Encouragement

Yes, it’s a lame title, I know. But good titles are hard to come up with, aren’t they? Just a little while ago I was complaining to a friend about the trouble I’ve had finding a title for one of my works-in-progress. I was calling it The Fires of the Deep until an editor told me I’d better change it so that no one would confuse it with Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. Recently, I thought I had it all figured out: I was going to call it The Twilight. Beautiful, right? But what is every girl and her mom in America reading right now?–yep, a little something called Twilight. Sigh. Anyway, titles fascinate me. (Back in the early days of this blog, I asked readers what some of their favorite titles were. Anyone else want to ring in on that? I still say the current reigning champion is The Pillars of the Earth. I’m not talking about content, mind you: just sheer titular awesomeness.)

But anyway! I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness this week for the letters that continue to come in, either to Cricket (which Cricket very kindly forwards to me) or on the Web site (www.cricketmagkids.com/corner/frederic-s-durbin). Now, to keep things in perspective, not 100% of readers like the story. On the Web site, in some of the discussion threads, there are a few readers who say they haven’t read it — that they’ve avoided reading it — which is understandable. As a kid, I was put off by continued stories. I disliked them in comic books, I disliked them on TV, and I disliked them in magazines. I much preferred stories that ended inside one cover. Long was fine, but I never wanted to see “to be continued.” So I understand where those readers are coming from.

There are also some readers who say “What’s all this fuss about ‘The Star Shard’? I don’t like it.” Those always upset me, and that’s human nature, I suppose: no matter how many kids say they love it, when one comes along who says s/he doesn’t, I’m all aargh and ouch. I walk around for the rest of the day with one of those smoldering cartoon balloons over my head — the kind that are just full of dark scribbles. The worst was one who said she didn’t think Cymbril acted like a real girl. Coming from a real girl, that hurt! Another wrote that she didn’t think Cymbril really wanted to escape from the Thunder Rake — and actually, that’s quite a fair and astute observation. Cymbril does have mixed feelings about escaping, and that’s an important part of the story for me. It explores the true nature of happiness. What is the difference between a blessing and a burden? Is there always a clear difference? Can there be an overlapping of the two? What is the nature of freedom? “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage.”

Most often, though, the naysayers then go on to rip on the illustrations — and if anyone starts ripping on those, which are breathtakingly gorgeous and perfectly appropriate to the story, then I know the commenters are just plain out to attack, and I don’t feel as bad. It’s like how, if someone starts spouting racial slurs, for example, you know you don’t have to worry too much about that person’s opinions.

(To be clear: most readers are saying good things about “The Star Shard” — I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a controversial story. To the best of my knowledge, the response to it has been quite good.)

But to speak of the illustrations brings me to another point: I am fully aware that a lot of the enthusiasm readers have for “The Star Shard” is on account of the pictures. Some readers have said, “I love this story — especially the pictures!” I can tell that some love Loric because of the way the artist has drawn him. If this story were published without the artwork, I don’t think it would be nearly as popular. One of the funniest things is how Cymbril’s dresses have built up a fan base among younger teen and pre-teen girls! That’s something I certainly didn’t think about when writing the story, but the fact that her Master dictates exactly what she wears at each of the markets is another significant part of the character’s development . . . and the artist has made the costumes all look so good that we get letters and fan art centered on Cymbril’s wardrobe! (If the series ever does well enough to generate a line of action figures, we’ll have to have Pink-Dress Cymbril, Green-Dress Cymbril, Puffy-Sleeves Cymbril. . . .)

Three letters this week have been particularly encouraging. One reader wrote: “I wanted to tell you that I am totally hooked on ‘The Star Shard’ (April 2008-2009)! It is one of the most incredible continued stories I have read. . . .”

Another was from a young person whose life was completely turned on its side recently when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Now she has to endure daily injections, and everything is different; but she says Cricket and “The Star Shard” have been a source of fun that she really looks forward to. When you hear things like that. . . .

