Friday, January 1, 2016

Thank You, Joe Straczynski!

Michael Salsbury
Continuing on with the Happiness Experiment, yesterday I expressed my sincere gratitude to a coworker who has helped me on many occasions.

Today, I'd like to thank J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski for all that he's done for me and for many others.  If you aren't familiar with Joe's name, you might recognize some of his work.  He has written episodes for many different television shows, including Murder, She Wrote and Walker, Texas Ranger among many others.  Joe may be best known for the science-fiction series Babylon 5.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Joe on at least three occasions at conventions.  He is an eloquent speaker, capable of commanding the attention and emotions of a crowd.  He has a great sense of humor, and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously.  I hope to have the opportunity to see him again in the future.

Although I've read a few unflattering things (but only a few!) about Joe over the years, the words of his own fictional character Jeffrey Sinclair guide my opinion of him:  "Ignore the propaganda.  Focus on what you see."  When I do that, I see a pretty decent guy who takes care of his friends, stands up for himself and what he believes in, and tries to do the right thing as he sees it.  It's hard not to be impressed by someone like that, especially in an environment like Hollywood where image, connections, and the almighty dollar reign supreme.  I'm sure he's not perfect; no one is.  I see a lot of greatness in the man and he remains someone I still look up to, 20 years after meeting him.

One of the things about Joe that impresses me is that he will walk away from a writing job (and its paycheck) when he believes that it's necessary.  He left Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future when the Mattel toy company demanded input into the show.  He left the writing team of Jake and the Fatman when two of his co-workers did, as an act of solidarity.  When MGM and Showtime pulled him in different directions on the Jeremiah series, he was prepared to leave it as well.  It's clear that he takes his artistic vision and personal ethics seriously, and won't allow them to be compromised for the sake of a paycheck.  You have to admire someone who can do that consistently. His example has shown me that it's possible to be creative and true to your vision without destroying your career.

I'm also grateful to Joe for Babylon 5 itself.  Ignoring the science-fiction aspects of the show, it is one of the best television series I've ever watched.  At a time when most shows "reset the universe" at the end of an episode, Babylon 5 told weekly stories that weaved a much larger tale.  The more you watched the show, the more clear it became that this wasn't your typical television series, and definitely not a typical science-fiction series.  We saw characters make bad choices and pay the price.  We saw characters descend into darkness, overcome their frailties, and much more.  It is a superb example of science-fiction writing and storytelling in general.  I learn something from Joe every time I re-watch an old episode.

Finally, I'm grateful to Joe Straczynski for his work on the book The Complete Book of Scriptwriting. Although parts of the book are no longer relevant due to changes in technology and business, the parts dealing with the craft of writing still hold a lot of value.  (I actually own two copies, one of which Joe's signed for me.)  I've read and re-read the book, always learning something.  I remember reading it before knowing that he was connected with Babylon 5.  While watching the series, I remember many times noticing him doing on the show something he recommended in the book.  It was refreshing to see him practice what he preached about scriptwriting.  Now that I think about it, I'm probably due for another re-read.

I differ from most men in that my heroes aren't sports stars, military leaders, or action movie heroes.  Mine tend to be writers, creative people, scientists, and entrepreneurs.  Joe Straczynski is definitely one my heroes.  I continue to support his work in the most meaningful way I can, with my enjoyment and (where appropriate) my wallet.  I wish him continued success, by his own standards and definition.

So thank you, Joe, for Babylon 5, for The Complete Book of Scriptwriting, and for your example.  You once said in my presence that you hoped that when you were gone, people would say about you "He told good stories."  You've earned that.  Babylon 5 itself is one of the great stories in science-fiction, and I haven't seen its equal since it went off the air.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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