Ivy Clarke Q&A with author Gregory Ariail, THE GOSPEL OF ROT

Prior to her graduation, MUP Intern, Ivy Clarke, interviewed Gregory Ariail on his first title with Mercer University Press, THE GOSPEL OF ROT, which will officially release September 6, 2022. Ariail is a Buford, Georgia native. He boasts degrees from Oxford University and the University of Michigan, and he recently completed his MFA at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

The queer old woman who serves as the protagonist of this book appears to come from a very different walk of life from you. What drew you to telling her story? 

My protagonist is very much an outgrowth and genius loci of the Appalachian region in North Carolina that inspired this book. In some places our experiences and identities overlap, and in others they are far apart, but this productive tension between the ‘me’ and the ‘not me’ is one of the most exciting and edifying aspects of fictional creation. During the first stages of the novel, I was reading some old newspaper clippings about nineteenth-century Appalachian women hermits, which fed into Amelia’s character.  

Between mythology, religion, trauma, love, and family, there’s a ton happening in this novel. What was the process of writing it like? 

It began as a nonfiction project, actually. I was researching early twentieth-century Appalachian photographers, and after writing an essay about one of them, I started to wonder what living with him would be like. Once I discovered Amelia, I just accompanied her, chapter by chapter, through a landscape of my weird obsessions, anxieties, and loves, refracted through her character and history. It was all very episodic. Since, before this book, my background was in writing short fiction, this structure made the process easier.  

What or who inspired you while you were writing this story? 

Quite a few things (since, as you noted, the book is so heterogenous!): first of all, the Highlands-Cashiers region of North Carolina; also accounts of nineteenth-century women hermits, Appalachian photographers, Dante’s Divine Comedy, a recent anthology called LGBTQ FICTION AND POETRY FROM APPALACHIA, Biblical Apocrypha, Cherokee legends, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, among others. 

This is your first novel. How did writing it compare to your work in other genres? Would you write another novel? 

I’m not the most patient person in the world, so the long haul of novel writing was a difficult but rewarding challenge. The episodic structure helped each chapter feel fresh and fun. I included several other genres within the typical novel framework (elegy, letter, testimonial, list, etc.), so that the book is, I hope, a slightly more complicated and hybrid machine. I recently wrote another novel, which I’m now in the process of revising.  

What do you hope that readers take from this story? 

I hope they’ll open themselves up to, and revel in, strangeness and wonder and non-normative ways of existing; be willing to stay off balance for a while; see a kind of challenge and provocation in all the ‘what the hell?’ moments in the book. At bottom, though, I just hope some readers enjoy the story.   

What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers, particularly those who want to tell unconventional stories? 

Lately I’ve returned to the idea—and it’s a cliché, I know—that writing is not about publication or gaining a following or making money or having ‘a career’, but about that little thrill you get when you write something that moves you, that means something to you. If you write stuff that you love, maybe someone else will. But who knows? For me, it’s about the private joy and sharing that joy with a few people that I care about and respect. And the more writers who tell unconventional stories, the more unconventional the world gets, even on a microscopic scale, and that’s a good thing. In my opinion, a weirder world is a better, more exciting and empathetic world.  

Find Gregory Ariail’s first book here:

Use coupon code MUPNEWS at checkout to receive 20% off your entire order. Shipping charges apply.

Gregory Ariail’s Website: https://www.gregoryariail.com/

Ivy Clarke is a May 2022 graduate of Mercer University where she was a double major in English Literature and Creative Writing, with additional studies in art and women’s and gender studies. During her time at Mercer, she was an editorial intern at Mercer University Press, the multimedia manager of Macon Magazine, The Mercer Cluster’s Arts and Culture editor, a certified writing tutor, a freelance journalist, and a poet. 

Ivy’s other good reads:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s