Finally, just today I read a letter that said “The Star Shard” made the person start reading Cricket! She had always considered Cricket to be her sister’s magazine. One day she picked it up idly and read Part V of my story, and she was so captivated by it that she went tearing around the house digging through National Geographics in search of the earlier installments in Cricket! She went on to say that if this becomes a book, she’s definitely going to buy it.

And a great many fans have said that — they’re clamoring for a book. One wrote that it’s the sort of story one curls up with on a rainy day and reads even though one has read it many times before — wow!

So it continues to be an overwhelming, humbling experience. I never dreamed I’d be in this place as a writer — even a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. Soli Deo gloria — “To God alone be glory”!

By about the end of this week, Lord willing, I’ll be delivering the novel-length version of The Star Shard to my agent. If he finds no problems with it, he’ll pass it along to the editor who has expressed a significant interest in it (and whose detailed notes I used carefully in the expansion process). This is a critical phase: will the story stand up without the illustrations? Have I successfully built a novel — or rather, helped a novel to grow — around the more streamlined version? I feel good about it and would certainly appreciate the prayers of anyone so inclined that The Star Shard will find a publisher as Book One of a series — and that readers will embrace the book as they have the magazine story!

Okay, on a humorous note: my computer’s grammar- and spelling-checker cracks me up! It always goes nuts over my fiction, griping endlessly about my use of commas. It hates all reflexive pronouns, even when they’re used correctly — like photocopy machines made after about 1990, it thinks it knows better than any silly human what needs to be done. Again and again, my grammar-checker says to me, “You can’t be serious,” to which I reply, “I’m deadly serious. Now back way off.”

This is the hilarious part: this evening I was making a worksheet for my academic writing kids. It was a whole sheet of sentences with no punctuation whatever — my students will be adding the commas, colons, and semicolons needed. By force of habit, I ran the spell- and grammar check — and the computer instantly gave the green light to the whole page. No problems at all!

So there you are. If you want to be really correct, just don’t use punctuation. Don’t use any. None. Just don’t use it. Let your sentences run on and your clauses commingle.

It’s just like how our society believes that “I” is always more correct than “me.” Always, in every case. “Me” is for unschooled cretins. And every single “s” should have an apostrophe in front of it. In fact, I think they’re teaching the alphabet that way in schools now, aren’t they?

. . . O P Q R ‘S T U V. . .

On that note, until next time — many ble’s’sing’s!

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23 Responses to “Encouragement”

  1. Gabe Dybing Says:

    I’m praying for the novel, and, at this point, think I’m REALLY missing out. I wonder if I can track down all the Cricket issues that The Star Shard has appeared in somehow.

  2. Gabe Dybing Says:

    I mean: “novel and, at this point, think…” 😀

  3. Lizzie Borden Says:

    “The Listening House” by Mabel Seeley is one that I’ve always loved because it so perfectly explains that pregnant hush you hear when you wake up out of a deep sleep at 4 am and think you’ve heard something rattling downstairs- and there’s that atmospheric feel as though the entire house has suddenly gasped and stopped breathing and is listening intently to the dark.. and the things that might be in it.. but then I *am* a little odd.

  4. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I have been following along with Cymbril and Loric aboard the Thunder Rake since Part 4. Somehow I hadn’t noticed the story in the previous editions of the magazine, or realized that this was a continued story. I hadn’t even noticed the cover that month, or payed any attention to it really. But something caught my eye as I was flipping through the pages, scanning the articles for something to use in my homeschooling lesson with my son. I was reading along, and sort of starting to pay attention, when I read something that completely caught me. I had to stop and read the sentence again because I was stunned by the imagery that focused completely and perfectly in my mind. I will always remember this part of the story, because this is when it turned from looking for an assignment to teach in literature into reading an incredible story:

    “The rolling plain of moon-washed leaves stretched around the giant vessel for as far as she could see, parting before the bow, whispering along the sides. With its wheels and claws hidden among the trunks below, the Rake seemed a real ship plowing the waves of a silvery sea.”

