Miracles, Inc. writer T.J. Forrester returns with Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail, a dark, suspenseful tale of an ex-con hiking the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, he connects with people who both enhance and dangerously complicate his journey.

What was it like to through-hike the Appalachian Trail?

I’ve hiked it almost four times, for a total of about 17,000 miles. The first one took three months, the second was five months. I’m a triple crowner having hiked the Continental Divide, Mexico to Canada, and the Pacific Coast Trail.

Did the hike inspire you to write your new novel?

I wouldn’t say the hike did, but hiking is definitely how I got started as a writer. The way hikers bond is in the way we tell stories, so I just took those stories to the written page. But I did use parts of the hike as inspiration.

What made you choose to write a novel about hiking rather than a travelogue about the adventurous process of traversing the Appalachian Trail?

I tried to write an adventure narrative, a work of creative nonfiction about all three of my Triple Crown adventures. But I was immature as a writer and it kind of sucked. From there, I quit writing nonfiction and began writing fiction. It’s freeing; you don’t have to [stick to] real-life events. So that’s why I wrote it as a novel. I think it’s a lot more interesting than my life.

What inspired the character Simone Decker, a woman obsessed with a deadly temptation to push people off cliffs?

She’s not built on anyone I know personally, thank God! There is one theme in the first chapters that relates to something realistic: how the “trail angel” pushed her to the side and dismissed her when they’d met. But in reality, when the locals would come up and chat with me on the trail, I saw the disrespect that female hikers have to endure. There’s an assumption that a [woman] only gets there thanks to [a man], but there are a lot of strong female hikers on the AP right alongside the men.

How did the process of writing your debut novel, Miracles, Inc., differ from writing this one?

Tremendously, but not so much in the everyday process of things, which is to let the story take me where it wants. This started as a collection of disjointed stories that I decided to connect in the hopes that it would be more attractive to a publisher. That’s the manuscript that Simon & Schuster took, so I connected the characters and tied it together with a cohesive plot. Miracles started out as a novel and stayed that way.

Do you relate to any of the characters in the novel personally?

I can relate to all of them personally. All of them have parts of me in them. None of them are me or anyone I know, but I can identify with Taz and how he changes during the hike. I think being away from civilization is kind of a spiritual thing, a calming.