Editor's Note: This story includes language that some may find offensive.

Garrard Conley is an author best known for “Boy Erased,” a memoir about his childhood as a closeted gay boy in an evangelical Christian family in Arkansas and how his parents enrolled him in so-called conversion therapy when he was in college. The book was turned into a critically-acclaimed movie of the same name in 2018.

Now, Conley is out with his first ever novel, “All the World Beside,” a love story between two men in Puritan New England. Conley joined GBH News to talk about his new book, which was released on March 26. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Haley Lerner: How does it feel to have your debut novel coming out? It’s your second book, but your first was a memoir.

Garrard Conley: I've always wanted to be a fiction writer. I began with memoir because there was a story I had to tell, which was about my time in conversion therapy, and I thought that I could do a lot of work to help raise awareness on the issue and hopefully get several [state-level] bans passed so that we weren't sending kids off to be tortured. And that did ultimately happen.

When the book came out, there were probably, I think, two states that had passed bans on conversion therapy. Now we have half of our states that have, many of them citing “Boy Erased” as an influence. So, that has been a dream.

My heart has always been in fiction because in memoir, I had to be a character, which is a very uncomfortable writing experience. But with this novel, I'm able to sort of fragment myself into a lot of different characters with parts of my personality and experiment on how it all plays out.

One of the things that I found in writing this book was a kind of freedom to explore a bigger canvas around how religion and sexuality has really informed so much of how this country has moved along. And the Puritans are, unfortunately, always perennially important to the topic of our country with so many, you know, book bans and anti-trans legislation that is sweeping the country.

Lerner: This book is a novel but also explores similar themes of sexuality and religion as your memoir did. Why was having that theme and having that religious thread overlap with sexuality important to you?

Conley: Well, it's very personal to me. My father's a missionary Baptist preacher, and we have a lot of debates and a lot of disagreements, but it's always a fruitful conversation with my father. He's a real intellectual, self-made man sort of type.

One of the things that I discussed with him was how missionary Baptists, or Baptists as they currently are, are different from the early religious experiences in this country, like Congregationalists which were in Boston and in the New England area.

I was very interested in the ways in which I could explore some of these very personal themes, these very personal disagreements that I've had with my father, through these characters and what they're dealing with.

Lerner: Why did you choose to make Puritan New England the setting of the book?

Conley: Colonial New England at that time really set the tone for Puritanism and for evangelical thought. It was sort of the origin of that.

There was also this idea of utopia that was very popular in the area at the time. I wanted to rely on as much research as I could to have a firm grounding in history, because I didn't want this to just be a fantasy. You know, whatever is speculative [in the book] is very much grounded in research and letters that I found written between men and really the gender roles and sexuality that were starting to be united in the 18th century.

That was really where we got so much of our rigid ideas of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Things were a little bit less defined before that period. So really, all of those things came together to me.

Lerner: You did a lot of your research for this book with the Massachusetts Historical Society. Can you tell me about that and interesting things you came across?

Conley: There was one infamous letter that was written between a guy named Virgil Maxcy and William Blanding in 1800. So, it's a little later than my period, but gave me a good idea of what had been going on.

In this letter, Virgil says to William, “Sometimes I miss you in bed, and I get to hugging your pillow, and I think I've got hold of your doodle” — doodle is what you think it is, I looked up the etymology of it — “when instead it's the bed post.” And then he signs off with, “your c--t humble.” You know, that's a phrase that felt so contemporary and old at the same time. But if you saw that on that Grindr profile or a dating app right now, you probably know what that means, right?

A big part of the project has been trying to unerase some of these lives from history and create a space for people today to imagine all of the gaps that we have in how we talk about history as though queerness suddenly just came out of nowhere. We know that's not true. We already know that from just looking at the Greeks and a lot of other societies. But, it's nice to find those little hints in documents.

Garrard Conley will be at Porter Square Books: Boston Edition on March 28 at 7 p.m. to discuss “All the World Beside.”