Mark Ristau's Blog

September 3, 2018

10 Days Free from Violence

10 Days Free from Violence. Is it possible? Let’s share our stories and find out. Stories are powerful. They inspire us. They connect us. They help us to know each other. If we know each other’s stories, we’re less likely to do violence to one another…

Beginning Friday, September 21 (International Day of Peace), I will be participating as an ambassador of peace and guest author in Twin Cities Nonviolent's "10 Days Free from Violence." During these 10 days, over forty collaborators will host more than sixty events throughout the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Each of these events is offered to build community and raise awareness of best practices for violence prevention.

As a storyteller and author of the novel, A Hero Dreams, I will be asking the following question: "Is peace possible?"

A Hero Dreams explores, through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, a world in which “honor” is the watchword, bullying is considered normal, and the age-old problem of violence is on the rise…yet hidden deep within this 10-year-old boy’s heart lies the possibility of peace... After losing his father, he embarks on a journey that leads him to the edge of a threshold, where a strangely familiar voice entices him to take one more step. But something is holding him back.

So what lies on the other side of this mysterious threshold? I'd like to suggest that what's out there for us—for each of us—is the possibility of peace.

But isn't peace unrealistic, impractical, idealistic, naïve? After all, human conflict and war have existed ever since the rise of modern civilizations at least 5500 years ago. Yet this fact should not prevent us from having conversations about the possibility of peace, of inner peace, peace between individuals, peace within our neighborhoods and communities, and yes, even the possibility of global peace...

Twin Cities Nonviolent is a grassroots, community-based organization committed to ending violence in all forms, structures and systems.

A Hero Dreams is a work of visionary fiction that offers a message of hope to a world too often afflicted by fear, anger, political divisiveness, mass shootings and other forms of horrific violence.

Visit A Hero Dreams

Come to my author event at Subtext Books in St. Paul on Tuesday, September 25 at 7:00 PM: Is Peace Possible?
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July 22, 2018


Connection. It’s all about connection...

How connected—truly connected—do you feel in our fast-paced, results-driven, high technology, digital age? An old friend recently reminded me I’m not the only one who feels that tug in my heart, that longing for a deeper, more authentic connection with others...

A Hero Dreams follows a young boy’s search for connection in a deeply divided and all-too-often violent world...

At age 8, after the sudden death of his father, Ricky Williamson feels lost—hopelessly lost—and disconnected from everyone and everything. His world has become unrecognizable—a dark and hostile wasteland inhabited only by bittersweet memories and ghosts of the past. He wants to reach out to others—to his grieving, alcoholic mother, to his charismatic and athletically gifted brother Danny—but he doesn’t know how. Most of all, he wants to reach out to his beloved dad, but that's no longer possible...or is it?

Two years later, Ricky’s mother sends him to a New England summer camp where he learns the hard way that “honor” is the watchword and bullying is considered normal. After a traumatic incident at the pond, a mysterious voice assures him everything will be okay, but first he must take a leap of faith and cross a threshold into another world—a world where anything is possible...But can the voice be trusted?

What about you? Can you trust that voice...the one in your heart that longs for deeper, more authentic connections with others? Are you ready to take a leap of faith into another world?

A Hero Dreams

A Hero Dreams Website
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Published on July 22, 2018 13:45 Tags: belonging, bullying, connect, connection, courage, faith, fear, grief, heart, hope, leap-of-faith, loss, possibility, threshold, violence

June 28, 2018

A Note of Encouragement to Budding Authors

A little bird informs me (I’m never one to ignore the wisdom of a little bird) that there’s something of great significance inside of you, something valuable that needs to be shared with the world…something that wants to come out and play…

My advice is to let it out…just tell your story! Tell it in whatever manner, in whatever medium feels right for you. Don’t worry about getting it right or whether it will be accepted by others. Just tell your story and tell it from your heart. Don’t think about it…just step aside and let your heart reveal itself authentically…and gloriously. Let your light shine!

