Going Gothic (Novel) with Kit Mayquist and Tripping Arcadia

Kit Mayquist’s novel, Tripping Arcadia, has “A Gothic Novel” smack dab on the cover. Many readers tend to assume one thing or another about what a Gothic novel is, so Debutiful decided to dig a little deeper with Mayquist to understand truly what Tripping Arcadia was all about.

Your book has “A Gothic Novel” right on the cover. Was it important for you to let readers know that before they dove in?

TRIPPING ARCADIA is a book that audiences have struggled to place in the past, because it’s modern, yes but it’s not a Contemporary novel. There is a conscious, Gothic tone woven throughout every page and themes that have been taken from Gothic literature and reapplied in a modern context. So, in a lot of ways, yes, I want readers to know what is in store for them when they pick it up, and to approach the book with that perspective. Having it on the cover so clearly is a great way to encourage that.  

Building off that, I think a lot of readers don’t think current books can be gothic. What place do gothic novels have in 2022?

I think Gothic novels have a very important place in 2022! Looking around us, the world we find ourselves living in is similar to the same world that created the Gothic genre as we know it. We see class struggles and a declining public opinion of wealth and aristocracy. Old things that do not change feel horrific and controlling. The systems of power that are in place now do not seem to fit in the world anymore, and that disconnect is growing and creating a kind of social horror. The time for idolizing wealth is fading, and now we’re beginning to see the grotesque nature of wealth and traditions, and the decaying power that they hold, which is central to the Gothic genre. Additionally I think there is a lot to say about how the Gothic has contributed over the decades to providing a space for queer romance or relationships that were not otherwise represented in literature, and a lot of LGBTQIA+ people that I know, including myself, found a home in Gothic stories for that very reason. In 2022 we are finally seeing books that embrace that but update it, with actual, upfront queer romances and representation on the page, in that setting and genre that we already love.  

The book features something that has plagued Americans for decades, and perhaps even more so recently: bankruptcy. Was that always part of the novel or did it come in later? Why was it important to use it as a way for Lena to get to where she was?

It was always a part of the novel. As someone who has seen bankruptcy first hand, it’s a personal issue for me. Financial issues and things like student loan debt, consumer debt and more have become something so embedded into my generation that it’s hard to meet someone who hasn’t been affected by it in some way. I wanted to write a story that honored the anger and frustration that comes with that. To take that feeling of helplessness and do something with it. In a lot of ways that’s where Lena sprang from, and where her character first started. It’s at the core of her motivation and who she is – all those messy, angry, hurt feelings that are often left to fall into the background or that we’re told to ignore. They play a role in just about every decision she makes.

One thing I really enjoy a lot about novels is pace. Every novel has it’s on perfect pace. Was that something you thought about as the mysteries of the story unfolded?

It was, especially in the revision process. I think the pacing is something that took the most time to get right, because I wanted to be able to capture the dreamy, nostalgic tone but have it grow darker as things came together for Lena. There is an urgency and obsession to her revenge that still needed to be felt, while maintaining that softer Gothic voice and general sense of hindsight. It was certainly a challenge!

The other major thing a gothic novel needs is setting and mood. How did you develop these in this novel?

I love a good setting, and I feel lucky in that when TRIPPING ARCADIA was first being conceived, the party and Arrow’s Edge is what came to me first so incredibly clearly, because it really set the stage for everything else. I won’t spoil, but there are things about Arrow’s Edge, the main manor home in the novel, that make it feel opulent and horrific, and I was captivated by that and the feeling it gave me when I was daydreaming. Having now visited the mansions in Newport, RI as well as The Berkshires, there’s something to those places that feels eerie no matter how much sunlight is pouring in through the windows. Often we think of these homes in places like the United Kingdom but the reality is we have creepy aristocracy here in the US too, and so it was fun to apply a Gothic lens to them and capture that side of things. Once I had that, the mood of the novel seemed to write itself. 

Looping back to the beginning of this with the idea of a gothic novel. Can you recommend any others for readers to also dive into? 

If you want something dark and Gothic I really have to recommend The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. It is a classic Gothic but an absolutely delicious and horrifying read, and if you like that, also check out Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling as well for more queer, poison-filled storytelling. Another recommendation is Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, which is a fantastic queer Southern Gothic I couldn’t recommend more if I tried. 

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