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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

William P. Young wrote a little novel called "The Shack" a couple years ago as a gift for his kids. It was a way of dealing with some painful traumatic events that happened in his own life including being the victim of sexual abuse as a child, and it was his way of teaching his kids about his relationship with God. But something happened after he showed the book to a few friends. They told a few more friends and a few more friends, and somebody said, hey, you really ought to publish this.

So he and a couple of the friends did. Today "The Shack" is the number six selling book on amazon.com. It's been in USA Today's bestselling books for 15 weeks, and it's number four on Publisher's Weekly's list of paperback bestsellers. Translation, it's popular. Really popular. I'd give you the synopsis, but actually when I talked to William P. Young, who goes by his middle name Paul, I got him to do it.

Mr. WILLIAM YOUNG (Writer, "The Shack"): Basically middle aged guy, basically me - middle aged guy. I have six children. This character has five children - goes on a camping trip with his three youngest children over Labor Day in Eastern Oregon. A terrible tragedy occurs. There is some question about whether there has been an abduction or an actual murder because there's no body found.

There's just this huge tragedy and then he gets - four years later he gets a note in the mailbox inviting him back to the locus of that tragedy which is a shack in the middle of the Wallowa County in Eastern Oregon. And the way the note is crafted, it could be a huge prank. It could be somebody with a terrible sense of humor - just a really devastating thing. It could be actually from the abductor or the way it's written.

It's possible that it's from God and inviting him back, and basically then is how does he deal this? What does he go back to find? How does he deal with the stuff in his own sadness with regard to the losses that he's had not just with this event, but going back to his relationship with his own father and things like that.

MARTIN: You wrote this primarily as a gift for your family back in 2005, and the only expectation you had was to get this story bound and created as a gift for your kids to open on Christmas.

Mr. YOUNG: Exactly.

MARTIN: How did this become something so much bigger? How in the world did that happen?

Mr. YOUNG: That's an understatement. Pretty much everything is an understatement in terms of what's happened. For me the bottom line is, there is a God who's involved in things like this. I mean there is really no human explanation for some of what's going on here. No anticipation, I've never published anything in my whole life, I'm the most accidental author you'll ever meet. I've written always as gifts, gifts for friends and family, but poems and songs and short stories and cards and newsletters, all that kind of stuff.

This - what has happened here, it's not even within the realm of expectation, I mean this is totally not planned, this is totally not foreseen. You know, even down the road, when I originally began to share the electronic original manuscript version with friends and family, I started getting the feedback of how impacting it was for them, and that surprised me, and I still didn't know what to do about it.

I had a couple friends, a few friends in California that - Wayne Jacobson and Brad Cummings, and Bobby Downs (ph), who began to encourage me more and more to do something with it, but I had no idea what that meant. And they helped me walk through a process of working on the manuscript, trying to get it to publishers who virtually all turned it down. And then Wayne and Brad create Windblown Media, as if a real publishing company with one title, "The Shack," and...

MARTIN: And started shipping it from the garage, right?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah, we still are shipping it from Brad's garage and two storage units in California.

MARTIN: Wow.

Mr. YOUNG: And to date, we've spent less than, you know 300 dollars in marketing and promotion, and we're right at a million copies. I mean how is that possible? That's just...

MARTIN: So it's been largely word of mouth.

Mr. YOUNG: It's through relationships and people who care people, who are giving it to each other.

MARTIN: When I first picked up the book, I went into it knowing that this was a - had a large spiritual component to it. There was a very strong Christian narrative throughout the book. Is this a book for Christians?

Mr. YOUNG: It's a book for anybody. And people are resonating with the story regardless of their background. You know my relationship with God comes out of a Protestant Christian matrix. And so I write from that quite a bit, but think this book is way outside the box.

MARTIN: You have written that there are parts of you that are reflected in both characters, Willie and Mack, in this book. Paul, you - do you have a background in theology? Mack in the book definitely does, is that something you share with that character?

Mr. YOUNG: Absolutely. I'm a missionary kid, I'm a preacher's kid. I went to Bible school, couple years in seminary. So I've been inside church, religious organizations, virtually all my life, and so yeah, I do share that.

MARTIN: Have you had moments and chapters in your life where you would not have, where your faith was not as strong, where you had more questions.

Mr. YOUNG: Oh, absolutely, yep, me and Mother Teresa, you know. Yes, absolutely. I think all of us are in a process, and that's part of the beauty of this. I don't know anybody that's not in a process. And it appears that God really loves process. "The Shack" is more a parable than anything else. It's definitely a metaphor for the place you get stuck, hurt, damaged.

You store your lies, you store your secrets, and you don't want to deal with it, you don't want to go back to the shack, you don't want to go to the locus of your pain. You want to try to avoid it, escape it, numb it, whatever you have to do. And it's God's intention from my point of view, it's God's intention to crawl inside that place with us and heal us from the inside.

MARTIN: Another character in this book really is the great sadness. It's its own character, and it's great weight that Mack carries with him of childhood trauma, and then the recent trauma that befalls him on that camping trip. You wrote this in part, to communicate your own spiritual path, and how you freed yourself from what was your own great sadness, correct?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah. Although I wouldn't say I freed myself. I don't think we're that smart. At least I'm not. You know the history of my own pain, and "The Shack," I mean it took me 38 years to build the shack to the point where it was ready to just explode, and then it took me 11 years to go through it.

So I squeeze that 11 years to a weekend with McKenzie. You know, I think that we are so - that every human being is so incredibly designed and such an amazing creation that God is the only one big enough to know how to unwind all the damage that has been perpetuated by both the choices of that person, and what's been done to them.

You know I like to think of it as sort of this ball of yarn that is full of knots and knots inside of knots and other knots that are tangled in other parts of the yarn. And God is the only one that's big enough to take that ball of yarn and begin to untie all the knots and never break the string.

MARTIN: So this has, I am sure, changed your life in many different ways, unexpectedly. I'm hearing things like, screenplay, movie. Is this really happening?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah, that's a good question, is this really happening? I mean, I feel like "The Truman Show."

MARTIN: I'm sure that question has more than one meaning.

Mr. YOUNG: Oh, I know. I tell people, you know, it's like I'm on "The Truman Show" and I'm the only one that doesn't know where the cameras are. I mean, it is so outside the box. You just go back to the story and you think, OK, you have this guy, who is not an author, doesn't have an identity as an author, doesn't know how to be an author, who writes a story for his kids, and then all of a sudden, this is happening?

And there is an audio book that's in the works. there are a dozen studios that are very interested in helping produce this as a major motion picture. Not some little piece of work, but really a significant piece of work. And we're not in any hurry. we were never in any hurry about the book. we're not in any hurry about anything else.

And we want to be sensitive, you know, the prayer that I prayed in 2005, when I'm coming out of my shack, is basically God, I don't want to ask you to bless anything that I do anymore, but if you're something, it would be OK for me to hang around it. And that sense has just permeated this entire process, this story did everything that I wanted it to when I gave it to my six children.

MARTIN: The book is called "The Shack." It was written by William P. Young, who goes by Paul, and Paul joined us today. Paul, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Mr. YOUNG: Ah, love being with you. Thank you so much.

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