Saturday, August 02, 2008

Interview with William P. Young, author of The Shack

As promised, here is my transcript of the blogger conference call with William P. Young, the author of The Shack. This is greatly abridged; it's just the notes I wrote down as quickly as I could. I tried to catch the highlights, and I hope that you can get a part of Paul's (as he is called) personality. He is incredibly smart and humble, very charming. If you would like to hear the entire interview, go here for Jill Hart's podcast of it.

Blogger Conference Call with William P. Young 7/30/08 NoonET/9AM PT
Featured guest: Paul Young, author of THE SHACK
Moderator: Miriam Parker
Christy Lockstein:
Jill Hart:
Leslie Sowell:
Nicole Petrino-Salter:
Patti Chadwick:
Patrick Sullivan, Jr.:
Shawnee Goodnight:
Tammy Marcelain:
Ted Reyes:
Gretchen Geyer:
Joe Wikert:
Cara Putman:
Caleb Newell:
Natalie Nyquist:

Tammy Marcelain: Where did your inspiration for your images of heaven and the garden of your soul come from? A dream, scripture?

Paul: You know the beauty of nature is overwhelming and it's been used in art throughout the centuries: literature, iconic imagery, and history. So that's where that came from.

Nicole Petrino-Salter: If I'm not mistaken, you've said you wrote this book for your children. Why?

Paul: I did! I'm not a for real author; I'm an accidental one. Kim, my wife, told me to put in one place what I think because it's outside of the box. The first run was 15 copies: one of each of my six kids, and one for Kim. The rest went to friends and family, and it kind of spilled over from there. I never had the idea of publishing it any more than that.

Ted Reyes: There are two perspectives when it comes to suffering: One is that it is a gift from God, and the other is that it is a punishment from God. Which of these two do you think would make modern 21st century people develop a closer relationship with God– suffering as a reward, or as punishment?

Paul: There's a third perspective: it's neither, but that God uses both to accomplish his purposes. I don't subscribe to the idea that it's necessary for maturity. In John 9 there's a story of the blind man. The disciples ask Jesus if he is blind because of his sin or his parents. That's the perspective of suffering that makes the most sense to us, because otherwise it makes God the enemy.

Shawnee Goodnight: A statement from a critic I found fascinating to say the least and would love to hear your opinion on "The Shack deliberately suggests we don't take the Bible seriously but instead rely on our own thoughts and understanding- that is the threat!"

Paul: Some of the controversy comes from those who haven't read the book. I enjoy the controversy in the sense that it brings the questions to the forefront. It's been moving people back to Scripture. Because it's moving them out of the paradigm and allowing them to hear a message that they haven't heard before. No one has written to me and said, "Finally, we don't have to use Scripture any more."

Leslie Sowell: I became interested in The Shack because of the controversy surrounding it. Unlike most people I know, I totally understand the Abba side of God, and so some of the things you say in your novel are easy for me to wrap my mind around - however other things - like that there is no hierarchy in the Trinity was a little more than mind-blowing. Please give theological evidence for this theory.

Paul: I absolutely believe that! That's been the orthodox position throughout the centuries. It's very clear in the early creeds that they are equal. In terms of humanity, because Jesus became human, there is subordination. But in His divinity, there is none.

Patrick Sullivan: What was your inspiration to make God a black woman when YHWH first shows up? Have you gotten pushback from religious leaders for this?

Paul: A couple things. Keep in mind that I'm writing this for my six kids and not the masses. I don't believe in, and I don't want my kids to be stuck in the paradigm of God as a big white man. I'm on solid theological ground here. God is a spirit and can appear as male, female, burning bush, eye, or nostril. It fit the story because Mack is resistant to male imagery because of the troubles with his dad. It allowed Mack to break out of his paradigm and to see more.

Patti Chadwick: Was the author really the Ghost writer of this Mackenzie Phillips? Was this written based on a true story?

Paul: Yes and no. It's a convoluted thing. I'm writing it for my kids and it's my story. I'm Mack and Missy. I started getting emails from people wanting to meet Mack, so I had to remove him from the writing and create the ghostwriter. It is fiction. Some people think it's non-fiction. Two forensic detectives have actually called me wanting the case files from Missy's kidnapping. The feelings and pain in it are very real. But it's couched as a parable. And a parable is fiction in which truth is embedded. It's also a metaphor. The shack represents the human heart/soul. The shack is where you hide your secrets and addictions. It took me 38 years to build my shack. It was my house of shame. When the facade started coming down, it took eleven years to deal with that.

