11 Questions: Heretic: A Memoir by Jeanna Kadlec

We’re thrilled that Jeanna Kadlec– “writer, astrologer, former lingerie boutique owner, and recovering academic”– answered KtB‘s 11 Questions about her new memoir, Heretic:

Describe your book in three adjectives!

Restorative, queer, unfuckablewith. 

What is one of your favorite sentences from the book?

“I dyed my hair red, I screeched like an owl, I wandered in the wilderness until I created myself anew.” 

Name a book or writer that inspired or guided you as you wrote.

Mary Oliver got me through some tough moments.

What is something you discovered in the process of writing this book?

A decade of therapy didn’t make writing a memoir any emotionally less rigorous. 

What was challenging about the process?

What wasn’t?

Years ago, when I was really starting, I fought the panic attacks that came on whenever I wrote about a certain ex. Once those waned, I got tripped up on what my parents would think. On what I “got” to write about from my childhood. Once I got up the courage to talk to my mom about the book, it was self-esteem stuff. I’m not good enough to write the story as I envision it. And there was some truth in that; my craft had to catch up to my vision. And then there were the business challenges: will it sell? Shit, it didn’t sell the first time we took it out on submission. Shit, it did sell the next time! Right now, it’s something like, oh god, I compartmentalized so fucking well that I kind of forgot that other people were going to read this? 

It never ends, really. You can only look at the challenge directly in front of you. 

What was sustaining about it?

The fact that I actually do love writing. And I worked on this for so long, and there were so many different versions of the book, ultimately, that I have seen myself get demonstrably better over the years, and that is a great encouragement. No matter what happens with Heretic, I know that this book has made me a better writer, thinker, and storyteller. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention my writers’ group. We’ve met weekly for four years, and they have held me through the ups and downs of this project with the kind of consistency, grace, and pragmatism we should all be so lucky to have. 

What’s a song that would be on the book’s soundtrack?

Every chapter of Heretic has a playlist, which I’ve been slowly releasing in the lead-up to pub day. I use playlists as moodboards, essentially; I can’t write to music with lyrics, but I do listen to my playlists constantly when in the midst of work sprints. Whether I’m in the shower or blasting my headphones while walking around the city, I like to keep the themes of the work close, just letting it simmer on the backburner. 

Who are some of the people you wrote this book for?

Queers who grew up in a religion that hates them, that insisted that they were mistakes when they are in fact whole and holy just as they are. Women whose relationships to their bodies and sexualities were absolutely devastated by purity culture before they even came to maturity. Those of us who are healing in a secular world that does not understand the chokehold that evangelical Christianity, in particular, has on the United States. 

What are some of the communities that shaped it?

The book is profoundly, explicitly shaped by my upbringing in the white evangelical church, but also by, for example, my growing up in a rural working class Midwestern family and my attempt, later on, to class-jump to academia in a PhD program on the East Coast. Whiteness, class, and religion are all important lenses within the book.

What kinds of work do you want your book to do in the world? What are your hopes for its afterlife?

I hope Heretic serves as a testament and affirmation for folks like me who have got free from the church, that it’s something people can point to when talking about the insidious everyday extremism of religion in the United States. It comes out two weeks before the midterms in November, and with Roe having been overturned and so many more issues hanging in the balance, I think that religion’s role in our country is more prescient than ever.

To that end, I also hope that Heretic helps explain to folks who didn’t grow up with religion just how we got here, and helps stress how vital it is that we stand strong and united against the tidal wave of extremism — because god knows the other side isn’t stopping anytime soon. 

What are you doing next? 

I’ve got a few new books cooking. More news on that soon. 

Briallen Hopper is editor of KtB, and author of Hard to Love: Essays And Confessions (Bloomsbury, 2019). She teaches writing at Queens College, City University of New York, and holds a PhD in English from Princeton. Learn more at her website, www.briallenhopper.com, or follow her on Twitter @briallenhopper.