    Who writes like this… gorgeous! I then realized there was a synopsis along the margin, and saw in bold print PART 4 right there at the top of the page. So I read the summary and decided to go search out the previous three parts. THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Instead I found myself glued to the page until I reached those dreaded words “to be continued”. THEN I went looking for the rest of the story and have been hooked ever since.

    I actually have several friends and lots of their children (who don’t subscribe to Cricket yet) who follow along online. The Magazine is kind enough to post the serial on their website for anyone who misses anything. One of these families can’t wait the extra three weeks or so between the time when the magazine is sent out, and when it actually shows up online. So I literally read the new part over the phone to them when ours arrives. I am not kidding here at all. Then of course they all clamor to see the real magazine when we get together for a visit, eager to see the incredible illustrations that are limited in the online version.

    I, unlike most of you who leave comments don’t personally know Fred Durbin, but I do know his beautiful story and am so grateful to have found it. It is an amazing thing when something so special comes along, something that makes the ordinary in life somehow better. For myself, when Shieldmaiden became Shieldmother life changed completely, it was so different, incredible, but different. Days can sometimes require more patience than I knew I had. Trying to hold on to the creative parts of who I am, balanced with all that I want to accomplish in raising a family can be an art form in itself. Every once in a while though that balancing becomes a magical, effortless thing, and I find that the quest of characters written by someone I don’t even know, lifts the ordinary journey just a bit.

    As for Cymbril not acting like a real girl, well, she is only half real girl right? And real girls are a varied lot. I (who was a real girl a while back) find her very easy to relate to and she is real to me. And who doesn’t struggle against change, even when it is one we want? When something is all we know, it is hard to leave. Isn’t the struggle what makes us grow, and learn, and able to step into the unknown? And definitely it is the struggle that makes for great reading!

    I usually don’t follow along with a serial or a series of books unless it is finished because I just can’t take it! This, however, is worth the small agony and you can be sure I will be hanging in there till the end. As for the prayers that have been requested in behalf of your story, I can tell you that my family has been, and will continue to do so. We are Die-Hard Star-Shard Fans! The very best of luck to you Fred!

  5. Marquee Movies Says:

    Holy smokes, Fred – you can go a long, long way, and not find a more encouraging, and wonderfully written letter than what Shieldmaiden has been kind enough to post here. You have put love into the world where it didn’t exist before – what a blessing! God bless the storytellers, and those who love them.

  6. Chris Says:

    Two Points:

    1. Pictures. I detest the graphic novelization of our world, but ironically I love graphics. I’ve worked as a graphic aritist and I love artwork. In my earliest days as a reader I was drawn to good cover art. But I don’t want the art to _be_ the story. I am conflicted to say the least. But I can understand how young folks would really be drawn to the art.

    2. Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation: In my line of work I often read the output of non-native english speakers. But I can tell you there is nothing harder to parse than a non-native english speaker trying to write a patent application. The world spins off it’s axis as subject-verb agreement dissolves and tense disappears.

    I have been in meetings where I was the only native english speaker and I realized I was becoming able to _understand_ enlgish filtered through no less than 2 different languages and bereft of any “english grammar or syntax” as we know it. It made me worry that I might be losing my own language because it no longer required any “rules” to make it comprehensible. Almost a “pure thought” concept…like a forensic investigation on something that been through a washing wringer followed by a Veg-o-Matic and then covered with asphalt.

    I wish I spoke Chinese so that I could hear my co-workers thoughts as they actually probably think them and in full conceptual glory with all the subtlety and nuance of their native tongue.

    But in talking to them I’m sure they’d feel the exact same way I have expressed here. “What is Chris saying with that jumble of misplaced stresses and mispronounced words???”

