Jan Retro

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!


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14 Responses to “Jan Retro”

  1. Daylily Says:


    Thanks for sharing your joy! I laughed aloud at the self-invented title “The Die-Hard Star-Shard Fan Club”! What fun! It is a great reward when the artist has created something to share, and that creation brings happiness to others to the point that they embrace it as part of their lives, something which has meaning for their lives. One of my friends told me that she is making the recording of my Christmas cantata part of her annual Christmas celebration. To have someone adopt your “child” as part of his/her family–it is an honor, and also an encouragement to keep on creating. Groooink! I really enjoyed the shadow story. That would have been an eerie experience.
    This incident could become the opening of a horror story, written by you or by one of your friends . . .

  2. Jedibabe Says:

    Wow! Thanks, Fred, for posting the link to Emily’s artwork! I’ve only seen a very few of her illustrations from the one actual magazine copy I have seen and was feeling a bit sad that everyone else had these great pictures to go along with the story and I didn’t. Now I do! I love “Cymbril to the Rescue”, she’s an awesome heroine! Now I am even more impatient to see part eight posted to the Cricket web site. Also, I know that fan club and those kids adore your story; they have truly made it their own. I’m late to class and have to run- but I had to say thank you!

  3. I rejoice with you Says:

    What a great entry, all full of wonderful and hopeful news … the perfect thing for me on a day not going all to well (until now).
    Here in the Hinterlands Cricket is not a part of the universe, making me hunger for the publication of this story.
    In a ‘private’ aside to Fred: Ahh, the Sidhe. So this is where you took them …

    “No man has earned a greater treasure than he who has the sure knowledge of having spread joy among others” — St. Vincent de Paul

  4. Nicholas Says:

    That is fantastic, Fred! You should pass all this good will along to your agent–show him there’s already a built-in and burgeoning audience out there for the book.

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    Oh, I’m definitely there on that one, Nicholas! My agent probably groans whenever he hears my electronic footsteps coming, because I keep him well, well, well informed of any tiny itty bitty positive thing anyone says or thinks about “The Star Shard”!

    And, “Rejoice”–thank you for the St. Vincent de Paul quote, and for rejoicing. You have a true gift for being able to rejoice with those who rejoice. It’s a rare gift that most of us don’t have. It glorifies God. Thank you! And yes, “the Sidhe.” YOU know the Sidhe from way, way back. In this story, the word is pretty much used interchangeably with “elf” and “Fey.” I hesitate to call them elves because Tolkien has given us such definitive elves, it would be hard for me to do anything original with them. But there are recent books out there about orcs, aren’t there?

    And, Daylily and Jedibabe, thank you for your comments, too! Yes, wouldn’t that shadow thing make a good scene in a horror story? Well, I did sort of use it in Chapter 1 of Dragonfly, which was eerily prophetic! That is so great about your Christmas cantata, Daylily! Is the recording publicly available anywhere? Or is it published as music that church choirs can buy? Jedibabe, thanks for the comment on Cymbril as awesome heroine! 🙂

  6. Chris Says:

    I hadn’t heard the story about the name “Wendy”. But I think the same thing happened with the name Cthulu. I am pretty sure in my high school there were like 5 Cthulu’s. There was Cthulu Johnson and his weird brother Yog Sothoth.

    As for the shadow story, kudos for “puzzling out the reason”! You are on the path to becoming a good skeptic and yet be able to appreciate the weirdness still!

    Congrats on an excellent January! I will have to tell you about my current hypothesis of my own personal “On the 8’s” Cyclicity. (Just to prove to you that a good skeptic can still harbor goofy ideas and superstitions!)

  7. Daylily Says:


    Ah, yes, the elusive Holy Grail of being published! I could write pages and pages on the topic. To make sure I didn’t, I took some time to think before responding. Although quality has something to do with publication, marketability can be a larger factor in the publisher’s decision as to whether or not to publish a work. I quote from Wikipedia: “In North America, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature, comprising almost 55% of all paperback books sold in 2004.”

    As for my cantata, the author of the text of _One Cold, Clear Night in Bethlehem_ was not thinking in terms of marketability. His text inspired me, and so I set all of it to music. After being rejected by three publishers, the cantata is now under review by a fourth publisher. I will not be one whit surprised if I have to try thirty publishers before finding one who will take a chance on this work, because it does not follow the usual formula. Many Christmas cantatas contain five to six individual numbers; mine has ten. Most of these cantatas call for at most one soloist; mine needs a baritone soloist and a soprano soloist. Perhaps the worst “flaw,” however, is this: most of these cantatas include the old, familiar Christmas carols in new arrangements, perhaps interspersed with completely new material. In other words, the great marketing ploy of “new” plus “old-fashioned” in one product. My cantata does not contain one familiar Christmas carol. Tsk, tsk, what were we thinking of? 🙂 Someone has suggested that I abstract the five or six numbers which could stand alone and submit them for publication as individual anthems. Well, I might consider that some years from now. I’m not quite ready to dismember my best brainchild.

