For 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.