As we gear up to re-publish Jeffrey Kanode's A Young Pastor, our publicity team had a chance to sit down with the West Virginia writer and pastor.
Eden Stories Press: You have said that revisiting A Young Pastor has produced both tremendous joy and great anxiety. What do you mean?
Jeffrey Kanode: The joy comes with going back to the manuscript, seeing faces, and hearing voices all over again. I say this with all humility: It's a good story. It's a human story. It's filled with people and places I love. It's a love story. The anxiety creeps in as I go back to the manuscript. Re-publishing AYP is like publishing it for the first time all over again. A writer feels so vulnerable, so exposed, so--pardon this terrible visual nightmare--naked. All you can do as a writer is to put your words, your stories, your people, your places out there, and pray that there is another soul somewhere on the planet who connects, who feels, who falls in love with it all, as you did. Also, the joy and the anxiety get mixed into my heart to produce this new allogamy of gratitude and regret. I am so grateful to Eden Stories Press for believing in A Young Pastor and letting it live again. I am thankful for the chance to revisit the world of my book and correct some issues I, as the creator of that little world, didn't get whole the last time. The first incarnation of A Young Pastor was rushed to production; there were typos and errors I will always regret. I am an Easter person, though, and I found like-minded people of second chances--dare I say, resurrection people--with Eden Stories Press. A Young Pastor lives. I wipe a tear away, and say, "Thank God. It's about time."
Eden Stories Press: A Young Pastor takes place in the first few years of your ministry. As you have looked back, revised and re-shaped that work, are you still "a young pastor?"
Jeffrey Kanode: I have laughed about this for weeks, journeying through this new edition of AYP. I turn forty soon, and I'm about to publish a book wherein I audaciously call myself "young." The young part is all memory now. Someone asked me if I plan to write A Middle-Aged Pastor, or A Growing Older Pastor, or A Once Young Pastor or A Young Pastor Goes Grey. I don't think so. I'm not "a young pastor" anymore, and I am profoundly happy that I am not. When I read A Young Pastor, I'm not nostalgic at all. I'm grateful I survived. I'm thankful I carry the story of the young pastor in my heart. It shaped me. It defined the contours I live within. It isn't me now. I have always been that way. I hear folks telling stories about when they were in high school, and it is so obvious they still self-identify with their seventeen or eighteen-year-old selves. I write about my seventeen or eighteen-year-old self; I mine my memories and try to make electricity from that coal when I write. I still recognize that little guy who I was, but I see him now more like a long-lost friend who I relate to less and less as time goes on. I'm not him, love his heart. I was, but I'm not. I haven’t been for a long time. I feel the same way about my character in A Young Pastor.
Eden Stories Press: Who should read A Young Pastor?
Jeffrey Kanode: Everyone in the world should read it! No, in all seriousness, at its very core, I think A Young Pastor tells a good story. It's a humble little narrative. I wasn't a chaplain ministering to Army folks in Tikrit, or leading prayer services in Tora Bora. It's everyday. It's normal life. It's human. That's what makes it a good story.
Eden Stories Press proudly republishes a revised, and according to the writer, massively improved manuscript this spring, Jeffrey Kanode’s Becoming Pastor. Our public relations team recently sat down with Kanode to discuss his book.
Eden Stories Press: Compare and contrast Becoming Pastor with your first book, A Young Pastor. Are there common themes can readers expect to find in both works? How different are they?
Jeffrey Kanode: Oh, those two little books are vastly different. I’m very fond of them both, of course. They are pieces of my soul. I would say A Young Pastor could fit within the At Home in Mitford or even Lake Woebegone genre—you know: small towns, colorful—dare I say lovably eccentric—characters, rural Americana kind of stuff. Becoming Pastor is far more personal, deeply emotionally and spiritually intimate. It’s a hard book to pigeonhole. Meghan Daum’s writing comes to mind, only Becoming Pastor looks at the world through the lens of faith, particularly Christianity of the Methodist flavor.
Eden Stories Press: In some sense, Becoming Pastor is a prequel to A Young Pastor.
