Following Atticus

7 Seconds in Heaven with Tom Ryan

Our guest today: Tom Ryan Why we want to spend 7 Seconds in Heaven with him: He's adventurous and he loves dogs!  What's not to love?

His latest: Following Atticus

The Scoop: After a close friend died of cancer, middle-aged, overweight, acrophobic newspaperman Tom Ryan decided to pay tribute to her in a most unorthodox manner. Ryan and his friend, miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch, would attempt to climb all forty-eight of New Hampshire's four thousand- foot peaks twice in one winter while raising money for charity. It was an adventure of a lifetime, leading them across hundreds of miles and deep into an enchanting but dangerous winter wonderland. At the heart of the amazing journey was the extraordinary relationship they shared, one that blurred the line between man and dog.

Our thoughts: This book has A LOT of heart.  We think you'll fall in love with Tom and Atticus!

Giveaway: FIVE copies!  Leave a comment and you'll be entered to win. We'll choose the winners on Sunday, October 21st after 6pm PST.

Fun fact: He has the CUTEST pics of Atticus on his Facebook page.

Where to read more about Tom: His website, Facebook and Twitter.


L&L: You conquered a lot of your fears in FOLLOWING ATTICUS. Tell us about that.

For so many years I was a chicken.  I was afraid of a lot of things and it got to the point where I thought about what a waste it all was.  Life is short and fear is mostly just a liar that robs of us what we want to be and has very little to do with what’s real. So I decided to face up to my fears as I used to face up to dirty cops and politicians and challenge them.  Now I dance with those fears.  Do that enough and they go away.

L&L: Atticus is adorable! Are you guys still climbing together?

I can’t speak for Atticus, but in my imagination he’d rather be considered rugged, but since we’re answering questions for Chick Lit is Not Dead. . . . today he’s adorable. (Do you hear that Atticus? [He’s sitting next to me as I write this.])

To answer your question, I’m still following Atticus, that rugged and adorable dog, up mountains each week.  He’s now ten and a half so we don’t go at it with the same intensity and we mostly seek out mountains we can have to ourselves.  In the beginning, it was all about accomplishment and fundraising for the fight against children’s cancer and for animals in need.  Now it’s simply about doing what we most love to do and doing it with someone we love.  And since Atticus and I both love the same woman and she’s somewhat new to hiking, we’re introducing her to our favorite hikes and all of us are seeing them anew.  For instance, on one of our most recent hikes, a five mile loop that wouldn’t have taken more than three hours in the past, we started out later in the afternoon, took our time, sunbathed on the summit ledges, then on another set of ledges watched the sunset and the rise of the full moon over neighboring mountains.  We stayed there for quite some time, just the three of us, ate a candlelight dinner, and danced to the music piped from my iPhone under the full moon, and returned to the car nine hours later.

L&L: We have a few good men, but most of our readers are women. Tell us why women would love your memoir.

Well, to start off with there’s that adorable dog on the front cover of our book….

Seriously though, our editor at William Morrow, Cassie Jones, bought the rights to our book because she understood our story was not about hiking or dogs.  It’s layered with many themes.  There are, of course, parts of our story about a unique little dog and hiking in these mountains we call home, but as one blogger noted, “Saying Following Atticus is about hiking is like saying Moby Dick is about whaling.”

There are many themes dealt with: the relationships between fathers and sons; friendship; challenges that lead to growth; facing up to fears; links throughout the book to great literature from the past; nature; and more than anything it’s about the transformation that takes place when getting from where we are to where we are supposed to be.  You’ve read our story so you know how it ends, but without giving anything away to those who haven’t, running through the heart of Following Atticus is the thread of love.

L&L: When you're not climbing mountains or writing, what do you like to do?

Coming from the hectic and controversial life of a newspaperman back in Newburyport, I now like to keep things as simple as possible. There’s our quiet and peaceful existence in the mountains where music is playing (usually old jazz or classical) throughout the house, good food is simmering on the stove, candles burning, long walks and equally long naps, and growing with those I most love in the world.  I’ve also been busy changing myself.

In April I made the leap from a 51-year old man who lived on Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, and Coca Cola to a man who finally decided my love of animals meant I was in denial about what they went through to make it to my plate so I changed.  My switch to a plant-based diet helped me lose twenty-five pounds in nine weeks. The next step was a sixty-seven day juice fast inspired by Joe Cross’s “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” Now off the juice fast, I’m back to the vegan diet and I’m discovering a love of cooking healthy, natural, and delicious foods.  And let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot easier climbing mountains weighing eighty pounds less.

And when Atticus and I first moved to the mountains I knew I wanted to write for a living and eventually buy a small farm and start taking in abused and neglected animals.  We’ve yet to buy that little farmhouse, but in May we took our first step in that direction by adopting a fifteen year old miniature schnauzer named Will.  He’s mostly blind, all deaf, very arthritic, and had been abandoned in a kill shelter by the only family he knew after fifteen years.  At first Will was a handful – an angry, depressed handful who was in a lot of pain and he spent those first weeks trying to bite me.  But a funny thing happened over time.  We took him in just to give him a place to die with dignity, but now he’s thriving and getting healthier. He’s no longer angry or depressed.  He’s a joy to be with and his life just keeps getting better. He’s a daily reminder that it’s never too late to love or to be loved.

L&L: What's been your fave book of 2012 so far? What are you reading now?

Louise Penny is a favorite of mine and her latest, “The Beautiful Mystery”, is as charming as all of her books are.  Reading Louise is like falling into an old friend.  My nightstand has a pile of the latest from some of my other favorite authors: Katherine Howe, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, John Irving, Lisa Gardner, William Martin, and Christopher Moore. And recently I’ve built up a small library of more than thirty vegan cookbooks.

L&L: We have a lot of aspiring authors that come to the site. What advice would you give them about getting published?

Stop seeking advice and follow your heart.  Step away from writing workshops, stop reading magazines about how to write or get published, and simply write what is inside of you. The only advice I can give is to just be you.  That’s the gift you can give the world.

L&L: What's up next for you?

I’m busy writing my next book (a continuation of our journey), enjoying life with Atticus (and now Will), and the love of my life.  (And yes, I’m keeping her name private for now since that’s what second books are for.)

Thanks Tom! xoxo, L&L