Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Coast Views Magazine Writes About Following Atticus

San Francisco-based Coast Views Magazine has a write-up this month on Following Atticus.  The piece can be read here in its entirety.  I appreciate that the author, Bob Walch, used the full name of both Maxwell Garrison Gillis and Atticus Maxwell Finch.  Love when the media picks up on it. 

Monday, December 05, 2011

HarperCollins Celebrates White Birch Books Selling More Than a 1,000 Copies of Following Atticus

Karyl, Laura, Barb, and Atticus!
In a radio interview the other day, Laura Lucy, the owner of White Birch Books, was asked if she'd ever sold more than a 1,000 copies of a book before.  She thought for a bit and said, "Maybe the DaVinci Code or Harry Potter...but not since September 20th."

In only ten weeks the good ladies at North Conway's White Birch Books have sold more than 1,000 copies of our book.  This is astounding at a time when small indie bookstores spend much of their time gasping for breath.  The economy is brutal.  Amazon is a beast.  And yet here's little a little indie bookseller in the White Mountains selling so many copies of our book. 

On Friday, HarperCollins celebrated this great feat by sending them a congratulatory cake from the White Mountain Cupcakery. 

White Birch Books remains the only place you can special order a personalized autographed and "pawtographed" copy of our book.  You can get one if we have an appearance somewhere but that won't be happening again until January.  So if you would like to order a book from them give the ladies a call at (603) 356-3200. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Secret...

I have a secret for you.  It’s not about the mountains.  It has never been about them.  Then again, you may have already figured that out. 

As soon as we enter the woods and set forth on a trail we leave everything behind.  I mean everything.  There’s Atticus and me and what I wear and what I carry in my pack.  Of course in winter when it’s cold and there are more variables and more dangers to consider I carry far more.  But in comparison to the man who commutes to work in Boston each day, it’s very little.  I noticed that this week while spending a few days down south.  On three occasions I drove along the highways ringing Greater Boston and I saw crazy things on the road.  God, the way people drive – they just don’t care.  They don’t seem to care for others and they don’t seem to care for themselves and the looks on their faces – well, for the most part, it’s sad.  They’re somewhere else.  They are worn down, tired; they are stressed and angry and more often than not headed someplace because they have to be there, not because they want to be there. 

I watched them coming and going and our dear Thoreau was correct: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Atticus and I have it easy compared to those folks.  Our lives are nothing like that, not any more.  Oh, I know I have my own stuff – we all do – but I can’t remember the last time I felt as drawn and spent and empty as many I’d seen on the highways this week. 

The reason we were driving was because we were invited to speak about our story at the wondrous R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut.  It’s a beautiful seaside town that’s polished and scrubbed and feels cleaner and more orderly than most places I’ve ever been.  But it’s not so scrubbed or polished, however, that it feels sterile.  It just feels good.  And the bookstore itself is perhaps the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever been in.  It was enchanting – the kind of place readers would love to get lost in, or those who dream of being a writer go to and walk among the books and say, “Someday….someday I’d like to see my book up on that polished wooden shelf with all the greats, and someday, if I’m fortunate enough, I’d like to come here and sign my books.” 

We were to speak at night but we showed up unannounced, as we like to do, earlier in the day, to take in the surroundings.  We walked for several minutes through the store taking it all in and for a while no one thought anything at all about us.  Then one woman behind the counter saw Atticus sitting in my arms and said, “Oh, have you seen this book we’re selling?  The dog on the cover looks just like him,” as she pointed at Atticus.  She went and got our book and held it up for me to see, “He looks just like him.  How cute!”

That’s when I finally introduced ourselves and our anonymity was gone.  The staff there was just as extraordinary as the store itself was.  Everyone was kind.  The inn they put us up in was romantic and quaint and precious.  And that night when we spoke, there was a good crowd awaiting us and they were fantastic!  They were upbeat, many having read our book and knew of the Little Buddha and they all smiled as we walked to the podium and looked at Atticus in my arm sitting up looking out at them.  And when I spoke, they listened intently.  They nodded, they smiled, they laughed, some wiped a tear here and there.  When we were done we sat and I signed books and used Atti’s paw print stamp to imprint his “pawtograph.”  People bought so many books, several people buying five, six…one woman bought even more.  The store sold so many books they sold out and had to order more. 

It was everything a writer dreams of. 

That night, after the store closed, Atticus and I walked out into the cold night and strolled the streets of Madison.  Christmas decorations adorned the downtown and lights twinkled like little stars and it seemed we had it all to ourselves.  It was not unlike the trails we seek out here in the mountains – the ones where we can mostly be alone.  The air was clean and filled with a sense of satisfaction. 

As I walked I thought of the high mountains of the Presidential Range where the rock reaches above treeline.  I thought of the times we’ve been there, especially in winter.  I thought of the winter when Atticus led me over those high peaks when he was mostly blind and the following winter when he did it again with restored sight.  I thought of the other times we’ve been up there, especially when we had it to ourselves and all we carry is our thoughts, what’s on our bodies, and what’s in my backpack.  And I thought of being there on top of New England to watch the sunrise, as we plan to do one upcoming winter morning. 

It’s funny, when we are away from home I often think of these mountains, but in the mountains I often think of other things, especially when we are climbing them. 

