Interview date: August 11, 2013.
You’re from what much of the world calls “Down Under.” Granted that you’ve never been a North American, do you think Australians look at the world a whole lot differently than North Americans do?
MB: Well, apparently we are more like Canadians in temperament, if that helps. We don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves. Laconic might be the word.
Also, we don’t fear our government and feel the need to defend ourselves from it. Australia is a great deal more secular, which is sad.
Obviously, while there are a number of bestselling independent authors, most do this on the side. What is your “day job”?
MB: I’m a self-employed graphic designer, which saves money on book design and typesetting! Not all of my clients provide “commercial quality” text, so I have learned to edit over the years. Although, I still need editors for my books. Everyone needs editing.
When did you decide you wanted to start writing, and what motivated you?
MB: After listening to James Jordan’s lecture series on the Revelation, and noticing his identification of the repeated use of the Creation Week as a literary structure, I thought it would be helpful (mostly for me) to write a book about it. I had been producing newsletters with edited excerpts from Christian books for about eight years, so writing my own material was a natural progression. I started blogging around the same time, which I highly recommend for writers. Having a hungry blog is an excellent discipline.
What do you most enjoy writing about? What do you think is unique to your contribution?
MB: The literary structure of the Bible. If the book is a fractal (and I believe it is), then every part of it sheds light on every other part of it, seeing as they all follow the same basic structure. This means that the applications are endless. I’ve written five books and have another eight or so planned in my head. If I didn’t have to work, that’s what I’d be doing. It’s fascinating. And nobody else is doing it, which is either a good sign or a really, really bad one.
Can you name three contemporary writers who have made significant impact on your theology and how you think about Scripture? How has that affected your own writing?
MB: James B. Jordan, as mentioned. He is a visual thinker and it was actually his lectures that had a greater impact than his books. Walking is boring and listening to lectures makes me go to sleep, but the combination of the two gets me through hours of walking and hours of lectures! His effect on me, as with many others, has been profound. As far as writing goes, he points us not to the great theologians but to the Bible itself as the source of inspiration.
Peter Leithart is next, and his approach is more measured and linear. It seems to me that some of his work serves to mediate between the unique approach of James Jordan and the obtuseness of conservative academia. I am not that well-read in theology, but I am sold on the approach of Jordan and Leithart, so Leithart’s quotes and recommendations are invaluable.
Finally, Douglas Wilson rounds it all out with his great focus on practical application and Christian living. His feet are firmly on the ground, he is a bold preacher, and he has a sense of humor which makes him irresistible, even while he is cutting me to shreds. I’d say my writing style is a combination of these three men.
Some people seem to find your concepts difficult. Is there a “Coles’ Notes” one paragraph summary that can help people catch on to your overall method of biblical interpretation?
MB: The first bit of advice I would give is to think visually. If the Bible is all constructed upon a fundamental seven point pattern, then having that shape in my mind, and hanging everything on those seven points as if they are coat hooks is the way to see it.
Secondly, view every pattern as another version of the same process of transformation. Every story is the same story told using different symbols, all arranged in the same pattern. So, listening for the common “tune” in each story is a big help.
Finally, quite a number of people who didn’t get it said the penny dropped after repeated exposure. You have to stare at it for a while like one of those autostereograms, until your “literary eyes” lock into the correspondence between the patterns. I’ve just published a short ebook designed to take somebody who has no familiarity with this approach through all the basics, which include using the skill we gain from following a long-running TV series to pick up repeated symbols and structures in the Bible.
You are essentially a nonfiction author. Does fiction play any role in shaping you as a writer?
MB: Does years of television count? I think long-running TV shows which provide “pay offs” for loyal fans have helped me to understand the Bible. As far as writing goes, non-fiction still has to be structured like a story. The information I want to communicate has to be shared in layers which build upon each other, which is very difficult sometimes. There is also the pleasure of dropping clues throughout a non-fiction book for the revelation of something really exciting and surprising later on, a sort of “non-fiction denouement.” The best non-fiction books communicate the author’s enthusiasm through rhythm. As with a story, the book has to keep up a good pace. As with a movie, every part of it has to earn its keep and not feel like a “lag.” Any exposition which doesn’t serve the main thrust, or holds it back in some way, goes onto the floor.
