IN WILDERNESS is:

Why do you write?
Because it's fun. Because it's that creative thing I do that gives me the greatest satisfaction. Because when I get very deep into it, the real world and what's going on in it completely go away. Because through writing I discover the truths I believe in. I love that my books have gotten published and been read not just by friends and acquaintances, but by peple I'll never meet.
Why did you write In Wilderness?
Diane ThomasI wrote it twice, prompted by two very different sets of circumstances, but both times for the same reason: I wanted to be in the beautiful north Georgia mountains and couldn't get there. The first time I wrote it, in 1981 when it was called The Clearing, I'd been so ill for so long I believed I was dying and wanted a distraction from my fears. I gave my symptoms to my protagonist and sent her into a Georgia mountain wilderness, as a way of being there myself though housebound, to see what would happen to her. I was still doing whatever freelance writing I could do at home, and every day at lunchtime I quit for an hour and wrote at least 250 words of the story, in pencil, in a spiral notebook. I was my own Scheherazade, it was a lovely experience—and then one day I had a book.
Nobody published it, so I filed several copies of it away--personal computers were not generally in use back then, so no electronic file existed. My health got better, I went back to work fulltime, and all but forgot about my first attempt at a novel. In fact, I later wrote a totally different novel that got published in 2005, titled The Year the Music Changed. Then in 2009 my husband and I left north Georgia and moved to the New Mexican desert because we realized I had terrivle mold allergies and needed drier air. I was blindsided by homesickness. So one day I pulled the 30-year-old manuscript of The Clearing out of the back of its file cabinet, read it, and started in rewriting it as a way of being in that lovely forest setting once again. I retitled the manuscript In Wilderness and pretty much rewrote the entire thing. The photo that appears with this answer, by the way, which appeared on the jacket of The Year the Music Changed, was taken directly in front of our Georgia mountain house. I am blocking the view of a beautiful lake.
Did you always want to be an author?
No. I never even considered it until my late thirties. Probably wouldn't have considered it then if I hadn't been temporarily sidelined with time on my hands. Before that I'd mostly thought writing serious fiction for grownups was something men did, with a very few notable exceptions like Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Tyler, and Marilynne Robinson. I spent my entire professional career as a writer and editor, but being an author, well, that was something else entirely. When I was in my early twenties working on The Atlanta Constitution, one of the other reporters had written a novel and he showed it to me. In it he described one of his female characters as being "black of hair and olive of skin." I thought that was beautiful and that he must be some sort of charmed person to have written it.

I didn't know any women who wrote novels or even wanted to, until Anne Rivers Siddons came to work at Atlanta magazine and we were reporters together. She used to invite me to her house for dinner and afterwards we would talk way late into the night. She would always end up telling me about this girl in college whose story she absolutely had to get out into the world. She knew so much about her I thought the girl was a real person, until Annie quit the magazine and wrote her debut novel, Heartbreak Hotel, about this girl and I realized she had made her up. That's how far away from writing novels I was. I was a reporter and a film and theater reviewer and a magazine feature writer and a writer of advertising, public relations, and training materials for businesses and thought that's what I wanted to be all my working life.
How did you learn to write fiction?
Among the creative writing courses I took at Georgia State was one about the novel. It was helpful, but I have to say that once I got started on my own manuscript I realized that, to my surprise, most of what I knew I'd learned from the various types of writing I'd done up to that point. Careful viewing of countless films and plays taught me to recognize and create a story arc instinctively; interviewing hundreds of people, asking them questions and writing down their replies word for word (tape recorders were not in wide use back then) taught me how people talk and what it sounds like; writing advertising and publicity materials taught me how to evoke feelings in a reader; writing training, especially the larger programs and manuals, taught me how to organize large amounts of material, and that if I Velcroed myself to my chair and stayed there long enough and wrote, I could, in truth, produce a book. So after all that I was pretty well equipped. I wish I had realized what I was learning at the time I was learning it. I think I would have paid a much deeper kind of attention.
Do you think you will always set your books in the South?
Oh, yes. I don't have the time to learn another part of the country. Even if I tried, I would never know it like I do the South. I know the South deep down into the level of nuance and through changes that span sixty-five years; I'll never know another part of the country like that, and I would never presume to write as though I did. I love the South. I always will. But I have to say it isn't always easy, sort of like loving your mother if she's a borderline personality. The South is so beautiful and so loving—and then suddenly she'll carom off into something so ugly and violent that you can't help but try to distance yourself from her. But you can't. She's your mother, she raised you, and you can't stop loving her in spite of everything. That's how I feel about the South. I miss it bitterly. I try to get back to the Georgia mountains whenever I can.
Having said all that, my books will most likely always be set in the South, but they won't necessarily be about the South. The Year the Music Changed was set in the South in 1955, when it was just moving out of segregation. That was the book's historical context and it affected every aspect of the story, directly or indirectly, so in that sense that book was about the South. In Wilderness, in contrast, could have happened anywhere there was a great expanse of forest in the latter 1960s. It takes place in the South because I know its woods and their seasons, as opposed to, say, the forests of New England or Washington State.
What are you working on now?
It's still taking shape, so I can't say too much about it, but it involves a community of people who come together in their thirties and grow old together, and in particular one woman, a quite ordinary housewife, who ages into a respected poet. I haven't given it a consistent working title, so I can't even tell you that. But there's one thing I can tell you: It is set in the southern mountains.