    The recording is not professional quality, but does capture the first performance (2007) fairly well. I have been giving it away rather than selling it. I could send you (thanks to the marvels of modern technology!) one of the ten audio files, by way of email. I wouldn’t want to overload your inbox by sending the whole thing!

  8. fsdthreshold Says:

    Hi, Daylily!
    I sort of feel I should apologize for asking you a question about publication in this public forum. I should have asked you by e-mail. I totally know that the issue can be a real sore spot, because I’ve been there (raking in the rejection slips) more times than I can count. You’re absolutely right that “lack of publication” does not necessarily equal “lack of quality.” We’ve all heard the tales of works that are now world-famous that were passed over and passed over and ignored and then passed over some more, sometimes for years, sometimes until long after their authors/composers had left this life.

    I’m sure I don’t have to tell you not to worry about your cantata’s departures from convention. Everything you just described sounds far more like a plus to me than a minus. It sounds like you have something (gasp!) original there. Two soloists and ten numbers isn’t at all unreasonable. Not that you asked for my advice, but I would strongly urge you NOT to dismember your creation.

    A composer friend of mine once told me about one of the main differences in breaking into recognition for musical composing vs. fiction writing: we fiction writers are always chasing after “getting published.” He said (and believe me, he knows what he’s talking about — he’s extremely successful at what he does) that, in musical composing, the whole thing is to get your pieces performed. If you do that, you start to gain momentum and recognition as a composer (and the pieces are finding their life in listeners’ ears, just as published fiction finds its life among readers). It sounds like you’re doing that — that the cantata is being performed.

    Anyway, thanks for the gracious and detailed answer to an insensitive question. And I would LOVE to hear an audio file, if it’s not trouble for you to send it by e-mail! Thank you! (Yes, we’d better experiment with something fairly small.)

  9. Daylily Says:

    Hello again, Fred, thanks for the apology, and I gladly accept it! You did sort of put me on the spot, but I found it interesting to think about the sometimes tortuous road to publication. Composers, too, chase after publication, because that is a way to get the music performed and heard. But many of my pieces will not be published because they are for unusual combinations of performers, for instance, the charming Advent arrangement for unison children, Appalachian dulcimer, and glockenspiel. Not that many churches have a resident musician who plays the Appalachian dulcimer! 🙂 Publishers think in terms of selling as many copies as possible, and one can’t blame them. They have to make a living. My cantata, because it is too demanding for many small churches, will not sell as many copies as the standard cantata, and therefore may not be attractive to the powers that be. Yes, performances are very important. After all, the music is only black marks on white paper unless it is heard! I always write with a specific person or group in mind. That way, the music will be heard at least once! Besides the premiere performance in 2007, the cantata was heard twice on December 14, 2008, in Longwood, FL, and should make an appearance December 2009 in Midland, MI. Perhaps it can slowly gather a following . . .

  10. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I wanted to add my congratulations to the pile Fred, and say how happy I am for the attention your story is getting. It was simply wonderful to read “Jan Retro” and hear all of your “Star Shard” news!

    A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of reading Watership Down for the first time. I read it in a book club with a group of ‘tweens and teens and had the time of my life. I remembered Fred talking about it a while back on his post titled “The Terrible Power of Story” and was fairly sure it would be a great book. It exceeded great by a long shot! Richard Adams’ story of being published may be something everyone but me has heard already. It really touched me though and seemed to fit in nicely with the topic of publication and great works, so I thought I would share it.

    On long car trips Richard Adams would make up stories to tell his two little girls. These made-up stories were loved by his daughters because they were their _own_ and no one elses. On a particularly long journey of over 100 miles, his girls asked for a story which had never been heard before. And on the road to Stratford-on-Avon the now beloved story began it’s first telling. Although it was not finished on that trip, he continued telling it until it was. Eventually he wrote it down, and though he never thought of the book as a best seller, he did hope in terms of a modest hardback, which he could give to his daughters. It was rejected seven times and always on the same grounds; that older children wouldn’t like it because it was about rabbits and younger children wouldn’t be able to read the adult style it was written in. He refused to change the draft in any way, and went on knocking on doors. When he finally did find a publisher who would accept his story, it was through a prompting that he followed. In 1972 twenty-five-hundred copies were printed, and since that time the book has never been out of print. Richard Adams says about his book, “It is simply the story about rabbits made up and told in the car.”