However, the best thing about writing non-fiction is that the pace can be maintained by relegating the tangents to footnotes. I don’t know about anybody else, but reading footnotes often feels naughty, like a dramatic aside in a play. It’s like we are getting some inside information from the author, or at least, it should. Keeping the reader’s interest is just as important with non-fiction as it is with fiction, especially for a generation raised on TV and movies. Even a non-fiction writer must write like a
screenwriter to some extent.
Do you look for sources of inspiration, or do you basically just sit down and start writing?
MB: There are three sources for me. The first is reading something that I believe is wrong! That is very often the best inspiration, but I have to be careful that the product isn’t simply a rant.
Secondly, it is ideas and connections that occur to me through the day, and I think most Christians experience this fairly regularly.
Thirdly, if am not entirely deluded and my approach is worth anything at all, I want to leave some kind of legacy, so I want to pump out as many books as I can. Blogging is a great way to build what publishers call a “platform.” Blogs enjoy much greater exposure and immediacy than books, but blogs come and go. When my blog and I flicker out, only the books will remain.
What are your biggest challenges as a writer?
MB: The biggest one is perfectionism. I have projects I want to accomplish but am afraid they won’t be good enough, so I procrastinate. The funny thing is that blogging tends to be both a source of material for my books, but is also very often a sneaky way of avoiding doing the stuff I really want to get done. I can rattle off a blog post fairly easily now, and then get back to work, but writing a book means I have to find consecutive hours of writing time so I can get my head “into the space” of the book. This involves skimming over what I’ve already written to get myself up to speed on the material and the pace.
The other challenge is the density of the text. My first book was so thick and so dense that quite a number of keen readers ventured in with a packed lunch and were never seen again. The funny thing is that, although some of it was a bit sloppy, I’m still unpacking many of the ideas presented in it. A picture is worth a thousand words, so flashing twenty pictures at the reader in a paragraph really isn’t the best approach. Not everybody is a visual thinker. People can read text at a faster speed than they can absorb the ideas which I can pack into it, so the text needs to be padded to some degree so the reader’s “visual mind” can keep up with their “reading mind.”
Also, I assumed that if I explained something once, it would held in the reader’s memory and be applied to everything that followed. For me, this is a visual process. I discovered a couple of years ago that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which can give you “memory, focus, attention to detail and visual perception.” I can hold a lot of information “in cerebral RAM” and just keep putting extra layers on it. Since I started writing before I was aware of this, I thought everyone could do it. So I am learning to explain things in greater detail. Reading some of my early stuff makes me cringe a bit, but in reality that is a good thing. It means my writing is slowly improving.
What are the key ways you promote your books?
MB: The main avenue is blogging, which cannot be recommended enough. Readers get a good taste of your writing, and see that you would be writing even if you had no books to sell. It also allows you to build up an audience over time. Theology is a great subject in this case because there is so much to write about. Pushing novels on a blog would be tough, unless you are willing to write a lot of short stories for free.
Free books is another avenue, but this is expensive and not that effective for me. I have sent countless free books around the world to people whom I thought would appreciate them with not much response. This does work for some people, but my material is so foreign to the way people currently think that it might be a hundred years before it catches on!
I tend to polarize people. Quite often I wonder if I’ve gotten things terribly wrong, but this approach does seem to be the gift that keeps giving from a writing standpoint, so I’ll keep at it. One thing that seems to work is giving seminars, so some friends and I are working towards our first day seminar early next year [i.e. 2014—ed.]. The seminar promotion includes the free ebook mentioned above, which serves as a kind of primer for my other books, so we’ll see how that turns out. You have to give people a lot of free stuff before they will trust you.
Our culture is saturated with many forms of media the world never knew until our generation. Is there a future for books?
MB: Yes, I think so. What has changed is the books make their way into our lives. As I’ve said, blogging is a great way for people to get to know you without making any commitment. It’s like a movie trailer. Also, having access to book reviews and previews online takes a lot of the risk out of buying a book. The economy and immediacy of ebooks is finally getting to the “critical mass” stage, so books have a great future. The only downside is for those who, like me, enjoy the smell of a physical book and see their bookshelf as a sort of trophy wall. Imagine leaving your library to somebody in your will and all they get is a Kindle or an iPad!