Too often, in this transactional, results-oriented world of ours, we filter our messages; we tell our story in a way that we think is likely to please others. This is understandable. There is a deep-seeded, primal need within each of us for acceptance, acknowledgement, and recognition. A need to connect with others. But I urge you to tell your story regardless of whether it’s likely to be received with critical or general acclaim. The only way to establish a true connection with others is by first being true to ourselves.

It took me many years to discover within myself the courage to write and publish my novel, A Hero Dreams; and when I did, I made a conscious effort to resist the temptation to pander to commercial interests. Rather, I told my story as authentically as I could and without regard to how well it might be received. Maintaining creative freedom was (and is) of critical importance to me, which is why I chose to bring A Hero Dreams into the world via the indie publishing route. It had always been (and continues to be) my intention to bring something new into the world—something that inspires readers with the idea that anything is possible…

“How to begin?” Well, first of all, find yourself a sacred space and brew a really nice cup of coffee (or tea, if you prefer!)…and then…just write. My preferred method is to start with a pen and a legal pad and later migrate to a computer. But if you feel more comfortable in front of your keyboard and screen, then by all means, start by hammering away at the computer! Eventually, you’ll want to think about structure and to develop an outline, but for now, just write, revise, and write some more…

A final word—nothing truly great was ever accomplished by following a formula or by guessing at what message might resonate with an audience…it MUST come from your heart…and you must have faith that your story will find its audience…so start writing—no matter how simple, short, silly, complex, long or gravely serious your story might be. We NEED to hear your voice. It’s the only thing that can save our world…
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April 21, 2018

Dark into Light

Human beings have been grappling with the problem of violence ever since the rise of the world's first civilizations some 5500 years ago. My novel, A Hero Dreams, explores this seemingly intransigent problem through the eyes of a child—a ten-year-old boy named Ricky. Early in the story, Ricky suffers multiple childhood traumas: a near-drowning at the age of four; the loss of his father when he's only eight. Later, he falls victim to a brutal assault at the hands of an older boy named Spencer Black.

The path that leads to the end of our suffering—and ultimately to inner peace—requires courage. This is not a time for squeamishness. We must embrace that which is most abhorrent to us and walk through the dark of night in order to witness the glorious dawn of a new day. This is why our journey is called the "Hero's Journey." It is a journey that lies well outside our comfort zone. It is a journey that will test our resolve. Along the way, we will be forced to face the very ugliest, the most vile aspects of human nature. This is unavoidable. We must face the dark if we wish to one day see the light...

We've learned that avoiding pain by burying unpleasant memories doesn't work. Our demons are clever. They have a way of resurfacing when we least expect it, often at the most inopportune moments.

Now here's the good news: Within each of us lies a hero—a hero of virtually unlimited resources. We have the tools and the power to choose to live our lives as men and women of courage. We are not defined by the past, nor do our fears have control over us.

In A Hero Dreams, Ricky's journey leads him through a metaphorical and literal "Tunnel of Doom," where all his demons are lying in wait. With each step, he must relive the terrors of his past—a necessary rite of exorcism. His only defense is to speak directly to the demons: "You're not real...None of this is real!" He's right. As we shall learn, the demons live—have always lived—inside his head and not in the material world.

As Ricky approaches the tunnel's end, he spies a speck of light that fills him with hope. When finally he emerges, his heart overflows with gratitude, and he lets loose with an exuberant yawp. But his journey is not yet over. There's a voice. A mysterious voice is enticing him to take one more step—a step that will transport him across a threshold and into another world...a world of infinite possibility...

A Hero Dreams
Mark Ristau
Visit my Website
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Published on April 21, 2018 15:22 Tags: childhood-trauma, courage, dark, demons, fear, gratitude, grief, hero, hope, journey, light, loss, pain, possibility, suffering, threshold, violence

March 15, 2018

Visionary Fiction

Nothing inspires me more than the idea that the impossible can be made possible…that stories have the power to transform the final arbiter of reality—the human mind. What could be a more “visionary” undertaking than to embark on a writing journey whose mission is to change the very nature of reality by influencing human perception?

