Gregory Ariail’s Novel, The Gospel of Rot 

Gregory Ariail, a native of Buford, Georgia, earned graduate degrees from Oxford University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Alabama where he currently teaches. In 2019 he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. The Gospel of Rot is his first book, and Van Newell recently interviewed him to discuss for the Scarlett Newsletter.  

I’m interested in learning more about your decision to attend UA’s MFA program after obtaining your PhD from another institution. What did you find attractive or intriguing about the MFA program at UA? 
After six years of living in icy Michigan, I was dying to come back south. (I’m from north Georgia). I spent many years training to become a literary critic but decided, in the end, it wasn’t quite right for me. I’d always heard that Alabama’s MFA program catered to fabulist and weird writers, so I decided to give it a shot. I wanted four years to focus on my creative side since I’d spent so much time on scholarly work. I missed my family and the Appalachian Mountains, too.   

Did hiking the Appalachian Trial inform this novel or did it change how you viewed Appalachian culture?   

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail showed me that there isn’t a sharp divide between Northern and Southern Appalachia; the divide exists, certainly, but I think it’s exaggerated. More than anything, the novel was inspired by the mountains I grew up exploring in the Highlands-Cashiers region of North Carolina. While hiking the AT, I planned a realist novel that didn’t end up materializing, and The Gospel of Rot was the weird, speculative foil to that failed project.    

When I read the title of your novel, The Gospel of Rot, I tried to rephrase it in my mind as “The Good News of Decay” to perhaps decipher a possible theme. Is that an accurate guess or am I way off?   

I like that! I’m interested in abandoned and forgotten things, detritus and decay, the taboo and the iconoclastic. Sometimes, when “sacred” ideas are vandalized, a beautiful energy flows out of them.   

Having a protagonist that is in her seventies is an interesting choice. How does one successfully create or write about a character whose age gap is significant, especially one you haven’t experienced yourself?   

One of the great pleasures of reading and writing fiction is that we get to become other people for a while. I think it’s healthy for writers to imagine characters that are radically different from themselves; it’s instructive and can give you perspective. But age doesn’t necessarily change some people a whole lot; there’s a core of personality that, minus a few adjustments, is intact from beginning to end.   

Mercer University Press is publishing the novel. How did you connect with them?   

Dr. Sara Pirkle connected me with Mercer; she’d had a great experience with them, and they like to publish Georgia writers. They don’t publish much speculative work, however, so they definitely took a chance on me.   

Do you have advice for writers when shopping their fiction with university presses?   

University presses, in my experience, are often drawn to regional writing. So if you’re a writer engaging with Southern themes and geographies, send to university presses based in the South.   

Do you have any future writing projects that you are working on right now? 

I’m currently shopping two projects. One is a novel about an exiled Roman poet who gets entangled in a dangerous sex cult in the Alps, and the other is a short story collection that explores uncanny and mystical experiences in both Appalachia and medieval Iceland.   

For more information about Gregory Ariail visit his website at 

–Van Newell