  7. Eunice Says:

    I’ve had “smoldering cartoon balloon” days, too, and I’m not a writer! Just yesterday, when I appeared at the preschool where I do music classes, and a couple of little kids said, “I don’t want to do music!” I felt so rejected! But the courage it requires for a writer to put a vulnerable part of himself out where it can be ruthlessly criticized by people removed from him as a person . . . I don’t think I have that much courage. (It’s probably why I’m not a writer!) At least a teacher has relationships and can make eye contact and adjust on the spot to something that’s not working or coming over well.

    Titles . . . I recently came across WATERSHED AT THE RIVERGATE, a creative and almost poetic title for a book that deals with a rather sad and ugly time in our synodical history.

  8. I miss the ol dungeon Says:

    Fred — The post from Shieldmaiden had to have brought tears to your eyes. What a testimonial! How joyous you must feel to know that you have touched so many with your gifts.

    Dear Shieldmaiden: I am blessed to count Fred as a friend since 1st grade, back in 1973. His talent was evident from the early days of show-and-tell, of puppet shows and short stories.
    One of the great blessings in my life was the joy of being able to live Fred’s creation in Dungeons and Dragons for nearly five years. I am sure he will say it was just the training ground for future ideas, but oh! if only all of you could have experienced just a sample of it!

    To whom much is given much is asked.
    Clearly.

  9. Shieldmaiden Says:

    Dear I miss the ol dungeon: I love people who say “dear”. I have read some of what Fred’s childhood was like on this blog, if you were a part of it, then you are blessed indeed! Thanks for sharing about the early days and the Dungeons and Dragons stories that you were lucky enough to be a part of.

    I have never read or written in on anyone’s blog before, except R is for Rivendell in the last game. Originally I found Fred’s Author Corner on the Cricket site and then I found this one. I had written into Cricket to tell him how much my kids and I enjoyed “The Star Shard” and we corresponded with him. I hadn’t intended to leave a comment here but his _smoldering cartoon balloon_ with the dark “Cymbril is not a real girl” scribbles did it, and well, it just spilled out.

    I have enjoyed all the posts on this blog and the comments have been great. I have been reading along since September but was too chicken to write anything. The writers Life does make for some great reading, even for those of us who don’t write. I have noticed that a few of you are a bit hard on Poetry, Harry Potter, The Thorn Birds, and can’t pass up a chance to bash Ewoks. I have to say though “The Tortures of Poetry” did have me roaring with laughter! Thanks for all the great comments.

  10. Shieldmaiden Says:

    Sorry, it was “On the Torments of Poetry” but you get the idea.

  11. Chris Says:

    I am glad the “Torments” made you laugh!

    I am also one of those folks who had the great joy to grow up with Fred. It’s fun to read some of his stuff and almost feel the influence of our home town.

    Despite growing up on the same road as Fred, we had very different home environments and I have to admit that if it weren’t for my exposure to Fred during my early years, my world would have been a MUCH narrower place. Fred has a great impact on people and I’m glad his writing is out there so others can share in that.

  12. Jedibabe Says:

    Fred asked a great question in this post about the difference between a blessing and a burden, and whether the two can overlap:

    Before I was a grad student, I was a personal trainer. I love the work that is required to reach a fitness goal. It was a wonderful thing to help a client set a goal, one they may have thought utterly unattainable on their own, and work with them to the realization of a dream. But no one gets the dream, the blessing, with out the burden of effort. We all have the choice to shoulder the burden and realize the dream, or to shrug it off and continue on the easier path. We are told: “through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God”. The stunning view means less to she who drove to the top of the mountain than to he who made the arduous climb on his own two feet.

