Author probes relationships and community in “Cross Roads”

The fact that William Paul Young has one best-seller and perhaps another on the way can only mean one thing:

“God has a sense of humor,” said Young, whose first book, “The Shack,” sold 18 million copies.

Its success “was never part of my plan,” he said.

“I wasn’t dreaming about it or praying about it,” Young said. ” ‘The Shack’ was a huge surprise for everybody.”

Including Young, who originally set out to write a story for his six children with no intention of having it published — and it nearly wasn’t. Twenty-six publishers turned it down.

It was also not without controversy. There were lawsuits over royalties, contract breaches and copyright issues. Critics also took umbrage at Young’s portrayal of God as a heavy-set black woman called Papa, and they had issues over the book’s theology.

Young, who lives in Oregon, will sign copies of his new book, “Cross Roads,” at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Barnes & Noble in the Mansell Crossings shopping center in Alpharetta.

Young said he wanted to avoid a sequel to “The Shack” and delve deeper into the human soul.

So he created Anthony Spencer, whom he calls “a jerk.”

Spencer is a self-centered, successful businessman who doesn’t care how his deeds affect others. A cerebral hemorrhage puts Spencer in a coma. He “awakens” to find himself able to see through the eyes and experiences of others and face the consequences of his choices.

In real life, cross roads can’t be avoided, Young says. A person doesn’t choose those cross roads — like death, the loss of a business or a change in a relationship — but life has a way of placing them in your path.

Raising Spencer from the dead would have been too easy. “That would have been biological,” Young said. “I wanted to look at changing a person’s soul. I wanted to explore something that is more difficult. What would be that process of transformation?”

Couldn’t a reader get the same message through the Bible? Sure, Young says. “There is a way to read the Bible as a story and you will hear it, but we have been so trained to have someone in a pedagogical kind of way to tell us what to think that we don’t hear the truth anymore,” he said. “A good story is very sneaky. It will find a way to get past our watchful dragons.”

Young, 57, considers himself a writer of fiction, not necessarily a writer of religion. He says many of the religious-oriented books in stores today are just a different way to preach “I don’t have that kind of agenda,” he said.

To Young, both books are human stories that will traverse every kind of faith and nonfaith barrier one can imagine. “Mackenzie (from ‘The Shack’) and Anthony (Tony) are everyman stories and about human question that apply to us all,” he said.

He hopes “Cross Roads” will give readers a deeper understanding of the need for community. “We aren’t designed to make life work in isolation,” he said. “… Our damage largely comes through relationships, and so too will our healing.”

Success hasn’t changed Young, he said, because he knew what was most important to him before he wrote “The Shack.”

Said Young: “If it all went away tomorrow … I would be fine.”

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