Author Jeanna Kadlec exposes the evangelicals, bringing her ‘Heretic’ into town for a reading
Being married to a pastor’s son but knowing she was queer was the starting point for Jeanna Kadlec’s journey out of the evangelical church, but her memoir “Heretic,” published Tuesday, goes deeper and broader. In her own words, it unveils “how evangelicalism directly impacts every American – religious or not – and has been a major force in driving our democracy towards fascism.” Kadlec, a graduate of Brandeis University who is now a full-time writer living in Brooklyn, examines indoctrinations by the church and how conservative Christianity has affected institutions from politics to pop culture. It’s a story she brings Thursday to a reading at Porter Square Books. We talked with her Oct. 20 on Zoom; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Was the publishing process for “Heretic” difficult?
It depends on the part we’re talking about. When it came to getting an agent, I had one of the smoother rides of anyone I know. One of the first agents I talked to ended up being the person I signed with within a few months, and she’s the agent I’m still with. I love her very much and we have a very good relationship. But then, in 2019, when we tried to take the book out on submission to editors, no one bought it. That’s something that people don’t talk about a lot – that sometimes books just don’t sell. So you’re faced with the question: “Do I let this project go? Or do we totally revise it, spend a lot of time reworking it, and then try to take it out again?” For us, it was the latter. We spent a whole year revising, restructuring it from the ground up, then went out again in 2020. And that’s when we finally sold the book. But that was really nerve-wracking, because you spend so much time on something and you’re unsure if it will even work out. It was really difficult, but I’ve been very lucky overall in that I have a really wonderful relationship with my agent and with my editor.
What got you through that period of uncertainty?
That I believed in the project, and also that I had an incredible writers group – really great friends who are also writers of memoirs, who just rallied around me. A lot of them already had books out, and were able to be very real about the parts of the business that people don’t talk about publicly. They were frank about their own submission issues, and their own books that hadn’t sold that were still in drawers somewhere. That was really comforting and helped me keep the flame alive.
What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Keep at it for as long as you can. There are so many talented writers who aren’t writing; one of the major differences between the ones who ended up making it and those who don’t is simply hard work. Of course there are a lot of systemic injustices in the industry that have to do with race and gender and sexuality, but generally speaking I would suggest that tenacity makes an enormous difference.
What authors inspire you?
You can go as far back to a lot of the women writing in the 18th century, who were putting work out into the world when it was almost impossible. In the present day, I look at friends of mine, Angela Chen and Lily Danciger, who inspire me tremendously, or people who I look at as being way ahead of me career-wise, like Melissa Febos, and Esmé Weijun Wang, who are just so extraordinarily generous with their time and with their mentorship of other writers. There are so many folks whose work I love to read and who are tremendous inspirations for how to conduct yourself with integrity in this industry.
What was the last amazing book you read?
Oh, I love that question. Vanessa Bee’s “Home Bound.” It’s such a beautiful memoir, lyrically written, and also takes place a good deal in Somerville.
What do you love about your book?
All the conversations I’m getting to have with people about religion. Very specifically, I’ve had conversations with so many other queer ex-evangelicals, but also with folks more broadly about religion in this country and how purity culture, school dress codes or shooter drills at school impact them and how they didn’t necessarily understand the evangelical influence behind these things. It’s been really cool hearing how my book has helped them to connect the dots.