THE SHACK: How a Christmas Gift Turned Into a 20-Million-Book Bestseller

THE SHACK: How a Christmas Gift Turned Into a 20-Million-Book Bestseller May 5, 2015

See Wm. Paul Young, author of “The Shack” live in Seattle and Portland May 16th and 17th, along with Reba Riley and Christian Piatt. For more, visit

Most people have heard of Wm. Paul Young’s first novel, THE SHACK. Some may even know that it went on to sell more than 20 million copies, and that it’s among the top 70 most successful books in the history of all printed books. And that alone is compelling.

But did you know when Paul wrote it, he was so broke that the story was his only Christmas gift to his family? Or that those first copies were photocopied and hand assembled, and that even that was only made possible because of a mystery cash gift from an unknown stranger, slid under his front door? How about that he sold the first million copies out of his home’s garage?

And did you know that, this month, THE SHACK went into production for a feature film, with God being played by Octavia Spencer?

I’m honored and thrilled to be going on a three-city tour with Paul this month as part of the “Where’s God When…” production (and with Reba Riley, author of the Forthcoming “Post Traumatic Church Syndrome“) which will be in Spokane May 15, Seattle May 16 and Portland May 17. In it, we’re exploring, through story, music and media, where we find God, hope and healing in the most unexpected, sometimes, painful and broken places in our lives. As such, I wanted to know more about his story, and I wanted to share that with you.

I hope you enjoy the conversation below as much as I did. And please take a moment to visit to see more about the production, which will be expanding nationally this fall. Even if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, I promise you’ll be glad you watched the short video on the site. And if you have friends or loved ones who struggle with doubt, pain, loss or with feeling alone in that pain, please share the site with them as an affirmation that we, with God’s help, are all in this together.

You originally wrote THE SHACK for family as a Christmas gift. How did it go from that to being one of the bestselling books in history?

Word of mouth and God’s sense of humor. There is a lot of mystery to all this and I don’t even begin to comprehend what this is about. Initially it was friends giving it to their friends, from which grew a network of conversation and exploration. Fun to talk about, but don’t really understand much of it at all. God waving his hand to say hi from the cheap seats?

The book deals with some pretty difficult subject matter. Why do you think it still appealed to so many people?

Because it does deal with difficult issues and does so as a human being and not a religious person who relies on platitudes, principles and formulas. The Shack gave people a language to have a conversation about God that wasn’t religious, but relational and had the respect to allow the reader to hear for themselves. It also validated the holiness of people’s stories and the preciousness of their tears.

Though it’s not autobiographical per se, the story in THE SHACK draws from personal experience. Can you give an example?

A writer from Nashville, when the book first hit the world, wrote me an email: “I don’t know who you are or anything about you, but I think Missy represents something murdered in you as a child, probably your innocence and Mackenzie is you as an adult trying to deal with it.”  Profoundly hit the proverbial nail on the head.

How has selling 20 million copies of THE SHACk changed your life, both for the better and worse?

I knew who I was before I wrote the book (thankfully, or the success would have probably killed me) so it hasn’t added the things that matter to my life, except the invitation to step into the holy ground of other people’s stories…what an incredible, humbling, painful and wondrous gift. Worse? I think success has its own crosses, brings crap out of people that failure never would (including me) and a constant pressure to become an adult again, after it took so many years to become and live as a child.

Is there anything about the story you would rewrite now if you could?

Yes, the scene where Mackenzie first enters the transformed ‘shack’ and looks to where Missy’s blood stain should be and it’s gone. I think that is a mistake. It should still be there. Just because you have worked through lots of your own stuff, doesn’t mean that the evidences of it disappear. The miracle is that God climbs into that mess, that we bring to the table, and transforms it into a monument and icon of grace.

THE SHACK is now going into production as a feature film. What’s that like?

Weird and surreal, like the rest of this. It is still in process, so I continue to relate to it loosely, inside one day’s worth of grace at a time.

You have a new book called EVE coming out this fall. What is that about?

Writing EVE is the wave that I’m in most at the moment. Hardest work I have ever done, the culmination is some ways of a 40 year question. I am attempting to re-frame the Genesis narrative (especially 2-3) in a way that keeps story accessible but is true to scholarship and original text and allows us to explore one of humanity’s most fundamental stories. I really like how it is forming but the pregnancy has been very long and labor intense. We shall see.

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