And that gets back to my original point.  It’s not really about the mountains.  It’s never been about them. 

Thinking about these great peaks and the places we’ve been when writing about them and the success we’ve had, I couldn’t help but think of someone who would have enjoyed every bit of our journey had he lived to see it.  Jack Ryan dreamed of climbing all these mountains and he dreamed of being a writer.  In the end what my father had to settle for one of his nine children to do them for him.  I’m hoping it meant something to him, hoping it still does if he’s somewhere looking out over us from wherever he is.

I thought about my father throughout our drive down into Connecticut and while we were there and could just imagine him calling his sister, Marijane, in Arizona and telling her all about it. You see, he would have said little of it to me, and would have exhibited little pride or excitement for me to witness.  For whatever reason he would have kept it hidden.  But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have filled him up and lifted him up.

So on our way home to Jackson, by way of Newburyport (the other home that has helped define me for as Plutarch wrote: “The city makes the man…”), we made a detour to Medway, the little town I grew up in.  There’s not much there these days other than a few strip malls, some overpriced houses, and commuters.  And there’s no reason for Atticus and me to go there other than that’s where my parents are buried. 

My mother was gone far too early for me to remember much of anything about her.  I was only seven when she died Christmas week.  So when I visit the cemetery I do it more for my father.  And there Atticus and I sat halfway between that perfect bookstore in Madison, Connecticut and the mountains we now love and call home.  I read him the prologue to the book.  It was first written as a letter to him, after all.  Then I told him of the wonders of the last few days and this entire journey.  Then we sat some more and I held Atticus on my lap and the same cool earth that now holds my father’s body held me. 

It’s funny what happens when you first take a step onto a trail and head into the woods.  You really do have no idea where it will ultimately take you.  But this much I do know, it’s not about the mountains.  It has never been about them.  It’s always been about where they take you and who they take you to.

Jack Ryan

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Great Review of Our Audio Book

A long-time book reviewer from Indiana who calls himself DWD has reviewed the Following Atticus audio book and given it five stars (out of five).  He writes:

"Tom Ryan narrated the book and I am glad that he choose to read it himself rather than hiring a professional reader. Usually, the author-as-narrator is, at best, a mixed bag. In this case, Ryan's New England accent made the story work all the better (I love regional accents!) and he is quite adept at portraying the emotions of the moment in his voice. I cannot imagine how it could have been performed any better by a professional and I recommend the audiobook version over the printed version because of his performance and what it adds."

His entire
review can be found here.  Please feel free to leave comments on his blog post if you enjoy reading it.  (We bloggers love comments!)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Following Atticus Interview

Today, I had to answer questions via email for a journalist. I know not all of my answers will make it into the article being written so I'm printing the entire thing here.  I hope you enjoy it.  As for the publication, I won't mention its name as I'm sure a much briefer version will appear in its pages before too long.

Here you go...

How did Atticus come into your life?

I had rescued an elderly miniature schnauzer, Maxwell Garrison Gillis.  He was only with me for a year and a half before he died.  Soon after I attempted to rescue any other miniature schnauzer that might be in need but I didn’t have any luck.  So my friends, who knew I was grieving, gave me a thousand dollars and told me to go out and find a puppy.  Once my on-line search started a confluence of fateful emails with a breeder from down south brought Atticus into my life. 

As you’ll see when you read the book, this interaction with the breeder at the beginning and throughout the story is a main theme in our book.

What is it about Atticus that made you want to simplify your life?

It was Maxwell Garrison Gillis, not Atticus that made me aware I needed to simplify things.  When I rescued him I was leading a complicated, controversial, and exciting life running a one-person newspaper in a seething political town.  I was always “on.”  But when Max came into my life I was forced to pay attention to someone else’s needs.  I had always been on the move and he gave me a reason to stay home more often.  He gave me someone to look after.  He gave me a home.  Seeing him curl up in a small ball on my bed while I was on the phone talking about the latest lies of some small town politician made me realize I wanted to find that same kind of innocence he exhibited on a daily basis. 

How did Atticus help put small-town politics into perspective?

After Max passed on I had the responsibility of raising Atticus. His breeder, Paige Foster, had entrusted a very special puppy to me (I wouldn’t know for years just how special she thought he was) and I took my responsibility seriously.  When you raise a puppy, there is so much you have to take into account.  I was given charge of a new life and I wanted to make sure that he had the kind of life the once-neglected Max had been denied for the first decade of his life. 

When you love someone, everything else falls away.  When you care for someone - that becomes the priority.  Putting Max, and then Atticus first, humbled me and put things into perspective for me.

What makes Atticus happy?

Not long ago someone asked me if Atticus has a voice in the book.  He doesn’t.  It would be presumptuous and disingenuous of me to pretend I know what he’s thinking or what he would say if he could speak.  I won’t pretend to know everything that makes him happy.  But from what I see being free is the main thing.  He gets to be with me, which is a job he takes extremely seriously as he acts as though I’m his responsibility.  By being with me he gets treated as an equal.  I like to think that makes him happy. 

Being in nature also does it.  This I can clearly see.  If we are on a beach or in the woods there’s more of a spring to his step.  And being on a mountaintop…well, something comes over him.  The best I can describe it is that he seems to find his bliss and his center on top of a peak.  He sits and sits and sits moving nothing but his head and eyes taking in the view.  And when we first get to a mountaintop he wants me to pick him up so we can share the view together.  In my arms, with both our eyes cast out towards the horizon, I feel his body relax, I hear him sigh, and I see that this is a place he was meant to be.

