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'The Shack' author to speak at Fritz

William Paul Young, author of "The Shack," -- one of the biggest and most surprising mega-best-selling books of late -- will speak at 7 p.m. today in the Chester Fritz Auditorium, and he will sign books at B Dalton's in Columbia Mall from 1 to 3 p.m.

Paul Young

William Paul Young, author of "The Shack," -- one of the biggest and most surprising mega-best-selling books of late -- will speak at

7 p.m. today in the Chester Fritz Auditorium, and he will sign books at B Dalton's in Columbia Mall from 1 to 3 p.m. Tickets to his talk are $15 at the door.

Paul Young can't even keep track of how fast his book, "The Shack," is flying off shelves worldwide.

"The latest sales order we were between 12 and 14 million (copies) in sales," Young said Friday in a telephone interview from the Toledo, Ohio, area.

Amazingly rough rounding off, given an industry where selling 500,000 books is considered huge.

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"It's the international sales," Young explained. "That stuff is hard to track."

His book has been translated into 35 languages.

The "shack" in question is a metaphor for the dingy little place we build to store all the bad stuff of this life, Young has said; yet it's also a place that God enters to transform it.

His 2007 book tells the strange, disturbing and comforting tale of man devastated by the abduction and murder of his little girl, Missy, by a serial killer in a shack in the Oregon mountains, and then his meeting with God, three years later, in the same shack, now transformed, for a long talk.

Although it's about God, it's not a typical religious book.

The book stirred lots of controversy and conversation because of the unconventional way Young portrayed the Christian idea of Trinity: God as "Papa," a brassy but warm African-American woman, Jesus the Son as a very human Middle Eastern handyman, and the Holy Spirit as Suraya, an Asian woman of charm.

Mack, or McKenzie Phillips, is the protagonist, not totally dissimilar to Young in getting to the end of his faith. Young has been on the road talking about it almost continuously for the past two years.

He's working on a new book, again at the suggestion of his wife, Kim, who was the main reason he wrote "The Shack."

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His wife grew up Kim Warren in Minot., where her father worked for Newman Signs and her mother was a nurse.

They met in Gresham, Ore., in the 1970s where Young was a youth minister and Warren was a college student.

Young was born in Alberta, Can., to missionary parents. Sexual abuse from outside his family and overbearing pressure within it to be a good little Christian marked his childhood, he says.

Through his adult life he became more alienated from his religious upbringing.

He and Kim had six children and a pretty ordinary life. But increasing alienation from his religion and from God, and long-repressed questions spiraled him down until he had a brief affair with one of Kim's best friends.

The devastation that wrought a decade ago forced him to find a way to get right with his wife, children and God; or else suicide seemed his only option, Young said.

The book was part of his healing.

Young said Friday, "It was just written for my kids as a way to try to communicate to them where I was in my life and how I understood the character and nature of God."

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He wrote it in about six months in 2005, while working three jobs to keep his family going. He and Kim had declared bankruptcy in 2003.

Whatever, the book has been a publishing and spiritual phenomenon, and made a formerly bankrupt man very wealthy.

"When we lost everything, it was probably one of the healthiest times in our lives. And going through that probably changes the way we operate now."

"But money is a funny thing. All of my relationships, our relationships, our friendships, none of that has changed. And nothing that really matters has changed. It's just suddenly we are able to do some things we weren't able to do before."

They have started a foundation that funds many things, including an orphanage in Honduras and a house in Portland for young people in trouble on the streets.

He's been criticized by some Christian leaders for pushing what they call heretical, or just silly, views about God.

But for Young, the main thing about God is relationships, not rules or religion.

The controversy over his book in many church circles isn't something he regrets or resents, calling it "healthy."

Nearly as many nonbelievers seem interested in the book as believers of all stripes, he said.

"The book has really given people a language with which to have a conversation about God that is not a religious conversation."

One of Young's influences was C.S. Lewis, the Oxbridge professor of literature known for his fiction along Christian themes more than for his academic writing.

"The one thing I love about Lewis as well as George MacDonald and (J.R.R.) Tolkien is their ability to use fiction to communicate truth ... to utilize the imagination and creativity to penetrate the heart."

"People ask is "The Shack" a true story? I say, 'Yes, it's true, it's just not real.'"

Connie Moland, Fertile, Minn., and several other women from Polk County read the book together more than year ago and organized Young's appearance at the Fritz.

Young tells "a powerful, life-changing story," Moland said, explaining why she helped organize the event. By noon Friday, about 500 tickets had been sold, according to the Fritz's box office.

See more about Young and "The Shack" at www.windrumors.com .

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

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