My work is based on the fundamental principle that we write to inspire our readers with the idea that anything is possible. It’s true that there are plenty of very talented authors out there who write for no other purpose than to entertain their audiences. And this is fine. Perhaps even necessary. But we should be aware of the dangers inherent in introducing trivialized content into our culture.

I left behind a lucrative career as a corporate attorney with a very specific purpose in mind: To bring something new into the world—a story that would challenge its readers to think about society’s oldest problems in new ways…in short, to transform consciousness…

I’ve always been fascinated by stories that explore the fluid nature of time, space, and reality. The first such story I read was An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, which I was assigned in a 7th grade humanities class. The idea that time was not an absolute concept, and that a writer could manipulate it to serve compelling literary purposes knocked my socks off.

Much later, I was introduced to the work of Paulo Coelho and Joseph Campbell, who became my most important writing influences. In fact, the narrative pattern identified by Joseph Campbell is a pattern I employed in writing the manuscript for A Hero Dreams, originally entitled “Even the Banyan Tree Know Peace.” This narrative pattern—"The Hero’s Journey”—follows the hero across a threshold into a supernatural world where lessons are learned, and wisdom gained. The idea that we can come face-to-face with life’s secrets through such a visionary quest has always captivated me.

To me, Visionary Fiction is a genre that allows writers to share stories about what is possible without being shackled by preconceived notions of how things are and how they ought to be. It’s a genre that encourages writers to break the rules and make discoveries that otherwise might have lain dormant for years…or perhaps forever…

Mark Ristau
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February 20, 2018

Root Causes

In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the issue of violence in our schools and communities has taken on a heightened sense of urgency. There has been much discussion around guns and legislation. What appears to be missing from the national discourse, however, is a conversation that examines the root causes of violence. Rather than pointing our fingers at the perpetrators and labeling them "mentally ill" or "monsters," we need to dive deeper...

We all have a deep-seeded, primal need to connect with others and feel that we belong. It's as vital a need as food and water. So what happens when a young person is deprived of this need? What happens when he or she is excluded from the group? Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fear inevitably turn to anger—an anger that may fester for years before being expressed as rage.

So what's the answer? What can we do?

We might ask ourselves what role we're playing in perpetuating the problem of violence in our schools and communities. How do we treat the outsiders, the ones who are different, strange, weird, and possibly dangerous...the ones who sit alone in the far corner of the cafeteria? Would it be possible to reach out to them?

When we perceive each other as separate, when we exclude those who are different, who seem strange or weird, we plant the seeds of violence...

When we realize the truth of how deeply connected we are, reaching out to the excluded ones becomes as natural as breathing. The possibility of a new order of reality emerges—one in which the seeds of violence are transformed into seeds of peace...

My novel, A Hero Dreams, explores the problem of violence (and its causes) through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy named Ricky. It follows Ricky's journey to the edge of a threshold, where he will face the most important decision of his life—a decision we will all need to face sooner or later.

What kind of world do we want to live in?

A Hero Dreams
Mark Ristau
Learn More about A Hero Dreams
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Published on February 20, 2018 17:02 Tags: anger, belonging, connection, fear, mass-shootings, peace, school-shootings, threshold, violence

February 11, 2018

A Return to Naples

When I was just 4 years old, I came within seconds of drowning in a gulf-side swimming pool in Naples, Florida. I would have died that day but for the heroic efforts of a young woman named Cindy...

Many years later, I returned to Naples to write a novel that would begin with a young boy's brush with death and an encounter with an angel who would deliver a powerful message of hope...

At age 10, with his angel's words still echoing in his head, the boy embarks on a journey that leads to the edge of a threshold, where everything he's ever dreamed of finally seems to be within his reach. All he has to do is take a step forward—a single step forward. But something is holding him back...

In 2 weeks, I'll be in Naples again—this time, to introduce Part 1 of my story, A Hero Dreams, to Southwest Florida. See you then!