Why 48 peaks, twice each, in the winter?

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) created the 4,000-Footer Club more than fifty years ago.  Its purpose was to get people to explore the four corners of the White Mountains of New Hampshire and not just hang out on the most popular peaks.  There are 48 of them.  Finish them and you get a patch and a scroll signifying the accomplishment.  More than 8,000 people and 100 dogs have completed that ‘List’ through the years. 

Then there’s the ‘Winter List.’ It’s much difficult club to become a member of and far fewer people have accomplished this.  It’s even rarer, as you might imagine, to do all the peaks in one winter. 

At the time I was looking for a way to pay tribute to a friend who had died of cancer.  Just before her cancer was detected she’d done a three-day, sixty mile cancer walk and told me it was tough and something she’d never dreamed of doing, but it was also rewarding.  So setting out to do something just as tough and rare and rewarding was the impetus for attempting to hike 96 peaks in 90 days to raise money for the fight against cancer for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and then later for Angell Animal Medical Center.

What was the highlight of your trek?

There’s no one highlight.  For the rest of my life moments of our journeys in the mountains, especially in winter, will flash in my mind. It happens on a daily basis to me.  I suppose what mattered most was that throughout it all, we grew even closer than imaginable.  Not only did we have an already incredibly intimate bond shared by man and dog, but we also shared a bond between hiking partners.  There’s a rare intimacy that’s shared between two fellow adventurers that the rest of the world can never know.  People can think they know about it but until you experience it it’s something that cannot be translated for others.

In three winters Atticus and I climbed 188 winter peaks.  In that time we shared numerous adventures and lived a life most others only can dream of.  The friendship that existed before then and grew because of those mountains – that was the highlight.

Did you and/or Atticus ever want to give up?

Again, I cannot and will not speak for him.  I can say is that Atticus always had a say in every hike.  If he didn’t want to go, we didn’t go.  If we got so far into the hike and he wanted to turn back we did.  He didn’t do either of these very often, but he did it enough to know he could always have a say.

As for me, there were many times I wanted to give up.  Winter in the White Mountains can be exhilarating and beautiful.  But it can also be daunting, dangerous, and about the loneliest place in the world.  On days when the sun is bright and the skies bright blue, the snow is brilliant white and my heart soars.  But when it’s gray and misty and there are no views and the wind howls like a banshee, well, I shiver and I shudder and I question myself. 

And of course it’s incredibly difficult to get out of bed when you are aching from a twenty mile hike and you have to get up and do another hike again, especially when the temperature is below zero and everyone you know is home safe and sound.

What is different about your life with Atticus in it?

That’s what our book is about.  Read it and you’ll find the answer. 

If I had to sum it up though, I’d say that throughout all of our lives we all lose things along the way.  When we are young and innocent we dream of how special the world will be and how wonderful we can be when we grow up.  And yet along the way year by year that gets chipped away.  We get to be middle-aged and often all we can think of us is just getting by.  We forget the magic.  We forget how much of a gift life is. 

If we are lucky, fate knocks on our door and says “Wake up! I’ve got an adventure for you to go on.”  Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, refers to this as the ‘hero’s journey’.  It’s that moment we step away from the usual and enter a different realm that at first seems uncomfortable, maybe even impossible, and then yields to a more rewarding existence.  Soon you’re on your way back to everything you ever dreamed of being. . . . That is, if you have the courage of your convictions and the willingness to leave the old and the safe behind for this new life – the life you were always meant to lead.

First Maxwell Garrison Gillis and then Atticus Maxwell Finch became avatars, guides, if you will, to bring me on this journey back to myself.  As I’ve said many times over, I owe much to one dog who died and another who lived.  I owe them my eternal gratitude for giving me back my life.

What is different about Atticus’ life with you in it?


Sorry, but I won’t even pretend to know the answer to this one.  He was eight weeks old when we joined forces.

If I was to leap for an answer the only thing I’d say is that I’m proud of something Paige Foster said, “Thank you for not training the Atticus out of Atticus.”  In short, I set up guidelines so that he could be safe but the rest was up to him. I allowed him to be whatever he wanted to be.  I simply got out of his way and let him be.

If he didn’t like mountains, we never would have returned for a second hike.  But he did and that was the path we took.

All I can say to this is that raising a puppy and living with the dog as he ages is the same as loving someone: you do your best to protect them, but you let them live and grow and be themselves.  In return you receive so many gifts, especially the knowledge that you helped someone on their own personal journey.

If we weren’t together, well, I have no idea what his life would have been like.  Paige always thought he was extraordinary, so perhaps he would have been extraordinary in some other way.  Thankfully for me, it’s an answer I don’t need to have.

What’s next for you and Atticus?

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie “Hook” (it’s a modern day look at Peter Pan) or not but there’s a great last couple of lines.  Granny Wendy says, “So…your adventures are over.  And Peter Banning says, “Oh no.  To live…to live would be an awfully big adventure.”