    Can there be a blessing that is _not_ a burden might be a greater question. Does anything wonderful come without a price, and if it did would we value it as much? A significant increase of income likely comes with a significant increase in responsibility. A new love comes with a price of selfless service. Having a child is certainly considered a blessing, but surely children are a burden; suddenly one is tied to home, to schedule, to routine. Orderliness goes out the window and one’s cost of living jumps, but the blessings are enormous. Additionally, the challenges we face in our lives are frequently one of God’s primary means of blessing us. Adversity is the soil from which grows the blessings.

    The real clincher here is that it is up to each of us to decide if we want that blessing enough to choose the burden. It would certainly be easier to stick to the comfort of what we know, but we would never grow, and success is likely to evade us if chose not to pay it’s price. Maybe it’s time we took a fresh look at our definition of success.

    Fred, you’ve chosen to pay the burden of the effort to realize your dream, now we shall pray for the blessing. May the Force be with you!

  13. Catherine Says:

    All I have is a title of a book that I have not yet read but will read in a few months. “Cry, the Beloved Country”. That sounds so haunting to me (oh, sorry, I) that I hope the book sizes up to it . . .

    Blessings on your manuscript! (oh, and on you too, of course!)

  14. Xenorama Says:

    my tastes tend to run toward pulp fiction, and there’s no lack of great (though perhaps, more lurid) titles there- “The Man Who Shook The Earth”, “The Thousand Headed Man”, “Land of Always-Night” all Doc Savage titles, all cracking good yarns, too (good thing Lester Dent was a good writer).
    How about “Atlas Shrugged”- great title, even if you don’t agree with Rand.
    there you go just copy it in

  15. mileposter Says:

    Blessings are an encouragement to those bearing burdens–how’s that? I mentioned M. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled on my own blog. The major point of the book is that some people choose to bear the burdens and keep on growing instead of reaching a plateau and then coasting along towards death. I think of the words of the old hymn: “Count your many blessings; see what God has done.” In my work with children, even though they aren’t my own, I can certainly identify with the phrase “orderliness goes out the window”! But the blessings are priceless!

  16. SwordLily Says:

    Good titles are hard to come by but here are some:
    “Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel and it’s sequel “Skybreaker” are perfect titles. They describe so completely these books about airships and a boy who was born to fly.

    I remember thinking that “Gathering Blue”-Lois Lowry was an amazing title. It must have taken courage and a vision to name it thus when this title doesn’t go along with the two books that proceed it: “The Giver” and the “Messenger.”

    The Pellinor books by Alison Croggon also have awesome titles: “The Naming.” “The Riddle.” “The Crow” and “The Singing.”

    The key to a good titles, in my opinion, is simplicity. If one can find those perfect two or three words that express the “soul” of the book then anyone who would enjoy that book will pick it up because they love the title.

  17. fsdthreshold Says:

    I am simply overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone’s wonderful comments here. The friend of mine who remembers Dungeons & Dragons days and nights will appreciate the similarity, in one sense, of what’s going on here: with both a blog and a D&D campaign, there’s the designer/moderator/”host”–and then there are the “players”–those who come in and make the context their own. Both art forms–blog and dungeon–truly come into their own (that is, reach the heights of their potential) when they become collaborations–like we’re seeing here, thanks to all of you. This blog has become MUCH more than the sum of its posts. YOU are all making it happen–so thank you all! I never imagined it would be this much fun. I started the blog because the industry pros kept recommending it–in the trade magazines, at writers’ conferences, etc. “Writers need a Web presence,” etc. I remember thinking, “This will be like writing a magazine column without getting paid for it.” I AM getting paid: not with money, but with the joy of this fascinating and inspiring fellowship. And, yeah, I guess it’s sort of like writing a magazine column, but I’ve never yet been hard pressed to come up with something to say. Again–that’s thanks to all of you, for throwing around tons of intriguing ideas.

    Good titles! Catherine, I’ve seen the movie made from _Cry, the Beloved Country_. I liked it, and I also really like the title. (James Earl Jones plays the main character in the film.)

