John Byk, who writes under the pen name of Conrad Johnson, wrote a mystery called Crying Bullets which I thought of today in regard to the school shootings in Ohio. I finished Crying Bullets recently, liked the book so much, and today just can’t get it out of my mind.
Crying Bullets features Arnold Penxa, war veteran and retired policeman, who uncovers a planned school massacre with a motive so insidious it would make the devil blush with envy. The problem is that nobody believes him except for a few close friends, so he's forced to act alone to bust up the plot. This is Detroit, Michigan, a city that makes its own rules where the line between common sense and crime is never clear.
John was kind enough to send me his reflections on a few questions I asked him to consider.
1. With this recent news, how are you reminded of events in your life as a teacher who lost his job because he blew the whistle on the school's terrible security procedures?
If you are referring to the high school shootings in Ohio, I am deeply saddened and also angered at the administration for not having prevented this. School officials often see this is as a societal or psychological issue that is better left unspoken or left to localenforcement who do nothing but clean up after the fact. However, I am happy to say, that after losing my job (actually I was forced into retirement), the upgraded security procedures which I spoke out for were finally installed because I created such a rancor in the localcommunity. If one child's life will be saved, then it was all worth it.
Also, I have a good rapport with the new principal there who was an ex Chicago cop who I am in regular contact with and who, I found out, was supporting me behind the scenes during the entire ordeal.
2. Do you find signs of optimism about a recovery for Detroit’s economy?
No. Politicians have been promising the mythical resurrection of Detroit since the population exodus began in the late 60's and nothing has changed. Of course, there will be certain economic 'pockets' that will thrive and be protected, like the casinos, the GM headquarters downtown and the bridge to Canada for NAFTA purpose, but the rest of the city will rot slowly out of sight.
3. Penxa realizes graft and poverty are endemic at the end of Crying Bullets and retreats. What will it take for the public schoolsystem to overcome incompetence, declining enrollment base, and all the other problems it’s currently beset with?
I don't think Penxa actually retreats. He's just licking his wounds. There's no victory without sacrifice. I expect him to resurface in a later work. As for the Detroit Public School system, I believe only an extreme gutting of the top heavy, corrupt and central administration needs to be done and parents and teachers need to step up and take charge of their schools like they do in forming vigilante groups to
protect their neighborhoods from crime.
4. You mentioned writing Crying Bullets drained you. How closely have you identified with Penxa?
Much too closely but it was something that I finally needed to come to terms with in my life. Like I mentioned above, there's no victory,small or great, without pain or sacrifice. If a person decides to put himself on the line for a just cause, then he'd better be prepared to deal with the consequences if he or she plans to continue all the way.
5. How close are you to finishing another book and what is this one about?
I couldn't write anything for weeks after finishing Crying Bullets, so
I decided to write a small nonfiction, self-help book which I write
under a pen name. After toying around with several other ideas related
to Detroit, I finally decided to give it a break and try something
completely opposite, humorous and fantastical. Currently, I'm working
on a sci-fi novel called, Pissed Off Aliens, a la Kurt Vonnegut
Jr., which is really a disguised metaphor about globalism and the
destruction of earth's natural resources by aliens from the planet Rio
Tonto. It takes place in the fictional county of Paulding near the Big
Lake (which is really Lake Superior) and is told by an escaped slave
worker who records what he calls the "true story" of how the aliens
conquered the earth as his grandfather told him before he died. It's
one hundred years into the future and he's forced to record the
narrative from deep inside an abandoned mine shaft so that the Tontins
won't locate him and "de-grid" him. It's very colloquial and
tongue-in-cheek and fun to write and it's what I need to do at the
Each of John Byk's books is a good read, well-crafted, and plotted
and written with empathy and intelligence. I recommend them highly. Buy
them at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006OL6JVS
I must also mention in passing my friend Marcy Axness' book Parenting with Peace, which has just been released. Today it seems appropriate. You'll find a rave review at the Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-chuda/parenting-for-peace-by-ma_b_1284623.html