We’ll always have our mountains but our greatest adventure continues to be sharing this life together.  I take heart in knowing there are many more adventures to come.  In the last chapter of Following Atticus you will see we set sail on a new one and that is a story unto itself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Appalachia & Beyond Reviews Following Atticus

How sweet is this photo?
I consider it an honor when those I respect the most 'get' our story and enjoy it.  It means something more to me because they understand our love of nature and mountains and the bond between man and dog. 

In their review it says: "But let me warn you, this is not just a book about a dog. It's not just a book about adventure. The mystery is never rectified. But you will be left with a heart-warming sensation - a newly acquired approach to the way you view life - and probably even the lives of the pets you love."

The entire Appalachia & Beyond review
can be read here.  It also has a link to our fabulous book trailer created by Joe Carter.

(Oh, and by the way, don't you just love the accompanying photo?) 

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Letter from South Doublehead

"There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a
miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." ~ Einstein
Dearest friend,

When we sat atop the ledges on South Doublehead the other day, I thought of you. You came to me when all the work of climbing was done and we were still. The air was chill and a hint of December blew in on us. It was late and dark clouds filled the sky and hung heavily over the mountaintops. Washington had snow on its cap and the rest of the peaks of the Presidential Range, and those of the Wildcats and Carters, sat in shadow as if they were deep in sleep and had no desire to get up.

To keep warm I put on my jacket and gloves and Atticus pulled himself off the cold stone and sat on my lap.

Not quite winter…not quite…

And yet there was a winter song in the air. It was carried in the wind that stirred the nearby trees, not enough to move them but instead to play music in them. It wove through branches twisted and time-tested and produced a mournful melody. With the waning light of day it could have been heartbreaking if it were not for the fact that I love the colder seasons up here, especially when we are high above the rest of the world and others are tucked home safe and comfortable and getting ready for supper. There’s something about being out where no one else is – just Atticus and me. Alone together in silence and away from everyone else, it’s like my beloved Emerson wrote, “Conversation enriches the understanding; but solitude is the school of genius.”

I think of such moments often when I take center stage on our book tour. I’m not a natural at public speaking and those who have sat in on one of my talks will tell you I’m definitely not polished nor am I practiced. Those who have been to more than one know I rarely say the same thing twice.

A friend recently asked, “If each night is different, how do you know what you’ll say to each audience?”

The truth is, I don’t know. I stand up in front of those gathered, whether it be a few or two hundred, with a lump in my throat I wonder what I could possibly have to say that will interest them. After what seems like minutes to me – it’s only a second or two to everyone else though – I leap. It helps that Atticus is with me just as he always been over the last nine years. It helps that I start out holding him, just as I hold him on top of each mountain. It helps that I know that we’ve seen things together that few will ever see, and have been tested as few have been tested.

I don’t always know where to start; I just know that when I’m in front of a room it’s not unlike being on a mountaintop when it’s cold and dark and we are alone and those in front of us are safe and comfortable in their seats. I think of the miles he and I have walked, the stars we’ve walked under, and I think of each of us being caked in ice and snow. I think about how we’ve both sank at the end of the day in exhaustion, how at times we used to get back to the cabin and how Atticus would hop lazily up onto the bed and of how I was literally so tired I fell asleep getting undressed. Or those time when I was so empty after more than 20 miles of hiking in below zero temperatures when the Lyme disease wore me down to nothing and my legs were heavy and my feet sore that I had to actually crawl to the bed to join him.

When I think of those times, when I think of always following him and where he’s taken me – well, standing up in front of people that’s when I realize that talking is nothing. Not after I take that leap of faith, it’s not. And not when I feel him in my arms cradled safely as he’s always been or feel his body rise and fall or hear his breathing or the way he will at times tuck his head under my chin. Those who see him do this surely think he’s looking for me to comfort him. What they probably don’t see is that it comforts me just as much. He’s a humble little being with a soul that was made to sing out loud, even if he never barks and sits as still as a stone.

What buoys me in the end though, what allows me to talk on and on to a room full of strangers is a simple little thing. Down deep I realize I’m doing something most others only dream about. I’m telling the story of the mountains we love, a father I loved, a little city we know so well, an unusually selfless breeder, and more than anything I think about how fortunate I am to be telling the story of a special little friend who has led me home again.

The first time I ever spoke with Atticus in my arms it was at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and the crowd was filled with Beacon Hill money. Millionaires and billionaires filled the biggest fundraiser of the year for the MSPCA. And there Atticus and I stood, blinded by lights, in a room full of the wealthy, composed, and polished. I wore an ill-fitting sport coat, new shirt, pants, belt, socks, and shoes and when we started I thought about how we didn’t fit in with that crowd at all. And yet the strangest thing happened. Thinking of our experiences together and telling the story of my little friend Atticus – well, by the time that was all done I had the distinct impression that we were the only ones who did fit in. We had brought the mountaintop with us to Boston and we shared it with those who had never been.

So when we were sitting on top of the ledges on South Doublehead the other day and winter was so close to being there and the sky was dark and foreboding and others might have felt loneliness I knew we were where we belonged. It was then that I looked over towards the shadowy outline of the Montalbon Range and just above that long snake of mountains the clouds parted and those wonderful crespular rays reached down and illuminated the valley below like the hand of God.
And there you were.