Jeffrey Kanode: Yes, to a degree I went a little George Lucas on this one, except I hope this prequel is a journey into light, not into darkness. Poor Anakin. Becoming Pastor shares the stories, the story of how the “young pastor” we meet in A Young Pastor comes into being, how he develops as a human being. Both books can stand on their own, without the other. Both books compliment each other, too. Of course, I want folks to read both, in either order. As a writer, though, it is important to me that each work can stand on its own merit, as separate pieces of—I pray and hope, anyway—art.
Eden Stories Press: In Becoming Pastor,you write about your struggles with depression. You even gave your depression a name—Sherman, for William T. You also describe surviving an eating disorder. There’s some unrequited love here too, echoing a theme from A Young Pastor. Some of these issues had to be very difficult to write about.
Jeffrey Kanode: Yes and no. For me, the challenge came in writing about such topics without falling into cliché. How many depression books and anorexia books are out there, after all? Oprah’s Book Club is full of them, no doubt. In that sense, the difficulty was in remaining authentic to my voice as a writer, to my own humanity, while at the same time writing about issues many have written about before. I think my lens is unique—how many pastors write about this stuff? There are probably countless books about these critical topics that look at them from a faith-perspective, from a Christian point-of-view. But I don’t know how many of them are out there written from the perspective of a Christian who also happens to be a pastor, who struggled with this stuff while serving other people as their pastor. I think that’s where Becoming Pastor finds its uniqueness and rises above caricature.
Writing about my own feelings and perspective on the world has always come naturally to me.
Eden Stories Press: And then there is leaving home, going to Duke, having your faith shattered, then resurrected. You write about Terry Sanford and ghosts in the chapel…
Jeffrey Kanode: Becoming Pastor does teem with university or seminary life. You can feel the pollen falling from the trees in front of Duke Chapel. Much of the book also takes place in Princeton, West Virginia, my hometown. It’s very much a book about home, as well as a book about leaving home, and maybe finding home again, within yourself. Home lives in your heart, I think. I haven’t lived in Princeton since 1999, yet I live in Princeton emotionally, forever.
Eden Stories Press: Which pieces of the whole of Becoming Pastor means the most to you?
Jeffrey Kanode: There’s a piece about my dad called “On The Air.” It just might be my favorite piece I’ve ever written. I love the chapter describing my three a.m. adventures with my best friend, hanging out with him on his paper route during our senior year of high school. As I write in that part of the book, when I think of my hometown, I see it in its three a.m. nightgown, and at that hour of hours, it is a supremely gorgeous, maybe even mystical place. “My Biggest Fan,” about my grandmother means a great deal to me, as well. I am very self-conscious about the title of that one, but contextually it can be the only name for it. Those pages about my grandmother, Lillianne Creed Kanode, is the eulogy I never gave her. I hope she reads it now, from afar. Maybe she was looking over my shoulder reading it as I was writing it.
Eden Stories Press: I get the sense that Becoming Pastor might just be your favorite.
Jeffrey Kanode: I think it is. It is inhabited by so many people I love. A Young Pastor was all about people who are dear to me, no doubt there, but in Becoming Pastor, I write more about family, folks who have been a part of my world since I became conscious of the world. It’s like spending Christmas with your family on Christmas Day, versus meeting dear friends out for brunch on New Year’s. Both events are important. Both groups of people are critically sacred. One group is family, and even though the group of friends include people you love like family, there’s just another realm of human connection between folks who know each other from the very beginning. Becoming Pastor is the beginning for me.
This Pastor, the long-awaited third manuscript from Jeffrey Kanode, finally appears now. We at Eden Stories Press are delighted to be the new publishing home for A Young Pastor and Becoming Pastor. We take great pride in being the original publisher of This Pastor. Recently our publicity team sat down with Jeffrey to chat about his third book.
Eden Stories Press: We were patient. You made us wait a long time for this work.
Jeffrey Kanode: You were very patient and gracious, waiting as long as you did for this piece.
Eden Stories Press: How long did it take you to complete This Pastor?
Jeffrey Kanode: Oh my goodness. To paraphrase Paul McCartney, this book and I experienced quite the “long and winding road.” I completed the first draft of This Pastor in early 2016. I even had it sold to another publisher, to remain nameless. I experienced quite a bit of anxiety as the publishing date grew nearer and nearer. Finally, I yanked it away from the publisher—not an easy feat—and spent the next year-and-a-half rewriting it. That brings us to the summer of 2017. By the fall of ’17, I had decided to rework and republish A Young Pastor and Becoming Pastor. That project took another sixteen months or so. Now, we’re finally ready to release This Pastor.
