Archive for February, 2009

Gallery of Wonders (Brought to You by “The Die-Hard Star-Shard Fan Club”)

February 18, 2009

There’s very little I have to say in this posting. A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. One might also say that a poem is worth a thousand pictures. If that’s true, then you’re getting a 1,007,000-word value here — one amazing poem and seven amazing pictures. (That’s as mathematical as this blog will ever get: it took me about five minutes and a calculator to figure that out. . . . Don’t even ask me about going to St. Ives!)

These extraordinary works by fans of “The Star Shard” are used with the permission of the young artists and their parents. My deepest gratitude goes to all of them — both for creating these images and for allowing me to post them here.

Oh! — all right, you do have to wade through some news from me first. I finished the latest round of revisions to The Star Shard (novel version). It grew from about 53,000 words to almost exactly 55,000. My agent gave it a very careful read-through and made extensive notes for me on some concerns he had. He pointed out 72 separate things he wanted me to re-examine, ranging from cutting or changing a word or two to rewriting entire sections. He emphasized, of course, that his suggestions were merely that — ideas for me to evaluate and make up my own mind on. I only disagreed with him on 5 of them. I left those done my way, and I convinced him to withdraw a 6th point (as being not a concern); so that means I took his advice on 66 of his 72 suggestions. (This posting is just determined to get mathematical, isn’t it?) So his time was well spent, and I am extremely grateful to him — the book is much stronger as a result of his attention. He has a great critical eye and knows his business. So now let’s keep our fingers crossed that our interested editor will be as excited about the new draft as we are, and that he’ll be able to persuade the powers-that-be to turn The Star Shard into a book!

One final note: I’m quoting here from a letter by “Star Shard Luver,” written February 12, 2009 and posted in the “This Issue” section of the Chatterbox in Cricket Country on the Cricket Web site:

“Yes, you should read it! The story is so awesome, and you can read any parts you’ve missed on Cricket‘s site. I read all the time and I have been reading Cricket for years, and it is the best story EVER! From the point where Loric and Cymbril talk for the first time the story just flies, and I never want it to end!” (On the site, Cricket also asked readers how they think “The Star Shard” will end — alas, the end is coming with the April issue — and speculations are running wild!)

Okay! On to the main event! Soli Deo gloria, and thanks to The Die-Hard Star-Shard Fan Club!

Loric -- Crossing the Groag Swamp, by Ethan, age 11

Loric -- Crossing the Groag Swamp, by Ethan, age 11

Look at those fantastic boots stitched of leaves! I love the sword and sheath, those great stunted swamp trees, and the shading around Loric’s eyes! (And also the luminous quality of his eyes!)

The Rake's Cats, by Aria, age 4

The Rake's Cats, by Aria, age 4

I love the colors and the poses of the cats! And did you note the differences in their expressions? The tom is serious, probably worried about Cymbril out on that high ledge; Miwa has her enigmatic, knowing smile. She’s the Mona Lisa of cats!

Loric, by Andrew, age 15

Loric, by Andrew, age 15

Isn’t this an excellent costume design? I’m impressed by the deliberately asymmetrical cut of the shirt, and by the wrinkles/folds in the trousers. And again, superb face quality!

Sidhe Cymbril, by Andrew, age 15

Sidhe Cymbril, by Andrew, age 15

I just love the hem of the dress, and also that beautiful, dreamy facial expression! Notice the delicate collar bones that real girls have. And the leaves on the dress — a very Sidhe design!

Cymbril, by Andrew, age 15

Cymbril, by Andrew, age 15

I totally admire the use of color, pose, and motion here! We’re looking at a living instant frozen in time. Andrew, you’d better become a professional artist! Maybe a manga artist. . . .?

Little Thrush of the Iron Cage, by Irisa, age 17

Little Thrush of the Iron Cage, by Irisa, age 17

 

“Little Thrush of the Iron Cage”

by

Irisa

 

Little Thrush gently singing

A dreamer’s song of a wide bright sky

Caged by fate

You dance in the day

Yet in the night you cry

Tears shining with lost hopes

Drift away, little bird

To the distant clouds

Spread your wings

Know that the rain

Cannot reach the sun

As long as your heart still sings

Hope is eternal, little bird

Believe once more in her quiet power

Even though the bars

Of this cage are cold

The warmth of inner light

Can shine out and melt the deepest fog

Showing a tomorrow where you can

Sing your truest song

 

I held off my comment until after the poem, because the poem and picture go together. Isn’t this breathtaking work? What strikes me so deeply about the picture is its use of symbol. Cymbril doesn’t really have wings, but by depicting her that way, the artist is drawing the parallel to the “caged bird” motif. I love the colors, lines, and pose here, too, as if she’s just floating there, an angel in the air. And the poem — such exquisite use of language! And such a message of hope!

