Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Stracynski

Becoming Superman: A Writer's Journey from Poverty to Hollywood with Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War CrimesFor a journalism course in college, we were assigned an in-depth piece on a business issue. Being a fan of sci-fi pop culture, I decided to marry my love of two new series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon Five in my assignment. Both shows were in their early days (B5 was about six to seven episodes into season one) and I decided to look at the business aspects of what kept a syndicated genre series on the airwaves.

At the time, B5 creator J. Michael Stracysnki had an open dialogue with the Internet, taking us behind the scenes at the creation of his space opera. (Think DVD extras before there were DVDs). JMS (as he was called online) posted his email address in the B5 forums (ask you parents, kids) and I crafted an email to him, outlining my project and what I hoped to achieve.

I received back a reply from JMS, stating that he understood what I was doing and that he was extremely busy running his show. But he didn’t want to dismiss the request of a college student and as long as the article wasn’t published for anytime of gain beyond a grade and I came up with three good questions (no more), he would be happy to do what he could.

I then got to work, getting my background and drafting the article. When I got to a point that I felt like I could and should approach JMS again, I sent him three questions along with a draft of my story. A day later, he responded. But it wasn’t just a few curt answers to my questions. What JMS gave me was several good, quotable paragraphs for my story (reading this autobiography and seeing that he worked for a time as a journalist makes it clear why he did this). I used the quotes, put the polishing touches on my article and turned it in.

I got an “A” on the story and I made sure to send a thank you message to JMS, letting him know that his comments had helped as had his encouragement.

I’m a writer junkie — I tend to find and follow writers. I’m one of the few people who will read the crawl on the opening of a TV show to see who wrote a particular episode (I blame Doctor Who because the writer of a story is hugely important there). And when JMS took the time to work with me, it cemented my fandom and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since. I can’t say I’ve seen or read everything he’s written (I’ve still got to find time for Sense 8), but I’ve seen and read a lot.

Which is why I was eager to pick up his autobiography.

As I’ve come to expect from several decades of JMS’ written output, Becoming Superman is compelling, page-turning and compulsively readable. And reading it, my profound respect for the man and writer JMS has become grew in leaps and bounds. The sheer amount of things he had to overcome, from his abusive, manipulative father to his family full of secrets, only enhances the respect I have for him. It also makes me understand a bit more about his generous nature and spirit (again, see the story above about my article) and his encouragement of other writers. JMS knows what it’s like to serve the writing muse and that passion to the creative side comes across here.

This isn’t an easy read. As JMS uncovers and relates stories about his family, there are some hard truths and struggles chronicled. But you can see a bit of the catharsis taking place as JMS tells these stories. He also points out that he tells aspiring writers that if he can do it, anyone can but then realized he hadn’t provided the backstory for them to understand why.

He has now. And I thank him for a great, moving and powerful read.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection, Volume 7: The Goblin’s Last Stand

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection Vol. 7: The Goblin's Last StandLike classic Doctor Who, comic books published during the Silver Age don’t necessarily hold up well to being binged.

Collecting two years of issues from the run of The Amazing Spider-Man, this volume has some of some series highs and some series moments that may leave you scratching your head a bit. Of course this collection includes the pivotal and comics changing “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” arc, seeing us lose not only Peter Parker’s love interest but also the original Green Goblin over the course of two pivotal issues. This story and the one after it stand out as some of the most intriguing from this influential run, as does a multi-issue run with Doc Ock battling Hammerhead to become the crime boss of New York, all with Aunt May caught in the middle.

There’s also a sojourn to Canada to battle the Hulk and track down and trace down an old family mystery to add to the intrigue.

But then there’s a couple of forgettable enough stories in there as well. While the return of Flash Thompson from the Vietnam War and the implications this has for the character and his friendship with Peter Parker still echo today, there are a few moments that haven’t aged as well and are less than politically correct today.

And then there’s the Gibbon. This multi-issue arc sees a character who wants to be Spidey’s partner in crime fighting only to be humiliated by Spider-Man and then taken under the wing of Kraven the Hunter. It sounds silly and it doesn’t come across much better on the printed page. Odds are they won’t be raiding this arc for future Spider-Man movies. And there’s probably a reason that the Gibbon doesn’t make the upper pantheon of great or even so-so Spider-Man villains.

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Review: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside MeLike many, I’ve had a renewed fascination with convicted serial killer Ted Bundy thank to Netflix. With not one but two new offerings on the infamous murder, one a four-part documentary and the other the feature film with Zac Effron taking on the role of Bundy, it’s hard to look away. And while I appreciate what both Netflix offerings gave us, I still think Ann Rule’s first real-crime book recalling her friendship with Ted Bundy is one of the more definitive works on the subject.