Eden Stories Press: And what emotion is most prevalent in your heart at its release: a return of the old anxiety, or relief to finally be done after so long?
Jeffrey Kanode: I am anxious. I am always anxious. I am just an anxious human being, period. I wake up nervous. The anxiety I am experiencing now is just the generalized jitters that comes with the publication of any work. Everything that gave me such anxiety three years ago, at the almost-publishing of This Pastor has long since been resolved by the re-write. It’s a completely different book than the one that almost appeared three years ago. It’s a better book. It’s a book I am incredibly proud of. It’s a book I am excited to release to the world. And, yes, I am quite relieved to be done. I have two or three other projects at some stage of early development, and though I started them, I could never really jump in, heart and soul, in earnest, until all three of my “pastor books” were out there. Now they are, and I can move on.
Eden Stories Press: How would you describe This Pastor, particularly in relation to your earlier work?
Jeffrey Kanode: Well, I have lived with This Pastor for a long time. I spent more time on it than any other work. A Young Pastor just flowed out, almost like natural narrative storytelling. Becoming Pastor got a little bit more complicated. It went deeper into my backstory and psyche, if you will. It traveled to more places, both literally and figuratively. This Pastor might just be the fully realized vision of what I tried to do in all three books. In other words, it grew out of the two earlier works, and I think maybe it does more than the other two ever could, because the other two had to come first to lay the groundwork and point the way.
I’ve been reading a book about David Letterman. I never realized how important Dave’s original morning show, The David Letterman Show was to the development of Late Night. So much of his style, and even some of his gags, routines, and aversion to affectation started with the morning show that only lasted like one fall. The DNA of A Young Pastor and Becoming Pastor runs through This Pastor.Like a kid who grows up and lives a life unlike anything the parents could ever dream, This Pastor represents an evolution. At least I see that. I hope readers will, too.
This Pastor has more overt theology than the earlier works, but it isn’t a theological piece, by any means. It’s still and forever narrative. The theology is there though, prominently.
Structurally, This Pastor has a tighter construction than its parents. It uses Christ’s journey from life to death to resurrection as a rubric for telling my story. At the same time, it argues that all of our stories parallel Jesus’s story if we really examine our own lives and put some imaginative thought into our own narrative.
Eden Stories Press: This Pastor is a story of . . .
Jeffrey Kanode: It’s a story of death—the death of my work, the death of a marriage, the death of other precious relationships. It describes how all that was so much a part of me ever fell into a deathbed. It’s a story of life—reclaiming my work, finding my way again, finding love anew, renewing relationships and finding new, holy friendships. It’s Good Friday and Easter—the passion and the resurrection.
Eden Stories Press: We here at the publishing house were delighted that you take us back to Clutchler and Chelton.
Jeffrey Kanode: Indeed I do! And it works. It fits. Those places, and most especially those people, can never be contained in just one book. As I dreamed about and mapped out This Pastor, I quickly surmised that we needed to go back to some of the landscape of A Young Pastor and pick up a thread or two and continue weaving.
Eden Stories Press: You introduce you to a new parish, Lewiston. Could you put Lewiston in some context in relation to Clutchler and Chelton?
Jeffrey Kanode: Lewiston is a universe away from Clutchler and Chelton, even though its in the same state and only a couple of hours away. Clutchler and Chelton had much in common: they were coal mining communities; they had experienced great glory when the coal industry was still dominant; their heyday had long passed away into a new era of both economic and emotional depression. Lewiston, on the other hand still lives gloriously. It’s an old farming town with lush green fields cradled by mountains the color of a cloudless sky. It’s a renaissance town with art galleries, live theatre, musical venues, classy pubs and coffee houses. The church there is large and active. Yet Lewiston isn’t, to paraphrase John Denver, “almost heaven.” As readers will find in This Pastor, Lewiston has dark shadows that I fell into, just like in Clutchler and Chelton, and like those towns, some eccentrically wondrous people give Lewiston life.
Eden Stories Press: We are happy to bring This Pastor to the light of day.
effrey Kanode: At last! I am deeply grateful.