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, Fred,

Thank you for answering my questions about Cymbril and Loric.  I like it that you use names of real things when you make up the names of your characters.  Like Halcyon and Fey. Do you like to look things up in the dictionary? 

The name Kryat Dragon isn't in the movie, and it is in the book.  But in Star Wars A New Hope you do see the bones of one in the desert when C-3PO passes it.  You can look it up on Wikipedia if you want to see it.  When they finished the movie they just left it in the sand, and it is still there now. 

I have another question for you.  I am drawing a picture of Loric for the Star Shard Fan Art and I am almost finished but I want to give him a sword.  I know he doesn't really have one.  Does all metal hurt the Sidhe? He doesn't use iron and might not even like weapons, but if he was going to have a sword what would it be made of?  Is it OK if I give him one for the picture?  I think he might need one in the Groag Swamp.  

I can't wait for the next part!


submitted by Ethan, age 11
(October 18, 2008 - 5:50 pm)

Hi, Ethan!

Heh, heh--yes, I do like to look up words in dictionaries! The problem is, I can never get straight to the word I'm looking up, because I get sidetracked by four or five other words that I have to stop and read about on the way there. So it takes me a while to look something up. On the good side, though, the dictionary has led me to some good story ideas that I might not have had otherwise. Sometimes ideas for characters, settings, and even plot twists come from words I see in the dictionary. I especially like Webster's, which also has little pictures illustrating some words. The pictures tend to catch my attention, too....

Oh, so that's a Kryat Dragon skeleton that C-3PO walks past! Yes, I remember the scene very well--it's a HUGE skeleton. No wonder the Sandpeople didn't want to stick around when they thought one was coming! I wonder what such large creatures eat in the deserts of Tattooine? Banthas, I guess . . . and maybe Sandpeople?! Wow, so they just left the skeleton there after filming the movie? That's great! I'll bet there are Star Wars tours a person can take in Tunisia. I heard or read the same thing about the house where Luke grew up--the Lars homestead. When A New Hope was made, George Lucas knew he wanted to film the prequels someday, so they left it there, too--so it's the very same house we see in the later-made, earlier-set films.

I'm excited to hear that you're drawing Loric for the Fan Art activity! I can't wait to see your rendition! I think you're right that Loric wouldn't normally use a sword. He'd be much more likely to try to find a peaceful solution to conflict. However, the world being what it is, I'm sure the Sidhe have had to fight, too, at different times in their history. (And you're also right that a sword would come in very handy in the Groag Swamp.)

I think the Sidhe must be able to work metal in their own ways so that it doesn't hurt them. They probably combine it with magic somehow. In one rewrite of the novel-length, longer version of "The Star Shard," I also wrote about a Sidhe warrior who had a sword with a wooden handle. He only touched the wood, and the sheath was leather, so that he never had to touch metal. In that way, a sword for a Sidhe is like a lightsaber--the Jedi can't touch the blades of their lightsabers, either! So, yes, it's fine if you want to draw him with a sword. Again, I'm honored that you're drawing him!

I'm glad you're looking forward to the next part of the story! Things in it are about to get darker and scarier....

Thanks again for helping me find your new message!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 20, 2008 - 11:11 am)

Hi, Fred,

I finished the picture of Loric.  I hope you like it.  Thanks for telling me about the Sidhe warrior who had a sword.  What is his name?  I hope I get to read about him someday.  I love that Loric's sword is like a Jedi lightsaber.  I did give him a wooden handle, is it called a hilt or a pommel? I forget.  And I gave him a leather sheath just like the one you described.  The magic part to make the blade sounds great.  I would love to know how the Sidhe change the metal so they can deal with it.  Will you explain it in your book version?  I hope so.  I bet they make the best swords in Japan.  Have you ever seen anyone make one before?

I think there is a tour to see the Kryat Dragon skeleton.  I would love to see the house where Luke grew up.  Maybe someday I can.  The Lars home was old in the early movie and new in the later movie lol.

One of my favorite parts in The Hobbit is when they cross Mirkwood. I love when Bilbo names his sword and stings the spiders.  I keep wondering if the Groag Swamp will be a journey like that for Loric and Cymbril.  I can't wait to see what happens and if they can get away from the Thunder Rake and get across the swamp!

I wish I could read it now!


submitted by Ethan, age 11, Pennsylvania
(October 23, 2008 - 4:42 pm)

Hi, Ethan!

