Retired Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Commander John Metroka Jr. has always been a writer. As a child, he and his older sister Martha created fantasy stories. Later, even while serving in RCSD, he wrote short stories for his own pleasure. And professionally, he wrote many training documents and protocols for the sheriff’s department and for the federal government.
While serving in the sheriff’s department from 1980 to 2012, Metroka acquired a fine knowledge of command and control structure, and what it takes in the field to step into a command position through necessity.
So it is not surprising that Metroka’s first novel involves command and control structures, new protocols followed for the first time and stepping into leadership positions when necessity demands.
“First Contact Protocol” (2017 Create Space Independent Publishing, North Charleston, S.C.) is not a law enforcement story that plays out on Earth but one of a science expedition far from Earth. And the first contact is the long-imagined first contact with a non-human sentient species and the protocol outlining procedure to be followed. “The people in the ship are average Joes who must step up and take over when faced with something not covered in these [standard, everyday] procedures,” said Metroka.
“I’ve been wanting to put a book together all my life,” said Metroka. “I’ve always had a deep appreciation for science fiction. It takes you out of your own cultural norm, with which you’re comfortable, and puts you in a new and neutral setting where you can experience new concepts and ideas that you might resist in your own culture.”
And since time is not really linear, in pitching the book concept, Metroka said, “This is something that occurred, it just hasn’t happened yet.” He described the writing process: “You don’t know what is coming next,” he said. “The characters have a life of their own.”
Metroka, native of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, came to the Riverside area with his family when he was 7. “My father worked in the coal mines, and wanted something different and better for his family,” remembered Metroka.
After graduating from high school, Metroka attended Riverside Junior College and the University of California, Riverside, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. Thinking to go into some form of political public service, he interned with Congressman George Brown after college graduation. He later decided that law enforcement might be a better fit for his aspirations and goals, and was hired by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“It was a good time to go into law enforcement,” he recalled. “Everything was in transition to newer standards with more cultural awareness and training in those areas.” He served in corrections, field command, Indian Nation liaison, training center administration, state court liaison, political liaison with city governments, special operations and traffic unit, with the sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, and as commander of the Patrol Division and Investigations Unit. Metroka also holds a teaching certificate from UCR and a master’s degree in public administration from California State University, San Bernardino.
As with all writers, Metroka brings his cultural background and closely held beliefs and issues into his fiction writing. “We don’t learn from history,” lamented Metroka. “We have to go back over it. There are cycles. We learn. Then we forget and, unfortunately, the lesson comes back with the full package of social unrest and conflicts. There are things that repeat and, unfortunately, we are once again on one of those paths.”
“First Contact Protocol” mirrors developments on Earth from cycles of wars and impending wars to periods of diplomatic resolution and engagement with those with whom we disagree. As in life and in fiction, one can learn from the past — a process and ongoing awareness in which Metroka strongly believes.
Since moving to Idyllwild in 2014, Metroka has continued to serve the community. He is current chair of the County Service Area 36 Advisory Committee that acts to advise 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington on parcel-tax-funded recreation for residents of the CSA district.