    Fred, whatever happens with your story, I hope the echo of your “electronic footsteps” continues to resound in hallways until one of the doors you’ve knocked on is opened. I am grateful for the band of amazing rabbits who found Richard Adams, and I am equally thankful for the piece of fallen star that found you, and through you, found us. Thank you for your beautiful story, may it become the book we can’t wait to read.

  11. Daylily Says:

    Thank you, Shieldmaiden, for the inspiring story (which I had never heard) of Richard Adams’ search for a publisher! It is an encouragement to those of us who are trying to get something published. I am so glad that Adams did _not_ “dumb down” his book to get it published, because I love it the way it is. And I first read it as an adult. 🙂 By the way, Dr. Seuss had to try 20-30 publishers (accounts vary) before he found one to accept his first children’s book, _And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street_.

  12. Chris Says:

    The Future of Publishing?
    I work for a corporation that is currently among several working on the “Digital Press”. What that means for you authors is that someday publishers won’t have to worry _as much_ about how many copies they can sell in order to make a print run. With the wonder of the digital press comes the ability to run ridiculously short printjobs with all the bells and whistles of a full-on typeset monster. The magic is in “variable content” which, instead of having to be set in “stone” (or other permanent form) for the offset printers (I know they don’t use stone much anymore in offset, but you get the pun), now the press will be like a giant laser or inkjet printer that can take whatever info in you feed it from the computer and print it really quickly on a giant spool of paper for as much paper or as little as the run calls for.

    The only downside for you creative types is that now there will exist a plethora of really, really bad literature out there. Just like the intarwebs allowing any goth-kid to spew out their morbidly written, hyperself-aware emo-trash, soon we can have bookshelves loaded up with a ton of short run PRINT versions! Yayz! Thereby diluting your _actual art_!

    Oh, yes, and all of this will happen just before print dies out altogether and we enter into a world of solely-digital content that is not unlike a giant cloud of smoke. Once the electricity is off, most of it evaporates away or stays hidden in tiny bits and bytes unreadable by anyone or anything except whatever specific software is made to read it (“Digital Dark Age” scenario).

    I actually feel quite grim about the future of print within our lifetimes, and I fear the world of literary art will suffer from repeated onslaughts coupled with the eventual loss of huge chunks of information. Just as someday this post will be gone as if it never existed.

    Wow. That’s dark. Sorry ’bout that! Remember, kiddies, PRINT ALL YOUR PHOTOS, make sure to keep buying hard-copy books and for heaven’s sake SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER!

  13. fsdthreshold Says:

    Thank you all! Chris, that really is sobering about the future of publishing. I’m hearing and reading much the same thing. I’ve often wondered if there’s any way to print a hard copy of this blog and all its comments. Antiquarian that I am, it makes me uneasy that it all only exists in cyberspace, on WordPress. Is anyone out there blog-savvy? Is a solely digital existence the unavoidable nature of blogs? If I had a team of monks at my disposal, I’d set them to copying everything out by hand–and illuminating the margins while they were at it.

    But isn’t that scary to imagine an age when paper copies of books may not exist at all? I think the human mind will function in different ways than it does now: we humans will become skimmers, accustomed to getting the gist of vast chunks of text without really ingesting anything.

    I recently read about a guy in England who read through the entire Oxford English Dictionary (the unabridged one) in something like a year. It became like a drug for him; he would wake up at 3 a.m. with his heart racing because he couldn’t wait to get back to reading it. But he suffered crippling effects in his ability to communicate with others. He couldn’t remember simple words such as “bread” or “chair” or “today” when he needed them in conversation.

    But anyway, I worry about what it all bodes for the human attention span and our ability to finish anything. Increasingly, we’ll have every possible thing we might ever need at our fingertips, and we’ll become physically unable to use any of it. Digital information may destroy our civilization in exactly the same way a virus attacks an organism. How’s that for dark?

    On a lighter note, thank you, Daylily and Shieldmaiden, for those wonderful stories of perseverance (Dr. Seuss and Richard Adams)! And Shieldmaiden, thank you for the encouragement! I’m also delighted to hear of the Watership Down reading group!

    Interesting theme emerging here! Both Watership Down and The Hobbit started as stories told to or written for the authors’ kids. I remember Madeleine L’Engle talking about how writing stories for kids was the highest writerly calling, that it took the highest level of skill. If you can write “good enough for kids,” you may just have a book that adults will also embrace, and that will endure. . . .

  14. I love Taco Gringo Says:

    Chris just said the single most important thing to appear on this blog in all its short but glorious history: SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER!
    to the nth power!

    Thanks Chris!

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