The author of the sleeper mega-hit The Shack has an intense yet self-deprecating manner for someone whose debut book sold 18 million copies. “I didn’t need a next book,” he says, in a sit-down chat this summer. “I have everything that matters to me.”
Young has written a new novel, though; Cross Roads, with an announced first printing of one million, will be published by FaithWords.
The central character in Cross Roads is Anthony Spencer, a driven businessman who falls into a coma, which allows him to revisit choices he made and relationships in which he is entangled. “This is very different in terms of character and story line” from The Shack, Young says. In that novel, protagonist Mackenzie Phillips struggles with what is described as “The Great Sadness” following the disappearance and presumed murder of his young daughter. A mysterious invitation to return to the place where the girl might have been killed precipitates a series of encounters. Theologically and emotionally, Mack comes to work things out.
Young’s sophomore effort is as heralded as The Shack was initially modest. The Shack was originally written for his family, with no intention to publish. “I made 15 copies,” Young says. “All I was trying to do was get it done for Christmas.” When others read it and responded enthusiastically, Young subsequently offered it to publishers; 23 turned him down. “The secular publishers didn’t want it because it had too much Jesus,” he explains. And “it was too edgy for faith-based publishers.” So pastors Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings formed Windblown Media to publish the book, and a million copies later FaithWords noticed and assumed responsibility for distribution.
The Shack excited controversy, with critics saying it was theologically lightweight and/or just plain wrong in how it portrayed God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit within the Christian Trinity. The book also prompted some legal wrangling between Young, Windblown, and Hachette, which was settled out of court in early 2011. All those waters have since calmed, and a new interpretive book, The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going on Here than You Ever Dared to Dream by C. Baxter Kruger (FaithWords, Oct.), features a foreword by Young. Kruger runs Perichoresis Ministries, a worldwide Christian fellowship committed to the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity and putting God into the simple tasks of everyday life.
Young and his wife, Kim, who have been married for 33 years, live in Oregon and have six adult children. Young, 57, grew up in New Guinea, the child of missionary parents. His relationship with his father was difficult. “A lot of his anger came out onto his firstborn son,” Young says. “That took 50 years to heal.” The Shack is about that and other difficulties in Young’s life, including sexual abuse at boarding school and adultery that he committed. “You hide all your secrets in the shack,” Young says, cryptically. “Mackenzie’s weekend in the shack represents 11 years for me.”
Young, who attended Bible college and for a time worked on staff at a church, has held a variety of jobs and owned several businesses. At the time The Shack was published, he was working as a manufacturer’s rep, with duties that included janitorial tasks.
The success of his first book meant Young no longer needed a day job; now he writes and speaks. To write Cross Roads, he went on a retreat and churned out 35,000 words in 11 days. “Creativity is a river, and the river always runs,” he says.
Is the new novel likely to be controversial, as the first one was? “It raises new questions,” Young admits. Those who hated the first book “are waiting to not like it.”
Asked about his own religious beliefs, Young is content to be described as “spiritual but not religious.” His God, he adds, has a sense of humor. In a reference to the biblical tale of Balaam and his talking donkey, Young is sure which figure he identifies with. “I think God is done talking through the prophets,” he says. “He’s now talking through the asses.”