The journey means everything. Getting away from the comfortable, the typical, and the routine, being tested, having to endure unimaginable experiences that threaten to take everything away – and then somehow, someway finding our way back home again. That’s where the meaning lies. And if we are fortunate we not only find ourselves at journey’s end just as we’d always once dreamed we could be – we often also find those who mean the most of us.

A hike for me has never been simply to a mountaintop and back again. It’s always been more about where it leads you . . . and who it leads you to.

Your friends,
Tom (& Atticus)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Myrna Milani Reviews Following Atticus

A rare sight: Atticus following Tom. (We do this when breaking trail.)
Myrna Milani is a vet, blogger, and author who reviewed Following Atticus.  The entire review can be read here.  Here's but one paragraph of the review.

"But if the human and canine relationship with the mountains sometimes seemed more like the dance between prey and predator, Ryan’s and Atticus’ relationship with each other is more like a game of physical and mental developmental leapfrog, with each of them raising the bar for the other like two kids playing “I double-dog dare ya!” In fact, some of their heart-stopping, laugh-generating, what-were-you-two-thinking (!) escapades so reminded me of the behavior common to younger male mammals of all species that I’d forget that they weren’t members of the same one. I think Ryan would have made a hell of a dog and Atticus would have made a hell of a human. But the human-canine unit they form together is better still."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Following Atticus Reaches No. 7 On NEIBA Non-Fiction List This Week

New England Independent Booksellers Association
(NEIBA) Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List
1. Boomerang
Michael Lewis, Norton, $25.95, 9780393081817
2. Killing Lincoln
Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard, Holt, $28, 9780805093070
3. The Swerve
Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, $26.95, 9780393064476
4. Unbroken
Laura Hillenbrand, Random House, $27, 9781400064168
5. That Used to Be Us
Thomas L. Friedman, Michael Mandelbaum, FSG, $28, 9780374288907
6. In the Garden of Beasts
Erik Larson, Crown, $26, 9780307408846
7. Following Atticus
Tom Ryan, Morrow, $25.99, 9780061997105
8. The Greater Journey
David McCullough, S&S, $37.50, 9781416571766
9. Confidence Men
Ron Suskind, Harper, $29.99, 9780061429255
10. Rin Tin Tin
Susan Orlean, S&S, $26.99, 9781439190135
11. Go the F**k to Sleep
Adam Mansbach, Ricardo Cortes (Illus.), Akashic, $14.95, 9781617750250
12. Jacqueline Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy, Michael Beschloss, Hyperion, $60, 9781401324254
13. Seriously... I'm Kidding New
Ellen DeGeneres, Grand Central, $26.99, 9780446585026
14. Destiny of the Republic
Candice Millard, Doubleday, $28.95, 9780385526265
15. The Better Angels of Our Nature New
Steven Pinker, Viking, $40, 9780670022953

From the Top of South Doublehead on Monday

Monday, October 10, 2011

USA Character Approved Blog Writes About Following Atticus

The USA Character Approved Blog focuses on Following Atticus today.  The blogger, Ben Hogan, writes: "Ryan is a compelling narrator, balancing his personal revelations with careful observations of Atticus's behavior; when the dog's health takes a turn for the worse, readers feel the anxiety and frustration as keenly as Ryan himself must have. Despite all the adversity life threw at them, the two continue to push forward, buoyed by the beauty of the mountains. (Ryan is still posting regular updates on his blog, even during their book tour.) Following Atticus will inspire not just dog lovers, but anyone who's looking for that extra little bit of courage it takes to break away from the non-essentials and start a simpler, happier life."

The USA Character Approved Blog has this to say about itself: "The Character Approved blog celebrates the people, places and things that are making a mark by positively influencing our cultural landscape. They're Character Approved - recipients of USA Network's seal of approval."

To see the entire blog post click here:
USA Character Approved Blog Climb Every Mountain with Tom & Atticus.  (And I must say that's it great to see Joe Carter's wonderful book trailer get this much play!)

Atticus Rocks (According to the New England Library Association)

Some of the librarians who met Atticus M. Finch
before the start of the NELA luncheon.
Last week Atticus M. Finch and I joined 200 enthusiastic librarians at a luncheon in Burlington, Vermont.  After eating I spoke to them about our story - most of the time while Atticus was sitting up, riding in the comfort on my elbow.  Here's their blog post regarding our visit with them.  It was part of the annual meeting of the New England Library Association (NELA).  And what a great audience they were!


As our book, Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, makes its way into the hands of readers across the country, reviews continue to come in and on occasion I am humbled.    Mark Twain wrote that "The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all."  I understood this during my newspapering days with the Undertoad and as a first time author who is often overlooked by many professional reviewers it's a lesson taught to me on a daily basis. 

So you can imagine how it feels when perfect strangers who have nothing to gain, no paid review to write, nor any need to pad their reputation by voicing their opinion on our story have something to say.  While I don't always read reviews, one woman who posted both on Amazon's and Barnes and Noble's websites wrote something that has left me humbled.  And while I'm not sure we are worthy of her kind words I thought I'd share them with you nonetheless.  It follows below. . . .