Gretchen Geyer: How did you choose Sarayu's name?

Paul: It's Hindi {you really need to listen to the podcast for Paul's pronunciation of the name}. The second syllable is a rolled R. If you listen to the audiobook, Mack can't say it right; he can't do the rolled R. The word means wind. I've used wind in many places, on my blog WindRumors, our publishing company was called Windblown Media. I love the idea of wind as a metaphor. There is a river named Sarayu. It's the name of a specific kind of wind. It's the type that catches you by surprise, like when it's so hot you feel like you're going to die, and then it sweeps up and cools you down. It's a wind that changes everything.

Christy Lockstein Where were you when you found out that you had made the NYT Bestseller list? How did that feel?

Paul: I was on Hanauma Bay near Honolulu, and I had just come in from snorkeling with my kids. I got the phone call. It's now spent nine weeks at number one. My first thought was How impossible is this? I'm not an author, I wrote it for my kids. I've got less than $300 in this. That's why it's a God thing. I did all that I wanted to with it when I gave it to my kids. But I have to wonder: God, what are you really up to here?

Jill Hart: What tip would you give to those wishing to be published?

Paul: Publishing was never a target. I can't teach you technique about what to do. There are many others far smarter than I am. I am proof that God can use the donkey or the bush. Here's my one piece of advice. Take your writing and give it as a gift to ten people who love you and ten people who don't know you. The ten people who love you will have one thing to say, and the other ten may have something else. Then listen. What is the Holy Spirit saying to you? Allow the purpose to unfold. It all comes down to hearing.

Shawnee Goodnight: Where in this story is the purpose of prayer?

Paul: Prayer is all over this thing [book]. It's a conversation, not a magic formula.
Christy Lockstein: You explain so many difficult topics well, but only touched on hell. What is your view on hell?

Paul: It's a spiritual thing, and it definitely exists. It was designed for Satan and his demons. I just wrote a piece on ambiguity on my blog. And I encourage people to read it, because it addresses this very thing. I believe that it's real, but I don't know how it all turns out.
Patrick Sullivan: How many people have read the book and wished that it was non-fiction (like I did)?
Paul: How many people have read The Good Samaritan in the Bible and wanted that to be true as well. It validates our own faith path. That's really a Western thing to seek that kind of validation. The sales are now over 2 million, and in several countries. I just did an interview for a London station. I have a friend who is traveling in the highland area of China, and his interpreter asked him: Have you heard about this book The Shack? My friend said: Yeah, why? And the interpreter told him that it's the newest rage among Chinese university students, and it hasn't even been translated into Chinese yet!

Nicole Petriono-Salter: Most Christian authors intend to demonstrate a theme in their stories. What did you hope to communicate with this novel? And do you think you were effective in doing so?

Paul: I think I way outdid myself. My by far favorite quote is from Tyson [son?] "Amy, this book is so far beyond your dad!" God, you are so unbelievably bigger than anything!

Jill Hart: What are you currently reading?

Paul: I usually have a stack of several things. Right now I'm reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright, Reimagining the Church by Frank Viola, Christ and the Media by Malcom Muggeridge, and Anarchy and Christianity by Jacques Ellul.

Gretchen Geyer: How did the healing in relation to your Dad occur? Much like it did for Max?

Paul: My dad and I are still working on my testimony, and we have a ways to go. It's happening little step by little step, and the book is a big part of it.

The winner of a copy of The Shack was Sue Herning. Congratulations to Sue!


Ted Reyes said...


Thanks for posting the transcript :)

Book Author Interview Fan said...

Thanks for the interview, I've been hearing a lot about the book "The Shack" but reading your notes on the interview has given me new insights - I will definitely pick up a copy now.

Espana said...

This book is extremely thought-provoking and belief-challenging, and it gives the best picture of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that I've ever seen. I've read it twice in the past month, and I intend to read it again very soon. It's given me much to consider in my own relationship with my King.