    SwordLily, I agree: simplicity. I should say here for anyone who doesn’t know: the title _Dragonfly_ wasn’t my idea. That was something the editor came up with. I approved it, but it wasn’t what I would have chosen to call the book.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  18. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I’m kind of partial to Wombat Boy and the Pink Lollipops myself 🙂

  19. SwordLily Says:

    I personally think “Dragonfly” is a perfect title. When I read that book I got the impression that the story is about Dragonfly accepting the part of herself that is named “Dragonfly”. As Bridget Anne she had to wear a sort of mask. When she went down to Harvest Moon no one had expectations for her and she could finally be the girl named Dragonfly that only her grandfather had seen before. I don’t know if this is what the book was meant to be about, but the title and what it meant for me was one of the reasons I loved this book. I actually would have never been so attracted to “Dragonfly” if it didn’t have that title.

  20. fsdthreshold Says:

    Um, yeah! What she said! (^_^)
    Seriously, thanks, SwordLily! I was conscious of that aspect of the book — I’d say that’s why Dragonfly has a nickname at all, exactly as you said: in a way, her truest self comes to the surface when she’s in Harvest Moon. (One of my personal favorite parts of the book is how, when she’s standing beside the River Abandon, she knows there’s a part of herself that LOVES this wild place. That makes her uncomfortable, because she knows the place is evil. But still, she can’t deny that part of herself.) So, yes, I get what you’re saying. Thanks for expressing it — and I am really glad the title attracted you. I feel better knowing that! (The criticism I hear is “What does that title — or her nickname — have to do with the story?” And also “That title and the paperback’s cover make it look like a children’s book.” But then…it IS a children’s book in some ways; and it’s an adult book in some ways. It’s a curious hybrid, a strange animal. One reviewer on Amazon said he wondered how the book ever got published, since it’s not specifically “for” any prescribed market. [But he was glad it did — it was a positive review.])

  21. I miss the ol dungeon Says:

    As the proud possessor of one of the original bound manuscripts of “The High Dark Shelf” I wish the title had remained unchanged. I am sure there were excellent reasons for the changing of the title, but HDS left me with much more of a sense of mystery than “Dragonfly.”
    I have passed both my paperback and Arkham House hard cover of Dragonfly through several hands, and, as I have mentioned to Fred, the best reception has come from 12-15 yr. old girls.
    Where I live Cricket magazine is not available (I cannot even find it at Barnes & Nobles in Des Moines or Ames), nor even in the library, so whenever I am asked “has your friend written anything else?” I am stuck (though one family I know subcribes — mom is a 6th grade English teacher) … so here is hoping The Star Shard is published, and soon!

  22. Chris Says:

    Dungeons and Dragons Campaign of Hideous Boredom

    The talk about D&D reminds me that I am plumbing the depths, currently, of making D&D (or RPG’s in general) even more boring that imaginable! Part of my job is to work with intellectual property folks (patent lawyers). There’s a disjoint of communication between scientists and lawyers a mile wide so I volunteered to come up with a game to teach some of the “patent concepts” to the scientists. I opted initially to go with an RPG-style because I could biasl the interactions and the “storyline” somewhat, without wholly biasing the overall arc of the “play” or storyline.

    Unfortunately not being a writerly-type it quickly turned into a hideous nightmare. But just place yourself into a D&D-type setting and instead of rolling for hits on a bugbear, you are attempting to overcome a prior art citation and “First Office Action” by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Yes, the main ANTAGONIST in my RPG was, indeed, a U.S. Government Patent Reviewer.

    Now, Fred, try turning THAT into an exciting story. I defy you!

  23. fsdthreshold Says:

    Wow, Chris, that sounds _horrible_! 🙂 Then again, I remember you in your days of playing Boot Hill, and your characters “the Fun Brothers,” blowing up banks, etc.

    Hey–in my latest posting, I was promoting _Cannibal, the Musical_–have YOU seen it? I think you’re one who would particularly enjoy it.

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