What we all need right now is (to be) Following Atticus

This is definitely the best book I've read in a long, long time. Tom Ryan takes the reader on an achingly personal yet amazing journey with "Following Atticus". This is not just a typical dog memoir, and it's not just a story about the adversities of hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This book shares with us wonderful life lessons taught by a little dog. live in the moment, be close to nature, reflect, persevere when things get tough, give selflessly, love unconditionally. Atticus gently leads Tom to discover his true self, and as Tom shares this story, the reader experiences all emotions encountered along the way. You will laugh out loud, you will shed tears, you will feel the exhilaration of triumph, and cheer for this unlikely pair. Tom writes in such a way that the reader can't help but feel a personal connection to his experiences. By the end of the book, Tom has changed... and the reader probably has too. This book couldn't come to us at a better time - in a world where we are constantly barraged with bad news and negativity, this book will remind the reader of all that is good and right and possible. Tom Ryan and Atticus are an inspiration, and we would all do well to follow them.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Some Reflections from Our Book Tour

From our Lincoln, New Hampshire appearance. (Photo by Ken Stampfer.)
Over the last two weeks Atticus and I have driven more than 3,000 miles during the first leg of our book tour. We’ve been taken far from the land we love.

We’ve traveled from the bucolic countryside of northern New Hampshire down through many of the more urban areas of the northeast. We’ve been to the ocean, stuck in smoggy traffic in the bowels of the highways coursing through New York City, walked the cobblestone streets of old Richmond, Virginia, and driven through the farmlands of southeast Pennsylvania. Along the way we’ve visited spirited independent bookstores and met audiences of all sizes: from more than 200 to less than 10. The audiences have been wonderfully receptive and on most occasions we had more than 50 people in attendance, even in places where you would think there wouldn’t be many. It’s been a pleasure telling them about our journey. It’s been a privilege to tell them about these mountains.

Six years ago when Atticus and I first started hiking we befriended Steve Smith, a long-time White Mountain scribe, author of several books, and owner of Lincoln’s Mountain Wanderer Map and Bookstore. During our conversations about writing and these mountains we share a love and wonder of I let him know that it was my dream to write about them the way the artists of the 1800s painted them. It was my wish to portray them accurately and to reflect their magnificence and when I was done I wanted people to look at them the same way they did when the White Mountain artists shared them with the rest of the world. I like to think that I have succeeded. As people read our book I hear many things but the one that pleases me the most is when they say, “I need to see the White Mountains.”

Mike Dickerman, Steve Smith’s co-author of the Four Thousand Footers of the White Mountains, and an equally legendary scribe who has written about these peaks for more than two decades, recently said that Following Atticus is “an instant regional classic.”

When we receive much in life, it is our duty to repay it in kind. Perhaps not to where it came from but instead to others who are in need of what we have. I have never been motivated by money or fame. I’ve always been driven by my passions and passion is what brought Atticus and me north. It’s what drove me to write our book. In the process I wanted to share this sacred place with others who have never seen it, just as I once wrote about it in letters to my father. He had been up here many times, but always as a windshield tourist. And so when I saw sights that would have brought tears to his eyes and brought him to his knees in awe I didn’t think about what I’d seen, but rather how it made me feel and then tried to capture that feeling in words so he could feel it as well.

I don’t think when I write – I feel. Because of this I will never be considered a great writer, I imagine. I’m far from an intellectual. But to hear those who have never been here say “I need to stand on top of one of the White Mountains,” well, I feel I’ve succeeded at least in some small way in capturing their grandeur.

A friend of mine weighs at least 350 pounds. Recently he noted he was on a diet and had started visiting a personal trainer to help him lose weight. I congratulated him and asked him what motivated him.

“I want to see the Bonds one day.”

He had just read our book. Nothing filled me with more gratitude than hearing this.

As we’ve traveled far from our home in Jackson, I’m happy to report that Atticus carries himself as he always has: with a great sense of self and without a leash or collar. He’s walked city streets and country lanes on our book tour just as he always has – some twenty feet in front of me. And when I speak he’s either sitting in the crook of my elbow or lying on a comfortable blanket on a table. Sometimes he sleeps. He doesn’t look much like a mountain dog. But then again he never has. Just as I’ve never looked like much of a hiker. But I think that’s what makes our message all the more intriguing. People look at us and say, “If those two did it, so can I?”

They are correct.

And yet there’s more to it than that. I’ve seen these mountains and looked up at them with delight and fear and respect and reverence. But the only reason I have is because a little dog led me. I’ve been a lucky participant in this marvelous journey simply because I followed an extraordinary little dog. And why did I do that? Well . . . sometimes you just need to follow your friends. You just never know where it will lead you.

Where it’s led me is to the top of the world. At least that’s the way I see it. After more than a thousand miles of sharing the trails with Atticus M. Finch I’ve been scrubbed clean by nature and brought back to see innocence once again. I’m a fortunate man.

It all goes to show you that anything is possible – especially here in these magical Mountains.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Book Tour

Don't let the bottle from one of our hotel mini bars fool you...
Atticus was not driven to drink during the tour.  He had a great time!
Our book tour has had us on the run for the past two weeks and now we get to sleep in our own bed for the next week.  We have a few upcoming events this week but they are relatively local.  Then, next week we head out on the road for a few nights again.  Much to catch up on regarding our tour and hopefully the next couple of days will deliver some sunny days so that Atticus and I can go find a perch on top of a mountain somewhere here in the Whites where the world will come round to us again. 

We're doing well, but I know it's time to find our center again and let nature recharge us. 

