Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed Jonathan Geoffrey Dean, a New Testament scholar, researcher, author, political leader, thought leader, and the author of SALT & LIGHT: The Complete Jesus, a lively, concise, open-minded introduction to the historical Jesus of Nazareth. (Read the review here.)
Jonathan Geoffrey Dean is a New Testament scholar, researcher, author, political leader and thought leader. Salt & Light; The Complete Jesus is his reaction to Jesus. He is a partner in an investment advisory firm and lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with his wife Lynn and new puppy Sprout.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
At least three years, but that was before the idea for the book Salt & Light; The Complete Jesus came to me. I initially started by asking a simple question; “What are the facts about Jesus?” This should be an easy question to answer, I thought. But as it turns out, and as I detail in the Salt & Light, the topic is so confusing and so charged I could not get a straight answer. I became somewhat frustrated and said to myself, “how hard can this be? This isn’t a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.” So, I started my own search for answers. All of the primary material is available. In my directed reading on the topic, both academic and popular, I covered a lot(!) of exciting material that I thought others probably did not know and would find fascinating, for instance, the recent discovery and analysis of the Sudarium of Oviedo. At first, I resolved to create a position paper on Jesus summarizing what I had found, offering a most probable and reasonable summary of Jesus for myself and other curious people.
I then latched onto the idea of a blog where I could systematically build the structure of my arguments in a linear form. After hitting over 100 draft blog entries, I found the sequencing problematic. As a result, I pulled all of the text into a document to re-organize it; that is when it hit me- this should be a book! And then things spiralled from there. That was three years ago, with the content being 98% complete after about two years. I never wanted to be an author, but here I am. Once I had finished the manuscript, I then started to ask, “what do I do now?” I have spent the last year dealing with the publishing industry on many fronts.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
My biggest mistake was not getting to know my best writing friend, Microsoft Word. Since I did not start off to write a book, I did not have everything squared away from day one in Word. So my advice is to get to know Word, select your style, format, fonts, etc., carefully, understand how footnoting works, citations, chapter breaks work, and automatic image numbering. And above all, how to use the built-in editing and review system so you can work with others (like an editor). Have all this in place before your write the first sentence. Based on my experience, I, perhaps, could have cut my production time of Salt & Light down by a third, or even half, if I had been better prepared with Word.
Is writer’s block real?
For me, yes. I would have periods where there was no “flow”; other times, I could not keep up with the output from the creative process. I just had to wait for those latter periods and not force it; I knew they would come. I think for some when the “flow” is not there, the stress from that knowledge makes it harder to get back into the “flow”. The best thing to do is to leave it for a while and let your subconscious work on it while doing something else. Relax and remember; it will come.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
The publishing industry as a whole. Salt & Light’s topic seems not to be an “in vogue” topic. All of the rejections I received, I believe, came due to pre-conceived beliefs about my genre/topic (“Oh, that is not a topic I am interested in.” or “I am not into formal religion.”) and not from the potential of the book or quality of the product, and that was disappointing. Disappointing since Salt & Light defies these prejudices, it is not what it appears – anyone should find the book exciting and worthwhile. Salt & Light will have a broad audience.
Are you a feeler or a thinker?
There is an alternative to being a thinker? I am not sure how I feel about that.
How many rewrites did you do for this book?
After I had resolved to write Salt & Light, I did five significant rewrites. Since the book draws on many sources and facts, my biggest challenge was to “make the complex simple”, trying to get the discussion and argument as simple as possible for the readers. I created through those rewrites a comprehensive journey through all the facts, something I have not encountered, even remotely, in other works on this topic.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope readers become much better informed about Jesus of Nazareth, the most influential person in history. Salt & Light essentially serves up everything we can know about him. I would go so far as to say that if you were to read only one book on this topic – it would be Salt & Light.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
My writing of this book informs my faith life/ethical outlook! Once you read Salt & Light, you will understand what I mean.
What’s next for you?
Salt & Light is at least a two or three-book series. Having answered the questions about who Jesus was and what he did and said, the next step is to produce a companion volume I call Salt & Light; The Gospel of Jesus, a single, convenient document containing a complete account of his life. Then the next step is to elaborate on the implications of his teaching for us and our world today.
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