Book Signing at Naples Barnes & Noble
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Published on February 11, 2018 16:41 Tags: angel, book-signing, dreams, hero, hope, journey, naples, novel, threshold

February 4, 2018

Ricky's Angel

In the first few pages of A Hero Dreams, our protagonist—a little boy named Ricky—is just moments from drowning in a gulf-side swimming pool when suddenly time stops, and an angel appears. A feeling of peace washes over him as she speaks in a voice that seems to come from within.

Something's wrong here, my love...and together we're going to make it right.

The something that's wrong is not Ricky, of course, but the violent world he's been born into. Thus, his quest begins. Surviving this near-death experience, he embarks on a journey that leads to the edge of a threshold, where everything he's ever dreamed of finally seems to be within his reach. All he has to do is take a step forward—a single step forward. But something holds him back.

Where is Ricky's angel when he needs her most?

We soon learn that she never left him, that she was with him every step of the journey, loving him with all her heart...

We also learn that, through love and forgiveness, it is possible to break the cycle of violence we've all been born into. This theme is further developed in the second and third books of the Hero’s Path series. Along the way, we are exposed to unpleasant, but invaluable, insights into this age-old problem of violence. In the end, we are rewarded with an uplifting message of hope—hope for the possibility of peace in our time. Stay tuned.

A Hero Dreams
Mark Ristau
Visit my Website
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Published on February 04, 2018 17:44 Tags: angel, forgiveness, heart, hope, journey, love, peace, possibility, quest, threshold

January 28, 2018

Open Heart of a Child

Before sitting down to write A Hero Dreams, I revisited the writings of my heroes—all advocates for the radical idea of nonviolent resistance: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, and Henry David Thoreau. Each believed in the power of nonviolent resistance to right injustice and create lasting social change.

In support of the Civil Rights Movement he led until his assassination in 1968, Dr. King urged his followers to “meet the forces of hate with the power of love." According to King, violence was a self-fulfilling prophecy, or rather a continuing cycle with a simple, but not necessarily easy, solution:

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Could it be that simple? Was it possible to break the cycle of violence, not through brute force, but through love? Could we achieve peace by committing ourselves, as Dr. King did (and Gandhi before him), by responding to violence with love rather than hate?

Convinced Dr. King was correct, I sprinkled the seeds for this idea throughout the text and subtext of A Hero Dreams. Often, it’s the voice of Ricky’s deceased father that suggests peace is indeed possible. For example:

If we could see and know that only love is real, there would be no thoughts of separation. If there were no thoughts of separation, young boys would not tease each other and older boys would not learn to fight. If boys never learned to fight, men would not go to war defending abstract concepts such as right and honor. The world would only know peace.

To conclude that peace is possible because only love is real requires not the mind of a scholar, but the open heart of a child—a child like Ricky Williamson, a child like the one who lives in us all...

A Hero Dreams
Mark Ristau
Visit my Website
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Published on January 28, 2018 16:37 Tags: heart, heroes, love, nonviolent-resistance, open-heart, peace, peaceful-resistance

January 21, 2018

A Conversation

We seem to live in a world hopelessly plagued by the problem of violence in its all-too-many manifestations—from bullying to sexual harassment to rape to mass shootings to global terrorism and war.

This problem is hardly a new one. In fact, human conflict and war have existed at least ever since the rise of modern civilizations in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Fertile Crescent (circa 3500 BC).

But we should not allow this fact to prevent us from having conversations about the possibility...the possibility of peace, of inner peace, peace between individuals, peace within our neighborhoods and communities, and yes, even the possibility of global peace.

It might seem like a naive or even crazy idea, but we can have these conversations. We can have these conversations if we refuse to be defined by the past. In A Hero Dreams, 10-year-old Ricky Williamson is able to embrace the possibility of a brighter future when he lets go of his fear, severs his connection with the past, and crosses the "threshold."

Let's have a conversation about what we can learn from this 10-year-old boy...

A Hero Dreams
Mark Ristau
My Website
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Published on January 21, 2018 17:35 Tags: bullying, peace, possibility, rape, terrorism, threshold, violence, war

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Mark Ristau
Reflecting on dreams, thresholds, and the possibility of what might lie beyond...
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