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 Crimes by J. Michael Straczynski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
J. Michael Straczynski has been a working writer for decades, and is the mind behind the original She-Ra, Babylon 5, Sense8, and innumerable comics, books, television scripts, and screenplays.
He is also the survivor of a hellish childhood, rife with domestic violence, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, poverty, starvation--seriously, this book deserves about all the content warnings it is possible to name. Your spoon drawer needs to be well stocked before you read it.
But first and foremost, he is a storyteller, as this book aptly demonstrates. I cannot imagine taking such a life as he has led and spinning such a riveting tale out of it, especially as he does not flinch, even when it comes to the bleakest moments. (Such as what his father does to his pets. Another trigger warning.) When you reach the end of this book, you marvel that the man is still alive, relatively sane, and not in prison, much less that he has succeeded in his chosen field and triumphed over his family in every way. He has been damaged by it, it's true--he pretty much couldn't help but be, but he is brutally honest about that as well, cheerfully admitting all the times he screwed up. He burned lots of bridges in the various fields he worked in--journalism, animation, television to an extent--because he wouldn't play the game and suck up to the right people. His single-minded determination to succeed, and work all the insane hours necessary to do so, was terrible on personal relationships, as he also admits. That same determination brought him back to the top of his field again and again, even as the previous smoldering bridges collapsed behind him.
And in the book's last chapters, he finally solves the overarching mystery of his father and grandmother, which involves the "war crimes" part of the title.
It's just an incredible story. Again, be prepared for, and don't underestimate, the horrors revealed here. But he also dwells at great length on his craft and the love of writing (and also his love for Superman, as referenced in the title), and how that love saved him. You may have to take lots of deep breaths to get through this book, but I assure you it's worth it.
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