Part of it this stems from Rule never losing sight of the fact that the real tragedy of the Bundy story is the lives of his victims that were cut short. While Rule does relate conversations and letters shared with Bundy, she never allows the reader to forget the toll in human lives that Bundy exacted.
In fact in a new forward, Rule says that while this book helped launch her career to a different level, she’d trade all of that if it meant those Bundy killed had been allowed to live their lives instead of seeing them cut short.

Rule met Bundy while working on a crisis hotline in Seattle. It’s fascinating to read how a real-crime reporter could have such conflicting emotions about Bundy and whether or not he was guilty of the horrible crimes associated with him. One of the most riveting moments of the book is when Rule realizes in a Florida court room that there is no way Bundy isn’t guilty of all the horrible things he’s being charged with.

The book paints a chilling portrait of Bundy and his crimes. But Rule stays away from trying to determine more about what motivated Bundy or getting inside his head.

It’s a compelling, chilling true-crime read that may be one of the definitive works on Ted Bundy. But it’s one that, at times, you may want to read with the lights on.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Summer TBR

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This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us what are the top ten books on your summer to-be-read list.  Here are a couple of mine.

  1. orangetree Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
  2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
  3. Magic for Liars by Sarah Galley
  4. Recursion by Blake Crouch
  5. Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence
  6. Star Trek: Captain’s Oath by Christopher L. Bennett
  7. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
  8. Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker (audiobook)
  9. Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead by Peter Grimwade (audiobook)
  10. The Queen Con by Meghan Scott Molin

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Excerpt: Fury from the Top of the Stairs

Last week, Shortcake was startled while climbing the stairs and I got to find out how fast I can run.

I decided it was a good chance to post on my “being a dad” blog.  Here’s an excerpt:

Shortcake doesn’t react well to being startled.  Most of the times, she’ll just let out a yelp. But last week, she was climbing the stairs to give Mommy and her sister cat a hug.  I was planning to follow her upstairs, but got distracted by something that kept me from being on the stairs with her at the moment of the big scream.

If you’d like to read the entire story, you can HERE.

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Throwback Thursday: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern GrowsThrowback Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Tenacious Reader to highlight books from the past. It can honestly be anything as long as its not a book that is a current release. Maybe its a book that I read and reviewed and just want to highlight, maybe its a book I read before I started reviewing or maybe its a book that has a sequel coming out soon or maybe its a backlist book from my TBR that I just want to revisit and decide if I will make the time to read. Pretty much, anything goes. 

Between second and seventh grade, I read Wilson Rawl’s Where The Red Fern Grows a couple of dozen times. It was either my first or second grade teacher who read the book aloud to my class, hooking me on this book as a kid and adding it to me “go to” rotation of books I’d return to time and again as comfort reading.

Now, if you know how this novel ends, it being “comfort reading” may feel a bit like an oxymoron. But, apart from the final chapter being a bit of a downer (because all books about dogs seem to end this way), the rest of the novel is a moving story of the bond between a boy and his dogs.

The boy in this case is Billy Coleman, growing up in the Ozark Mountains and wanting nothing more in his life than to have two hunting dogs of his own. Coming across a sportsman magazine left by some fisherman, Billy sees an ad selling dogs for $25 each. Billy spends the better part of two years earning extra money with traps his father gives him, selling vegetables and bait to fisherman, and doing various odd jobs to earn the fifty dollars needed to purchase his dogs. Continue reading

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Review: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

The Perfect GirlfriendThe Perfect Girlfriend turns the “crazy ex” thriller on its head a bit by taking us inside the mind of one of the craziest ex’s you’ll ever meet.

Since Nate asked Juliette for some time and space, she’s been more than willing to give it to him. Eventually, he’ll realize what Juliette has known since they first met — they are meant for each other. In the meantime, Juliette still has Nate’s keys, his passwords, and multiple social media accounts to keep up with all his moves. She wants their paths crossing again to look completely natural and not planned down to the last detail.

Karen Hamilton’s debut novel puts us inside Juliette’s head, getting to know her motives and justifications in her lifestyle makeover and pursuit of Nate. Early on, Juliette hints there may be things from Juliette’s past in play that make the whole game to win Nate back a bit more twisted and devious than it might appear at first. Hamilton walks a fine line between creating sympathy for Juliette and readers being horrified at the lengths she will go to in order to win Nate back.

The first three-quarters of the novel unfolds with a growing sense of dread, tension, and growing horror at just how far Juliette is willing to go. But in the first quarter of the book, things begin to slowly break down as revelations surface and narrative threads come together. And it’s at this point that the book begins to lose a bit of its momentum and comes to a close that isn’t satisfying. The actual ending of the book is a bit abrupt and really left me wondering if there wasn’t an extra chapter or two somewhere on the cutting room floor.

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