Loric, by Maya, age 12: "Patience has limits, collars have to come off."

Loric, by Maya, age 12: "Patience has limits, collars have to come off."

Look at the way the artist has used her pencil in evoking the hair, the shirt, and the chain! The chain looks hard and cold, and everything around it looks flowing and soft. How do such young people know so much about art already? What will they be doing when they’re old and gray and 20? I can’t wait to see what they produce!

Haven’t we just seen and read some wonderful things? This blog is greatly honored by these young artists and poet. May they continue to create their work and develop their skills for their ongoing part in the Great Song!

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Metamorphoses

February 9, 2009

I recall the first line of Ovid’s Metamorphoses as being “Now I will tell of things that change.” But I just looked it up, and in the first translation that Google offers, it’s “Of bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing.” Either way, the Roman poet Ovid saw all of classical mythology as being about change . . . the changing of one form into another.

Heh, heh — maybe it’s appropriate that I’m writing this posting on the night of the full moon. A friend back in my hometown also informs me that the almanac calls this one in particular the “Full Wolf Moon.” So go ahead, change into a wolf or whatever if you’re so inclined. I’ll just go on talking.

I’m thinking about how that element: change — underlies such a huge number of the stories we love. In Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Max wears his wolf suit, and it’s his room that changes, with a forest growing up around his bed, and so begins his journey to the place of the Wild Things.

In my novel version of The Star Shard, I titled one chapter “Metamorphoses,” because I noticed how some lesser transformations in the tale reflect the big transformation that’s the core of the story: namely, Cymbril getting older; Cymbril coming to a deeper understanding of who she is, to a state of greater strength and confidence, to an increased awareness of how she fits into the world — and of the beauty of the larger picture.

From that first moment in the theater here in Niigata, when I was watching the Peter Jackson version of The Fellowship of the Ring, I was absolutely captivated by the opening narration, the very first words we hear in the film:

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.”

[That’s an accurate quote: I just checked it.] From that first decision made by the filmmakers, I was hooked. I knew this was going to be something great. Peter Jackson and company understood that The Lord of the Rings, too, is a story of change. The Third Age of Middle-earth is passing; the Fourth Age is dawning. The time of the Elves is drawing to a close. The day of Men is at hand. And in such hours of transition, when all hangs in the balance, the deeds of the smallest persons can shape the fate of all.

One of the things that gives Tolkien’s story so much richness is the fact that Middle-earth doesn’t have the smell of new plastic about it, as if it were just unpacked from the box carried home from Best Buy. Middle-earth is an ancient place, a land of memories and scars, of wars and old wounds, ruins and marshes filled with the dead. “Much that once was is lost.” Alas, my memories of the book are foggy (it’s been about thirty years since I read it), but in the films, we’re constantly reminded of the declining of the world, of the loss of much that used to be better.

Elrond doubts that any hope can come from Men. “The blood of Numenor is almost spent” . . . and Elrond was there to witness personally the failure of Isildur to destroy the ring. Elrond doubts (at first) that Aragorn can rise to the challenge of being King, since “He turned from that path long ago.” Aragorn himself (in the movies) wonders if he’s up to the task.

And how about Theoden? The filmmakers take pains to show us his insecurities, that he feels himself to be a sorry latter-day scion of much greater forebears.

Tolkien’s Elves think of their whole history in Middle-earth as “The Long Defeat” — sometimes gaining little victories over evil, but steadily sliding downhill, the Shadow steadily growing. And isn’t that reflective of our real lives in this world, when everyone speaks of how bad it’s all getting?

Probably the saddest story I’ve ever written is “A Tale of Silences,” published in the January/February 2006 issue of Cicada. Set in a rural mountain village in Japan in 1970, it tells of an old man named Jii. Early on, we learn that the building of a new dam is going to flood the area, and the village where Jii has lived his entire life will cease to exist. The story chronicles his last year in the village, as he moves into the winter of his life. Jii is a widower, and somewhat alienated from his son, who has left the village and embraced more modern values. Here’s a passage from the story describing Jii’s observation of his son, Masashi, who has come to visit:

“Masashi was one of only three in his high-school class who had survived the war. Now, at forty-two, Masashi had sunglasses hanging from his collar, one earpiece tucked into the front of his shirt. He looked out of place sitting in his city clothes on the worn tatami floor beside the dim wall panels, like a bright tennis ball that had bounced into an old garden. He was no longer the color of the village.”

As Jii interacts with various people in the community (including Mizusawa, who has come home emotionally crippled from the war in Manchuria; and Shimo, a strange, silent youth who is feared and disliked by most of the villagers for his habit of peering into their windows at night), he comes to a slow acceptance of time’s inevitable march and the beauty of life’s tapestry.

