After losing his father, a young boy embarks on a journey in search of meaning, connection and belonging. Along the way, he encounters ghosts from the past and disturbing visions of the future. Two years later, he finds himself at a New England summer camp where “honor” is the watchword and bullying is considered normal. Following a traumatic incident at the pond, a mysterious voice assures him everything will be okay, but first, he must cross a threshold…
Will this young boy be able to cross the threshold, or will he find himself in greater danger? To explore the journey through a New England summer camp through the eyes of a young boy, I’ve been joined by author Mark Ristau, to dig into his book, A Hero Dreams. Mark, where did the dream of this hero begin?
The story was born, in large part, from my sense memories of growing up in South Orange, New Jersey in the 1970s, in particular, the summer of 1976. Pop culture was so much a part of that time for me, and there are multiple references in A Hero Dreams to music and movies of the day, as well as to the American Bicentennial and the Montreal Olympic Games.
Does these references to 1976, and more come directly from your own experiences, or are they more general memories from this period in time?
Like Ricky (my protagonist), I came within moments of drowning in a swimming pool when I was only 4 years old. Then, at age 8, I lost my father when he died suddenly from an aortic aneurysm. The memories of both of events have always haunted me. It wasn’t until I was well into my forties that I realized I had a story to tell–the story of a boy who feels utterly lost and yet somehow finds the courage to embark on a journey into the unknown. In doing so, he discovers his true power.
Wow, those two events would have had a huge effect on your life back then, and even today. With such strong emotions in play around these events, how did you go about crafting characters to live in this landscape who wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion?
I tried to imagine what it would be like to come face-to-face with myself as a 10-year-old boy. What would I say to this boy? What would he say to me? What circumstances would bring us together? This question gave rise to the idea of a mysterious threshold that young Ricky would cross at the end of A Hero Dreams. Imagining the encounter that would ensue gave me everything I needed to develop Ricky as a believable character (a much wiser version of myself).
What did you learn through this process of imagination, questioning and character development?
Six years ago, I left behind a lucrative career to work full time on the manuscript that would become the Hero’s Path series (A Hero Dreams is Part 1 of the series). From this experience, I learned to live with the uncertainty of living outside of corporate America with no steady income and no clear prospects for the future. When we follow our passion, we learn that our fears cannot prevent us from achieving our dreams.
Wow, that’s a huge step! I have to commend you for taking such monumental steps to your dedicate your time and passion to writing. Tell us a little bit more about how this happened, and what came next?
When I left my career to dedicate myself full-time to writing, I sold my house and virtually everything I owned. If it didn’t fit into my car, it didn’t make the trip. Then I drove from Minnesota to southwest Florida where I had come within seconds of drowning at the age of 4. This event later became the basis for the prologue of A Hero Dreams.
The event of returning to Florida as a full-time writer must have made a huge impact on how you approached, and ultimately what you wanted to say in this book. From this new position in your life, what was the most important thing you felt you needed to share?
We are neither defined by the past nor do our fears have control over us.
Did these ideas of the past and fear dominate your mind as you wrote, or was there something else that stuck on the top of your mind? And if so, what was it?
Possibility. Using my writing to make the impossible possible.
Do you find the challenge of writing to make the impossible possible exciting? Or does it just get a bit too much trying to fix the impossible?
Both! I can easily see the story in images, but giving expression to those images in language can be a challenge, and sometimes exhausting.
You don’t strike me a someone who is afraid of the challenge of wrangling some words into place, so I’m guessing that once you finished the challenge of ‘A Hero Dreams’ you moved straight onto your next writing project. What can you share about it?
In addition to introducing A Hero Dreams to the world through marketing and promotional efforts, I’m currently working on the final re-write of the second book in the Hero’s Path series, Beyond the Threshold. If all goes well, it should be available in print in 2019.
Good luck with Beyond the Threshold! With almost two books under your belt, do you feel that you’ve seen a significant improvement in your writing, and the voice that you use to write?
My voice, like the arc of the story covered in the Hero’s Path series, is evolving from a voice focused on the hopes and fears of the individual to one focused more on a worldview and what is possible for all of us.
There is so much possible for each of us, and I’m sure you’ve been thinking very hard about the possibilities around how you’re going to approach both full-time writing and the promotional side including author branding. Have you already started to think about building an author brand that showcases your work to readers?
As a first-time indie author, I’ve been learning about promotion, and author branding in particular, mostly by trial and error. I’ve been doing “all the right things” (or so I’m told) and following the advice of the experts, but ultimately, I think branding, like storytelling, is about being authentic and speaking directly from the heart. An author platform has to be real and it must be about bringing something new and inspiring (or at least engaging) into the world, I believe.
I completely agree that your author brand needs to be natural and from the heart. People can spot someone phoney, so it’s best that you banish the monsters of fear and speak from the heart from the start. You know, with a book filled with such imagination, I’m curious to find out what type of monster you would create if you were given the chance?
I did. His name is Spencer Black, and he plays the part of my protagonist’s nemesis in A Hero Dreams. You’ll need to read the book for a description. But please know that even the ugliest of monsters are not pure evil, as we shall learn in the second book in the Hero’s Path series.
Indeed we shall! Unfortunately, we’re not at a stage where we can read the second book yet, so we’ll have to make do with the first. To encourage our readers who might be a tad hesitant, what’s your favourite line from ‘A Hero Dreams’ that shows the best of this book?
“Very soon you will find yourself at the end of a dirt road, only inches from a threshold…a threshold into another world—a glorious world, one of infinite possibility…
I can’t wait! Mark, thanks for showing us a taste of the world of infinite possibility, and I’ll be among the excited readers eager to get started in this world by exploring ‘A Hero Dreams’.
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘A Hero Dreams ( ASIN: B07B9KYKRX )‘.
Want to find out more about Mark Ristau? Connect here!