So you like to quote Jaws? I have heard about it, but it sounds creepy. How old were you when you saw it? I want to see The Lord of the Rings so bad, but I have to read the books first. Maybe I will read The Fellowship of the Ring this summer. I have lots of the action figures of the characters and I make up my own stories of Middle-Earth with them. Your Loric reminds me of if Legolas was still a boy, and it is how I have imagined him lots of times.

I wish I knew about the WFC last year because I go to NY all the time. We lived there all my life, and I just moved away last September, but I still visit my friends in NY, and it’s only a three-hour drive away. I have never been to Canada; will it ever come back to NY again someday?

It was funny that the day after I asked you about part 4 it came out on the site the next day! Now I can't wait for October. I hope we get to find out more about Loric and Goryv Glen. I love mysteries. I like to write all kinds of stories. Lots of them are space adventures and copying what I like from the movies and books I love. I also like to write stories that are the rest of what could happen, like a part 2. If I read a book sometimes I decide how it would all turn out and write my own ending. Or sometimes I rewrite the same story but from a different character's perspective. Like once I wrote about the snakes viewpoint and then the story was very different when she was the main character. And I love to write comic strips because I get to do the art and the story.

When did you first get your idea for the Thunder Rake? I read that one of your ideas was from the Sandcrawler?

I will send in Star Shard Fan Art as soon as I finish it for sure. Oh "A big space slug like Jabba" lol.

submitted by Ethan, age 11, Letter number 2
(September 28, 2008 - 10:58 am)

I Just had to leave you a note.

On the Star Wars episode 4 trivia question I left you in the last letter there is a mistake.  My original letter somehow deleted off the computer when I was almost done with it so I had to start all over again. My mom retyped it for me and I told her what to say but she wrote it wrong. She thought Tuskin Raiders are the same as Sandpeople.

The Question is:

What animal sound did Obi Wan Kenobi imitate to scare away the Tuskin Raiders?

Good Luck,



submitted by Ethan, age 11
(September 28, 2008 - 1:25 pm)

 Hi. I was in the library and saw the cover of Cricket September 2008 edition and looked into it. My eyes were glued to The Star Shard and i went online to look for it. I was dissapointed when I found out it was only a magzine article and I hope that you turn it into a book one day. I promise I will be the first one who buys the book. lol.

Brooke G.


submitted by Brooke G., age 13, Austell, GA
(September 23, 2008 - 8:34 pm)

......... and I will be second!!! (LOL's) 

submitted by Abygael, age 12, NYC
(September 24, 2008 - 1:38 pm)

Thanks, Abygael!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(September 26, 2008 - 2:45 am)