In the end, living with his son’s family in Tokyo, Jii finds a simple joy in his woodcarving and time spent with his grandson:

“Jii did not care for the noise and the hurry in the streets. He missed Iwano’s smoking and Mizusawa’s stories of privations in Manchuria, stories that seemed to keep back as much as they revealed. He would have preferred a stand of bamboo to the overgroomed park that he could see now outside his window, a place where trees were imprisoned like zoo animals and people crowded on weekends, gulping at the air,  faces turned optimistically toward the sun.

“Yet even here, amid the gentle kindness of Masashi and his wife — here, with Makoto tugging at Jii’s sleeve, so eager for his stories and his attention, Jii found the tale still unfolding, heard most plainly in silences. At times, he was sure he could smell something like mountain air wafting in, unexpected and welcome — the clean, moist exhalation of ferns, cedars, and the rich carpet of all things once alive — though perhaps it was a trick of the breeze in the park, brushing past some brave, fragrant, leafy thing.”

This story was written at a time when I was facing the mortality of my parents. They’d gotten old and sick, and I was realizing that before long, no matter how you did the math, I wouldn’t be the kid anymore, with parents to come home to on holidays. I remember one night when it especially came home to me; I was back from Japan for a summer visit, sleeping in my old bed. My room there was adjacent to the bathroom, and I remember that night being deeply affected by the difference in the sound of my dad’s urination when he got up to relieve himself in the dark hours. Dad had always peed like a pirate, his stream a resonant booming in the bowl, on and on, endless and reassuring. That night it was a paltry, halting trickle. It was as if dark years slid onto me from every corner of that aging house, years on years, stacked and compressed, and now weighing me down. I remember my parents coughing in the dark, coughing with chronic smokers’ hacks. I remember listening to the sounds of mice chewing and scrabbling in the closets. And I lay there in the dark, in my old familiar bed, at the bottom of a well of years. Hadn’t it just been days or weeks before that I’d been a teenager, worried about high-school classes and my girlfriend and whether or not I’d ever get published? Now my parents were old and frail, and the walls were full of mice.

“Change and decay in all around I see,” says the hymn “Abide With Me”: “Oh, Thou Who changest not, abide with me.”

Therein lies the comfort: if the underpinning is solid, the surface changes aren’t so bad. In fact, they can be beautiful. A common fault of beginning writers’ fiction manuscripts is that they don’t want their characters to have to experience change — not too much, anyway. Certainly nothing painful. But it’s change that makes a story.

A good friend of mine recently observed that we have to seize happiness and drag it out of the dark that surrounds us. Or, as Blake wrote, we have to “build a Heaven in Hell’s despite.” It’s doable, since we have an ultimate home beyond all change, won for us by Christ.

Ours is not to fear the changes, but to celebrate the hour. “The world is changed”: but to change is to be human. Observe the changes, and let them become stories.

Sail out in this full moon’s light through a year and day, wearing a wolf suit, to where the Wild Things are. Consider this final quote, particularly in the light of who said it:

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

                                                                           — Anne Frank

Jan Retro

February 4, 2009

No, that’s not a fictional character. It’s short for “January Retrospective.” What a month January was! Part 8 of “The Star Shard” is on stands now (the February issue of Cricket), and Emily Fiegenschuh’s illustrations just get better and better. Before Part 8, my favorite portrait of Cymbril was the one where she’s kneeling at the door to her bunk, listening. Now I think it’s the one from Part 8, the picture of Cymbril, Bobbin, and Argent in the wagon. Emily pays such attention to detail! See the leaves embroidered on Cymbril’s cloak? Those are there in the text description! Bobbin reminds me a lot of the world of manga — maybe it’s the super-long ponytail. Oh, and I love the opening portrait — Part 8 — of Cymbril, too, at the rail with the two cats. Is it my imagination, or is Cymbril getting steadily prettier? Maybe she’s growing up. . . . I’ll bet there are more than a few teenage boys in love with her. I know I would be if I were the age of most Cricket readers.

Anyone who’s not getting the magazine (and even if you are) — you can see Emily’s astonishing illustrations for this story on her Web site. Go to www.e-figart.com. Click on “Gallery” and scroll down: she has an entire discrete section dedicated to “The Star Shard.”

But back to the point. Here are some January goings-on:

I have to quote this fantastic letter from a reader named Celia: “My favorite story is ‘The Star Shard.’ I think you should make the episodes longer! . . . . I love the illustrations. . . . They make Cymbril look so pretty. I love that name. If I ever have a daughter, I am going to name her Cymbril.”

Isn’t that far out? I remember reading — and feel free to correct me on this, if you know differently — that the name “Wendy” entered our culture through Peter Pan. That is, there were no girls named Wendy before that character came along. After the book, there were lots! There was a Wendy in my class in school. So just maybe a generation of Cymbrils is coming!