Very cool that you finished the Loric picture! I can't wait till they start posting the fan art on the site! That Sidhe warrior who had a sword had a very un-Sidhe-like name (which made sense in the context)--he was called "Farlong." I'm not sure yet if he'll appear in the sequel to "The Star Shard"--possibly. :-)

Yes, Japan is famous for its swords! Apparently, it's a process in which extremely thin layers of steel are applied one on top of another. Medieval European swords didn't have to be all that sharp: they cut because they were huge and heavy--like dropping sharpened telephone poles on someone! Heavily-armored knights pounded on each other with their swords--which can't have been very good for the blades! In Japan, the emphasis was on sharpness and precision. I saw a TV comedy sketch in which the medieval Japanese swordsman whirls through the scene--and then slowly, everything falls apart into halves: his enemies, the bamboo trunks in the background . . . and even the moon! (No, I've never seen a sword being made. I'm sure it would be interesting!)

Yes, that is funny about how the Lars house was much older when it was supposed to be much newer! The same was true for the ships and weapons. For Episodes 1-3, the filmmakers had a lot better technology to work with, so things look more advanced than they do in Episodes 4-6, made back in the '70s and '80s!

The journey through Mirkwood is maybe my favorite part of The Hobbit, too! I love the forests in The Lord of the Rings--and the journey through Moria. Trips through dark, dangerous places are the heart of fantasy adventure, aren't they?


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 24, 2008 - 3:01 pm)

Mr. Durbin,

First I have to thank you for writing such a wonderful story. Cymbril, Loric, and their tale inspire me as a girl wondering if someday she could be a writer. I love to make up stories in my head but, as I have discovered, writing them down is a whole 'nother story :). How do you have the patience to coax words to do what you want while trying to hold together a coherrent plot? It's like trying to juggle fire without getting burned. I usually start writing a story and then slowly I run low on inspiration and before I know it a few months have passed and I haven't written anything. I end up wanting to finish, but the story has gotten so big that I can't seem to juggle it anymore, and then the story that I love ends up on the floor gathering dust because I can't find a good ending for it. I admire the way you write and describe your world and hold you characters and your plot together. How do you keep everything straight?

I hope wholeheartedly that "The Star Shard" becomes a book with all the illustrations from the magazine in it. This is the kind of tale I would love to curl up with on rainy days even though I have read it ten hundred times^-^.

submitted by Irisa H., age 17, New York
(October 9, 2008 - 5:41 pm)

Hi, Irisa!

Thank YOU! I'm soooo happy that you like the story and find inspiration in it!

If you really want to be a writer, I believe that you can be. If you can make up stories in your head, you've got the hardest part done. I'll tell you a secret: I don't really like to make up stories in my head. I'm bad at it. For me, that's the hardest part of the work of being a writer. If I have to make up a story, it's like pulling teeth. I feel a lot more confident when it comes to describing a scene -- what the characters see and hear, etc. -- or writing dialogue -- or writing an action scene. But I am AWFUL at sitting down and figuring out a plot. If you have a talent for that part, you've got a great gift! The rest is just making yourself do the work. If you want to see your story in a finished form, as a book or in a magazine, the road to that is some hard work and not giving up. If you really make up your mind to do something, you can do it, right? That's exactly what this takes.

What I've found, when I'm stuck or have "writer's block," is that most often the problem is I'm not putting my mind into the scene enough -- I'm trying to tell the story from a distance. If you get stuck or feel like you're losing inspiration, I'd encourage you to put your face back into the story  -- just like when you're walking in the woods, and you put your face close to a tree to study the bark and the moss. Put yourself into the story. Close your eyes if it helps. Imagine exactly what the characters are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting, and thinking. Describe those perceptions and feelings. I think your story will start to move forward again.

A good thing about writing is that it does get finished little by little, step by step. If you write something down, it stays written. If you improve it, it stays improved. In so many other tasks, that's not true: you wash the dishes, but they get dirty again the next day. You clean the house, but the dust resettles. Writing is fixing words onto the paper (or onto the computer screen and into the memory). What you've gotten done stays done until you decide to change it further. That's a comforting fact. Keep moving your story forward.

How do I keep everything straight? Well, I usually have either a notebook or a plastic box for the story/book I'm working on. I write a bunch of notes on odd scraps of paper, but they all go into the box. As I'm working on the project, I read through those notes periodically to make sure I'm including all the things I want to include. When I've written something into the story, I cross out the note (or throw away the scrap of paper). If there's too much stuff crossed out, I may rewrite the outline so that I can read it clearly again.

Again, thank you very, very much for those wonderful comments about this story! Just today I did a lot of thinking about this story, about how to expand it into a novel, and about how I think "The Star Shard" will be Book One of a 5-book series. That will take some work--but I'll go about it exactly as I've described in this letter. I really appreciate your encouragement! Please work on your writing--I want to see and read your story someday soon!


By the way -- from the lucid and vivid way you write your letter, I already know that you have what it takes to be a writer. Please don't give up!

submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 10, 2008 - 4:14 pm)

The hardest thing for you is to figure out a plot!?  Holy cow!  That's the easiest part for me!  I just pick a subject, like dragons, and I make a story with dragons in it.  It only takes a few minutes.  And the plots are not stolen either.  I figured all writers were like that.  Please don't be offended, it's just a shock for me. 

