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