As for Atticus, he's been a great sport throughout the tour.  He's fine so long as we are together and people treat him well, which they've been doing.  And I'm quite sure that while he sleeps through most of the talks I give (you have to forgive him since he's heard me talk so much as of late and already knows how the story ends - the dog lives!) he enjoys the stimulation of meeting people.   

Over the past two weeks we've put in 3,500 miles of driving, met many interesting folks, saw some great independent bookstores, and spoke at several interesting libraries.  The experiences themselves have added color to pass along during our speaking engagements and part of me wishes we could keep going.

But the other part longs to be home alone with my friend where life is quiet and private and the bears and moose and fox are never too far away.  And wouldn't you know it, the wonderful fall foliage that I've been missing up here as we've headed away from the mountains has held out and is just now starting to turn.  It really is the best time of the year up here and we are doubly blessed.  Not only do we get to live and walk in these mountains, we get to tell the world about them. 

This Thursday morning we'll be on WMWV, the North Conway radio station we listen to every morning.  We'll be interviewed by Roy Prescott at 8:20 am and it can be heard on if you are not in the Mount Washington Valley.  On Friday night at 7:00 pm we'll be in Newington to speak at the Barnes & Noble.  And on Saturday we'll be appearing in Littleton, NH at the Village Bookstore at 4:00 pm. 

More news to follow as we rest up for a few days and climb a mountain or two. 

Onward, by all means,
Tom (& Atticus) 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Following Atticus Countdown...8 Days!

Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship goes on sale on September 20, 2011.  It's available wherever books are sold.  (Or, as my friend Bob, who sells books tells me, "Wherever fine books are sold." You can also pre-order from your local indie bookseller or at any of the on-line stores:;;; etc...

Also, the good ladies at
White Birch Books in North Conway (our local book store) are taking orders for personalized inscriptions that will be signed by me and stamped with Atticus's paw print.  These is great for those of you who want a signed copy but cannot get to one of our stops on our book tour.  You can find information on our book tour on our HarperCollins page here.  And those who order from pre-order from White Birch Books will be entered into a drawing to win a Following Atticus t-shirt.  The shirts are not for sale (although they may be some day).  We're giving them away during our tour

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Land of Faerie

A few years after Atticus and I started hiking in the White Mountains we found ourselves on an unusual trail, headed in a sharply different course. It wasn’t a miscalculation, but a change of direction that was carefully nurtured.

The reason for the change can be found in something Tolkien wrote: "Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are one in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted."

That quote, the very essence of it, is why we gave up a life in Newburyport where we’d become deeply-rooted. It was a city where I thought I would live my life. But that’s the thing about magic: if you open your eyes, mind, and heart to it, there’s no telling where you’ll end up.

Seven years ago this very weekend Atticus and I joined three of my brothers on a climb up Mount Garfield. They’d all been hiking up here for years, but for us it was something new. And yet after staggering up that final chute to the everlasting vistas on that incredible summit everything changed and I found myself in a vivid state of life and understood then and there that things would never be the same again. We’d came back that following summer and by hiking the 48 4,000-footers in eleven weeks I returned to my childhood. It was a walk across hundreds of miles and deep into that land of faerie Tolkien spoke of.

Because fate works as it does and our only job is to go along for the ride, we returned that winter – even though I planned for us to avoid the snowy peaks. Then came the next spring, summer, and fall, where we visited all 48 (and other peaks) once again. Over the following two winters we set out on our fundraising quests, first to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in memory of a friend who died of cancer by attempting to do two rounds of the 48 in the 90 days of winter. Then, the following winter, after Atticus had lost his sight and then had it restored because of the kindness of others, we attempted the 96 peaks in 90 days once again, this time for Angell Animal Medical Center.

Throughout all of this peakbagging we adhered to schedules and I found myself a daily visitor to various hiking websites where I could touch base with others who had been hooked by the same addiction. I’d check in several times a day, see what others were hiking, and would let them know what we’d been doing, and planned to do.

And then something happened.

In the midst of all that collecting of peaks, in the hurry to get them done, I grew proud of our accomplishments and the sheer numbers we were piling up.  I desired nothing more than to fit in with the hiking community and let them know what we were doing.  It was then that I realized I had taken this gift of another chance at innocence I’d been given in my forties and nearly thrown it away.

Those of us who come to the White Mountains from other places fall under their spell. We cannot get enough of them. It’s love gone mad. Enchantment falls upon us and this is all we care about. We hike the 48 the first time around because it serves the purpose they were set up to do – to get people to see peaks other than the Presidential Range and Franconia Ridge. And if when do the 48 again...and again, we begin to fall into a rut. At least I did. 

If we collect those peaks enough, we start to diminish the gift of returning to the magic of our youth when all was possible. We make the mistake of bringing along the very life of striving, competition, and ego that we were so very happy to leave behind when we first glimpsed this incredible place. And we do it all because we’re working towards yet another accomplishment – perhaps earning a scroll, a patch, or our names on a website. All so that we can say, “Look what I’ve done!”

I’m not sure when it clicked for me; perhaps there wasn’t a specific time but an accumulation of unease. But I finally came to realize that I’d turned my life in the mountains into the one I was so thrilled to leave behind. So I set a different course, away from the mania of accomplishment, and back again towards the land of faerie.