Thanks for telling me that my review was what you wanted!  Yes, that is the name of the series.  I hope you like the series when you read it!

Well, short on time, have to go.  Talk to you later!


submitted by Julianna H., age 16, Missouri, U.S.
(October 18, 2008 - 8:42 pm)

Hi, Julianna!

Isn't it interesting how different writers can be from one another? If plots come naturally and easily to you, I think you've got a great gift. I know a lot of writers like me who think plots are the hardest.

Even now, I don't really "figure out" my plots in advance. I have to trust that they'll emerge as I'm writing, as the characters are reacting naturally to things that happen. I really admire writers who can get it all worked out before they ever write the first word. I'm sure not like that!


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 19, 2008 - 12:23 pm)


I wanted to tell you that I answered your reply from October 10, but it is a little buried by more notes, so I just wanted to tell you it is there. Do you like to be called Fred or Mr. Durbin?


submitted by Ethan, age 11
(October 19, 2008 - 10:38 am)

Hi, Ethan!

Okay--I answered your message up there--it should appear on the site soon! Thanks for telling me it was there. You were right--I hadn't noticed it yet, since I'm normally focused on the bottom of the page where most of the newest messages come.

It's fine for you to call me Fred. Yes, that's what most people call me (except for my students, who usually call me either Sensei ["Teacher"] or "Mr. Durbin"). Also, I have a 90-year-old neighbor who still calls me "Freddy" just like he did when I was 4 or 5. 

submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 20, 2008 - 11:21 am)

Okay, I answered you back up there.  I also looked it up in the--yep you guessed it--the Dictionary!
pommel - an ornament in the shape of a ball on the hilt of a sword or dagger.
hilt  - the handle, especially of a sword.
Later, Ethan

submitted by Ethan, age 11
(October 23, 2008 - 5:07 pm)

Hi, Ethan!

I answered you back up there, too! Pommel and hilt--way to use that dictionary! I used mine today, too. I was checking the spelling of "gauge." That's one of those words that never looks right to me, and I can't rest until I've made sure I've gotten it right. :-)


submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 24, 2008 - 3:06 pm)

Wow.  I didn't realize that not everyone can come up with stories the way I do.  I've done it my whole life.  It's how I get to sleep.  It's how I function, now that I think about it.  I just thought that everyone was like that.  Maybe I should become an author for a living after all.  Though, it's very hard, and I need to do something else to put bread on the table in case the book(s) don't sell.  Thank you for telling me!  It gives me something to consider.

Irisa, I don't know if this will help, but I will give it a shot.  If you are in the frame of mind that the story has to be perfect the first time, forget it.  When I write, I know that after I write the whole story, I will go back and rewrite it.  I'll add more details, or change whole scenes, or find that perfect word.  Don't think that it has to be perfect the first time, because it most likely won't be.  If you can't find that perfect word, go on and come back to that trouble spot later. 

Like Mr. Durbin said, write down the plot so you won't forget, or any details about a character or place or whatever.  Keep it in a folder or someplace all together, so you won't have to go digging to find all of it (been there, done that). 

Something else that I would do; if you are thinking about the story and suddenly a scene just pops in your head, and you really like, write it down.  Don't worry about if it's later or earlier in the story, write it down.  I've lost scenes that I really liked because I didn't write them down, and trying to remember them was a joke.

Hope this helps.


submitted by Julianna H., age 16, Missouri, US
(October 24, 2008 - 8:11 pm)

Dear Julianna,

Well said! I second everything you just wrote -- excellent advice!

And yes, I think you do have a special talent for spinning plots. You definitely should put that talent to work, and not let it languish.


P.S.--It's how you get to sleep, huh? Sometimes I'll have conversations in order to get to sleep--both sides of the conversation, as if I'm two people. But not plots for stories!

submitted by Fred D., Japan
(October 26, 2008 - 12:48 pm)

Hi Fred,
Surprise!  They have been posting the fan art already.  There were two others there before I sent mine in.  If you click on the SEND US YOUR FAN ART square then look for-
Send us your fan art for "The Star Shard"!  (Click "here" to see what others have sent). I hope lots of people send in their art, it is fun to see the different parts of your story being drawn.

Thanks for telling me about Farlong. Can you explain why he is named that or is it a secret for the book?  I hope his story is in the next book; I would love to read about him. Also are there any battles? I love some fighting in stories and a journey through mysterious places.

I loved the TV show about everything splitting in half!!! I wish I could see it. I laughed so much when I read what you wrote about it.  

Thanks for telling me about all the different swords.

submitted by Ethan, age 11, Pennsylvania
(October 25, 2008 - 9:01 pm)