“Not at all,” smiled Jesus…”Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”
William P. Young, The Shack, Windblown Media; 1st edition (December 6, 2007)
I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Young about his life and his experience writing The Shack. He is a very interesting and inspiring man who followed God’s plan for him even before he knew where it was leading.
Q: I read that this story wasn’t ever supposed to be a book. What happened to make that change?
A: I wrote this story for my six kids. My youngest is 17 and my oldest is 30, so they’re not like little kids. I was just trying to get it done by Christmas. It was never intended to be a published novel. It came time for Christmas and I made 15 copies at Office Depot and went back to work. It was because my friends kept giving it away that I eventually actually published it, even though 26 publishers turned it down. A couple guys I knew created a publishing company and we pooled our resources and found a printer in Los Angeles, ordered a bunch of copies, and that’s how it all started.
Q: What did your kids think of their “present” being published?
A: They loved it, but it took them a while to read it. You give kids a book for Christmas, and it’s just, “Oh, thanks dad. We’ll get right on that.” So, it took them a little while, but they all are thrilled that it’s published and they have each been touched in different ways.
A: There’s a lot of them because I had great challenges throughout my history like Mackenzie in the book. The story is really a metaphor of my own history. I had a difficult relationship with my father, similar experiences in bible school and some seminary, great sadness; it is an attempt to extract the core of the heart of the human being, my own soul, the place of the main character’s big purpose and struggle.
Q: Was it difficult writing it like it was someone else’s story?
A: Not really because it had so much to do with my own life. I like story because it gives you distance and in story you create a little picture like artwork or music that has a way of penetrating into your heart without asking for permission. So, story was a good tool to wrap up some of my histories.
Q: In your blog you wrote:
“We live in a world where ‘normal’ does not truly exist except as an idea or concept. For each of us, where and how we grew up plays a foundational role in our sense of ‘normal’, and only when we begin to experience the ‘bigness and diversity’ of the world are we tempted to evaluate our roots.”
Q: What was your normal as a child?
A: Well, my normal was being raised in what had survived of a Stone Age people group in the highlands of New Guinea, now West Papua. So, I thought everybody was running around with cannibals. That’s partly why I wrote that quote because “normal” to me was what would have been very not normal to most people. I was a missionary kid; I grew up with missionary parents, I was ten months old when we moved to the highlands. The tribe was spread out a bit over a hundred square miles, about 40 to 60 thousand people. They had never seen white people before. So, normal was to me what other people would think very not normal.
Q: How has that normal changed as you’ve grown up?
A: Normal is just a reflection of your own life. Every person thinks that their life is normal and then re-evaluates it or grows up thinking it’s not as normal as they had thought, and then re-evaluates both one’s history and definition of ‘normal’. So, I don’t think there is such a thing as normal and ordinary. I think everything is pretty amazing.
Q: In your blog you also wrote
“Facts alone might help you understand where a person has been, but often hide who they actually are.”
What did you mean by that?
A: When we meet each other we tell you what we do but it takes a relationship and time to learn who someone is. So, when you meet someone it can give you an idea, but it doesn’t tell you at all who they are. It’s going to take time, and conversation, and openness, and relationship in order to tell who someone really is. That’s why infatuation will not work, because infatuation is based on not knowing someone. People are infatuated and then when they start to get to know that person, a lot of times they are disappointed because what they thought was there wasn’t really there. It was just a way to love themselves through some sort of object, even if that object is a person.
A: Well, again facts in general tend to take you on to deeper conversation. When I say that I grew up around Stone Age tribal people and I went to boarding school when I was six, when you say that, it doesn’t have the same impact as when I tell you that I was sexually abused in boarding school. I can then tell you how that experience became part of how I looked at life and how I spent so much of my life trying to find a way to be safe. That’s a whole level of conversation that doesn’t exist if I just tell you the facts.
Q: How has this book being published changed your daily life?
A: My daily life has changed. When I first wrote it I was working three jobs, so now I don’t work three jobs anymore. My life is quite busy because a lot of things have happened that weren’t a possibility before. I travel a lot; I just got back from a trip with my wife and one of my daughters. We went to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Serbia, and the UK, for two weeks to talk about the book. That wasn’t a possibility before, so I live a different lifestyle now that it was before. We have been able to do some things, like start a foundation, which we couldn’t have done before. So, a lot of things like that, but who we are hasn’t changed. The book didn’t change anything that really matters.
Q: What would be your advice to aspiring Christian authors?
A: First, don’t get your identity tied up with what you do…this would apply to anyone actually, but especially to those who create. If you put your identity in anything that can be taken from you, it is just a matter of time. Write for people you care about, not for the ‘masses’…write something and share it with people who love you (they will love it and encourage you) and with people you don’t know (they will be more objective)…you need both.
Q: This book did not follow normal procedure because it was published by a friend’s publishing company. Did you still have to work with an editor? What was your experience with that editor?
A: Editors are indispensable. I would never publish a book without the skills of an involved editor. These people are highly skilled at what they do and will clean up your clutter as well as give you perspective.
Q: You also said in your blog:
“For me, everything is about Jesus and Father and Holy Spirit and relationships, and life is an adventure of faith lived one day at a time.”
Q: How do you live one day at a time?
A: It is a process, like almost everything that matters. You learn through experience and over time to give up control begin to rest in the grace of one day. It doesn’t come easily, especially for those of us who have learned skill of control so we don’t have to trust anyone. Learning to live inside each day is related to how truly you know that God loves you and therefore how deeply you can trust God. The wonder is that God loves and participates with us in the process, even of learning to trust.
Q: What impact were you hoping this book would have in your children’s lives when you first wrote it?
A: I just wanted them to have a picture of God that wasn’t the God that they grew up with. The angry, distance difficult God watching from a distance. I wanted them to have an understanding of the character and nature of God that pursues us and loves us with infinite and ferocious love.
Q: Many people have said that this book changed their lives and their walk with Christ. How does it make you feel to have written something that impacted people’s lives so greatly in such a positive way?
A: I’m absolutely thrilled, and humbled. I didn’t intend for that to happen, that was just something that God used it for, and I got to participate. So, thrilled to participate and thrilled that this has helped things to happen in other people’s lives.
The Shack has sold over 13 million copies and has been translated in 40 different languages. It is inspiring people all over the world. Will you take the step and let it inspire you too?
I’m Haley Faye Snyder. I’ve lived in the same Christian home in Kentucky since I was born. I have one little brother and two loving parents. I go to Westport Baptist church and have my whole life. I accepted Christ into my heart when I was six and then re-committed my life to Him when I was 11 at Boones Creek Baptist Camp. (read more…)