In the latest issue’s The Letterbox, Henrietta C. writes: “‘The Star Shard’ is one of the best stories I’ve read. I think that we should have more stories from Frederic S. Durbin in this magazine.” And A.J.H. writes: “Right now, my favorite story is ‘The Star Shard.’ I love fantasy books!”

I think I already quoted the poem written by Amanda based on the September cover — “A cat by her side, eyes bright and green, / Sees what the girl thinks cannot be seen. / A stone to her forehead, magic inside; / An elf on the other end, linked to her mind.” There were three poetry contest winners who wrote poems inspired by that September cover picture of Cymbril in the windy night, standing on that high ledge on the Rake’s prow. You can read them all on Cricket‘s site! (www.cricketmagkids.com)

Also, the latest poetry contest invites readers to write “a song the Urrmsh might sing”!

And there’s new fan art up! The number of pictures doubled this month, and every single one is just amazing! On the “Corner” page, click the icon that says “Fan Art.”

But here’s perhaps the most jaw-dropping story of the month: in a U.S. state which I shan’t disclose, a wonderful mom began reading “The Star Shard” aloud to a group of kids–her two, plus six more from another family. The kids range in age from well below the typical Cricket demographic to well up into the Cicada range, and everything in between. This group sent me a photo of themselves (which was also sent to Cricket). Each of the kids is holding up a copy of the magazine, open to the story, all 8 parts represented. The group calls themselves “The Die-Hard Star-Shard Fan Club,” and they even managed to superimpose that name across the top of the picture digitally. And it gets still better! The club members are all dressed up as their favorite characters from the story and/or Sidhe in general! Right smack in the center of the photo are a boy and girl just the ages of Loric and Cymbril, dressed as Loric and Cymbril! The girl (who looks like Cymbril) is holding up that September issue, and her dress and cloak are the same color and style as those Cymbril is wearing on her high ledge! And it gets still better! I’m told that the kids play “The Star Shard” in their costumes, acting out parts and making the continuing story their own, much as we played The Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Star Wars as kids. In other words, the story has gone on to a life of its own, quite apart from me, just like a real story, not just something I wrote. Now, how is that for something to make a writer’s entire year, although it’s only January? Talk about a humbling experience! “Who am I, Lord?” Soli Deo gloria!

In other January news: I heard from Stefan Dziemianowicz that the anthology which includes my Hallowe’en tale “The Bone Man” is finally moving into the pipeline for publication. They had quite a time getting all the authors to sign the contracts. But the book is on track again now and should be out sometime this year! Woo-hooo!

Oh!–the most recent word from my agent is that he’d gotten about 2/3 of the way through the novel version of The Star Shard and is still really liking it. Whew! Haven’t heard from him in over a week. I hope he didn’t hate the last third! [Writer angst attack.]

Okay, those are the big things. Let’s see. . . . When I visited my friend “Marquee Movies” last summer, he took me for the second time to an extraordinary comic book shop, where I bought a Buffy the Vampire Slayer calendar. (Best TV series I’ve ever encountered, I kid you not.) This month’s page is all about Willow, my favorite character on the show. The picture on my William Blake calendar this month is his painting God Judging Adam; and moving down the row, the Tolkien calendar’s February picture is By Moonlight in Neldoreth Forest, by Ted Nasmith — a painting of that famous daughter of Thingol and Melian dancing in the lunar glow.

Finally, here’s another good night story (remember my one about encountering the maybe-a-chupacabras?):

I was walking home tonight from a nearby convenience store, where I’d paid a utility bill (can you do that in the States? It’s a really handy thing here in Japan). The street and sidewalk were very dark. It was a stretch of almost no car traffic. Light from an intersection far away behind me was projected at a low angle across a white metal fence in front of me. And suddenly, there on the fence, captured in that light from far off, was my shadow — only it wasn’t my shadow. It was in the right place for my shadow; it was the size my shadow should have been. But it was very clearly not my shadow. The shape, the clothing, and the movements were all wrong. Talk about unsettling! It was clearly the shadow of another person, although I seemed to be casting it. Eerily, there was no one else around me — I looked in every direction.

Finally, I figured out that it was the shadow of a lone teenage guy way, way behind me, back by the intersection. The light was just low-angled enough, and he was just far enough away, that his shadow was thrown onto the wall at a size and in a position that made it look like it should have been my shadow. Fascinating illusion!

So yes, I go on living in my twilit world of dreams and phantasms. . . .

Also just tonight I sent off the signed contract for Part 10 of “The Star Shard.” That’s the final part. I know, I’m starting to be sad already. When this story’s run is over, it will be for me like the end of that three-year golden age of The Lord of the Rings in theaters — very sad. But it has been, and that’s a significant comfort and encouragement. It was; it is a part of Cricket‘s venerable history. And, Lord willing, maybe it will yet be a book . . . a series? May it be like King Arthur: a “once and future” story!