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.

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.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Seattle Kennel Club Reviews Following Atticus

The latest review of Following Atticus is in, and it comes from the Seattle Kennel Club. Among other things they write: “Following Atticus” is a compelling mix of simple and lyrical crafted in a vivid, cultural context. It connects powerfully with readers with its crisp wit, true grit and colorful mosaic of characters. In the process it beautifully captures the essence of the human-animal bond.

You can read the entire review here.

Following Atticus Makes Indie Next List

"Reader, beware! This is not just another dog book! When Tom Ryan welcomed Atticus M. Finch, a miniature schnauzer, into his life, little did he know what courage, pluck, and unwavering love he would get in the bargain. This is a beautifully written book about the very special bond between a man and his dog, an amazing quest, and the mountains that healed them." ~ Barbara Drake, White Birch Books, North Conway, NH

We are thrilled that Following Atticus has been voted on to the Indie Next List for the month of October!

And how nice is it that out of all the people from around the country who nominated Following Atticus it's Barbara Drake's quote about our book that was chosen! Barb works at White Birch Books, our local independent bookstore here in the Mount Washington Valley. Thanks, Barb! As well as everyone else who nominated us to be on this list of twenty notable upcoming books. You can see all
twenty titles by clicking here.

Here's how the American Booksellers Association describes the Indie Next List:
"The Indie Next List, drawn from bookseller-recommended favorite handsells, epitomizes the heart and soul of passionate bookselling. Independent booksellers are and have always been discoverers of the next big thing, the next great read, the next bestseller, and the next undiscovered gem. The monthly Indie Next List flier, sent to members via the monthly Red Box and available for download online, includes a bookseller quotation and complete title information for each outstanding book. Each monthly flier also announces IndieBound hardcover Great Reads now available in paperback. The Indie Next List is also featured on the consumer website,"

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Excerpt 1 from Following Atticus

Over the next couple of weeks we'll be releasing excerpts to our book, Following Atticus. Here's the first excerpt. Hope you enjoy it...and be on the look out for more.