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Five years ago, Paul Young was working three jobs outside Portland, Ore., when he decided to write a Christian tale of redemption for friends and family. He went down to an Office Depot and printed off 15 copies of the story he called The Shack.
The manuscript was never intended for broad publication, but it eventually caught the attention of two California-based pastors. They took it to 26 different publishers but got rejected each time. So the pastors set up their own publishing company and started a whispering campaign among churches.
Today, The Shack has sold more than 18 million copies.
Young, 57, has just released a new book, Cross Roads. It tells the story of Anthony Spencer, a ruthless businessman and all-around despicable guy, who finds himself in a coma. He then awakens into a dream world and begins a journey to find salvation.
Young spoke with Guy Raz, host of Weekends All Things Considered about his life and career.
On publishing The Shack
"I had no intention of publishing it. It had never even crossed my mind to publish it, so it's not like this was a career path, or a great desire, or a burning wish, or any of those kinds of things. All I was trying to do is get it done for Christmas. Mostly, [I did it] at the encouragement of [my wife] Kim. ... Kim had been saying, 'You know, someday, as a gift for our kids' — and we have six kids, aged 19 to 32 – 'would you put in one place how you think, because you think outside the box.' And that's all I was trying to do, was get that done by Christmas."
On writing The Shack for himself and his family
"I saw it as a way to communicate to my kids a story about who the character and nature of God, who showed up in my life and brought some healing, is. Because I am a religious kid, from the core. ... My dad was a preacher. My relationship, for example, with my father — very difficult, and very painful, and it took me 50 years to wipe the face of my father off the face of God. So, I am not writing this in order to try to help someone. I am writing this to explore my world for my kids, in order for the questions to be OK. These are good questions, and these are questions about faith, about the kindness, the goodness of God, things that were really such a struggle for me."
On the controversial imagery in The Shack
"My mother used the word 'heretic.' ... When Papa came through the door, and for those of you who haven't read it, you know, Papa, who is God the father, is a large, black African-American woman. ... My mom closed the book, called my sister and said, 'Your brother is a heretic!' You know, and she meant it, and it took a whole series of beautiful situations for her to get across that bridge. But yeah, I have had this pushback about the imagery, but let me say that, in general, the overwhelming response has been positive.
On his creative process
"I had this experience — and this was early when The Shack had just begun to take off — and I woke up in the middle of the night — and it's never happened to me before and it's never happened since — and I was literally caught in a waterfall. It's like I was sitting up in bed in a waterfall of creative ideas. And about an hour into this I thought to myself, 'I need to get up and write this down,' and it all stopped. And I really felt "the voice." You know, to me it's the Holy Spirit, who just said, 'Isn't that what you always do? You don't trust that creativity is a river,' and I said you're right, I don't trust, and I said I'm not going to live like that anymore. And immediately the waterfall started again for an hour until I fell asleep. So every time I go to write, my first thought is: I trust, I trust that this is a river. And part of this is that I finally — I am 57 years old — I have finally got to the place in my life where I want to live just inside the one day's worth of grace."