I’ve not regretted it. I no longer visit the hiking websites. As a matter of fact, I avoid them like the plague, for I see in many who post there the same mania I was urged on by and am reminded that what we dislike about others is what we recognize in ourselves.  This is not to say it's wrong for them; it was simply wrong for me.  There's a saying all hikers know: "Hike your own hike."  It means get whatever you need to get out of the mountains.  And while others are into collecting the same peaks over and over again, I'm not.  Although I must say that I don't believe there's anything wrong with either approach. 

Having experienced both types of hiking, I made a decision to get back to the more free form style of going where I want to go.  Perhaps it's because I'm not much of a joiner or a follower and I've always admired Emerson for writing, "Whose would be a man must be a nonconformist." 

Over the last three years Atticus and I no longer hike with a plan. Instead we visit the woods, get their good tidings, and fulfill our souls. It feels much better this way. It feels the way it is supposed to feel. Each walk in the woods, each summit reached is once again a gift. And now it’s done for the right reasons. Not so we can say to others, "Look what we’ve done," but so that we can feel the magic the way it was supposed to be felt, the way poets and painters have always felt about such places.

I returned to this area of my youth because of a seed planted in me by my father long ago. And I’ve been led from valley to peak by a little dog with a curious sense of place, self, and calmness. And now as we get ready to launch our book, the first ever nationally published about these magical White Mountains, I’m content in knowing that we’ve reclaimed much of what I nearly lost.

One of my pleasures this summer has come in the form a watching a duo quite similar to us – an adult and a little one – as they take the journey Atticus and I took six years ago. One is old enough to bare the trials and tribulations of life; the other is still wrapped in the innocence of childhood.

My two favorite hikers: Sierra Flagg
and Atticus M. Finch.
When this summer began, Sue Flagg, who owns and publishes both the NorthCountry News and Mountainside Guide with her husband, Bryan wanted to climb Mount Washington with their seven year old daughter, Sierra. They not only did that, but have now climbed 37 4,000-footers. In this incredible summer which will live on forever for them, mother and daughter only continue on because it’s still fun for Sierra. She cares more about spending time with her mother in the woods (and occasionally her father as well) and little about the patch and scroll the Appalachian Mountain Club awards finishers of the 48. They aren’t doing it for the notoriety and aren’t posting and boasting about what they’ve done. This is not a case of a little league dad or soccer mom pushing their child to the extreme so they can fulfill some emptiness within themselves.  Sue and Sierra are doing it simply for the joy of it.  

In watching them progress from mountain to mountain I am overjoyed by their experiences. And while Sue is happy to teach her daughter as much as she can during each of her hikes, I have the feeling that Sierra is doing her own fair share of teaching as well. For these mountains are for the innocent who can still appreciate magic. They are for little girls and little dogs and those of us they remind to be young and fresh and hopeful again.

The land of faerie exists. It’s wherever nature is. And if we allow it – it’s also within us.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Following Atticus Book Trailer

Excerpt (No. 2) from Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship

Atticus M. Finch on the ledges of Mount Moriah looking
off towards the Carter and Presidential Ranges.
Last week we shared the first of several excerpts from our book, Following Atticus, with you.  We're back this week with another.  I'm often asked how I kept Atticus safe throughout our winter hikes.  Here's a passage that tells you who we dealt with it during our first winter in the White Mountains.  Click here to read the second excerpt from our book.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Kirkus Reviews On Following Atticus

Kirkus Reviews, which bills itself as "The World's Toughest Book Critics," reviewed Following Atticus and gave us a great write up.  Thank you, Kirkus.  It follows below in its entirety. 

Lyrical memoir of an adventurous New England journalist and his trusty canine companion.

Photo by Ken Stampfer.
Ryan spent many years single-handedly owning and operating the Undertoad, a newspaper covering the police and political beats (and their interrelated improprieties) in eccentric Newburyport, Mass. ("Norman Rockwell meets Alfred Hitchcock"). The author's journalistic exposure of local scandals didn't sit well with folks in power, however, and he feared violent retribution. Quelling his paranoia was the "commitment" of adopting an older miniature schnauzer. Sadly, his time with that pet lasted less than a year, but spurred him to adopt schnauzer pup Atticus Maxwell Finch. After a frustrating training period, Ryan and Atticus struck a harmonious human-animal rapport, a uniquely interactive relationship the author clearly reveled in. A few tastes of majestic New Hampshire mountain climbing with his brothers brought back fond memories of better days with his estranged father, a haunting presence throughout the memoir. That family hike challenged Ryan to scale all 48 of the White Mountain range's 4,000-foot peaks in 90 days with a dog Ryan fondly writes was "made for the mountains." The experience became therapeutic, transformative and spiritually enlightening for both. Without regret, Ryan retired the newspaper and, in honor of cancer victim Vicki Pearson, galvanized himself and Atticus to, again, hike the 48 peaks (twice!) as a cancer fundraiser. Rivetingly portrayed, both valiantly braved the vicious winter elements (Atticus in booties and bodysuit), but the dog's darker days were only just beginning. There's immense pathos in the frank depiction of the author's turbulent relationship with his father, both in describing his physical abuse as a youth or finding forgiveness in adulthood.

In befriending Atticus and carrying his father's memory to those serene mountain peaks, Ryan admits he discovered a rare peacefulness, a quality that underscores this touching chronicle.