When Wm Paul Young first wrote THE SHACK, he did it as a Christmas gift for his family. He barely had enough money to make photocopies of it to give to them. Fast-forward to today, after the gift was published, sold millions of copies and now is in production to be a major motion picture (coming spring, 2016). No one ever could have imagined such a future for Paul, especially Paul himself.
But his story was far from complete. Now with his third novel, EVE, coming out this September, Paul has created what he considers to be the greatest story of his life. Forty years in the making, EVE engages the creation story of Genesis from a new perspective. I asked him about his newest creation, as well as how he feels about placing THE SHACK in the hands of Hollywood.
Here's what he had to say.
Christian Piatt: You've said that your new book, EVE, has been decades in the making, and also is your best written work so far. Why was this such a challenging story to tell?
Wm Paul Young: I have often talked about writing The Shack and Cross Roads as 'jumping into an empty river and being swept downstream' but when I plunged into the work of EVE, I found the river already full of people and boats and this required unusual care and respectful navigation. The most arduous challenge was how to keep a deeply researched work, which is a true attempt at respecting a vast existing scholarship, inside 'story?' I want a teenager to read EVE and not get lost but I want an academic to read it and recognize how carefully I have chosen my words. EVE is not an agenda-driven work of non-fiction, thinly veiled as fiction. It is first a story, but one grounded in the text and traditions.
CP: Why do you think it's worth so much time and effort to reframe the Genesis story of creation from the feminine perspective?
WPY: In my opinion it is an error to think that this is a re-framing of the Genesis story from a feminine perspective as if we were engaged in either/or explorations. Instead, I think EVE is written from a human perspective; the spectrum of God's expression in humanity that includes the full circle of the maternal and paternal nature of God. Having said that, most of the existing assumptions we have of the Genesis story have been told from an either/or, and dominantly male, viewpoint rather than holistic and human, and I believe that has had a devastating impact on our view of God and our relationships, one with the other. This novel is not intended to add to the existing adversarial divisions but look for something deeper and truer about us as human beings that will bring freedom to us all.
CP: One of the central themes in the Garden of Eden story is sin and temptation. How do you handle these ideas in your new book?
WPY: Carefully. I think it is telling that I probably won't get asked, "One of the central themes in the Garden of Eden story is the Goodness of God...how do you handle that?" But you are right; it is also story of sin and temptation. Even so, I think the story is much more profound than our Sunday school story version allows, including the nature of evil and the blinding power of temptation to independence and isolated individualism. My background is Evangelical Protestant and I will understand it when folks from 'my family' read EVE and raise their eyebrows in question or concern. A different narrative changes everything and the implications will be far-reaching. It's one of those, 'read it, then we will talk' situations.
CP: Some people inevitably will accuse you of biblical revisionism. How do you respond to that?
WPY: One of my favorite Jacques Ellul quotes is that Jewish scholars believe every passage has 77 proper interpretations, plus the one that God knows. I think the accusation of biblical revisionism often simply means your interpretation is different than my interpretation, and it bothers me. That is not to diminish the rigor of academic work and process, but I think we haven't begun to realize how powerfully coercive our a priori assumptions (the glasses through which we already look at everything) are in dictating our openness in conversations about interpretations. I did not grow up looking at life and God and humanity as I do now, and it was a bloody brutal battle to challenge my own presuppositions and paradigms. It does not mean that I have now arrived, but EVE is written after forty years of work, is more coherent and impacts deeply how I live my daily life. This matters to me.
CP: This spring, a movie version of your bestseller, THE SHACK, will hit theaters everywhere. What is it like to watch other people reinterpret such a deeply personal story to you?
WPY: It is SO cool and extremely surreal. I was honored to visit the set a couple times and watch a huge crew and cast bring their individual skills to flesh out something that emerged from my own heart and imagination. There are no adequate words for such an unexpected grace. Movie making is a collaboration of many creative people, each arriving inside their own journeys of faith and struggle, of loss and wonder, and all of it matters. I am comfortable with the understanding that no one will interpret life and experience the same as I do. That is not the point. To present something visually is quite different than to paint words on a canvas, and I like both the coherence between the two and the differences. Everyone I met on set was personally engaged, and all of it will go into creating a piece of art that we all hope will bring some healing to the world.
CP: You've said before that, given the chance, you'd change some things in THE SHACK's storyline. What would you change, and is that getting addressed in the film?
WPY: There are always some things that could have been better or more accurate in retrospect, mostly nuances in word choice. One of the bigger story elements, and it may not even show up in the movie (I truly don't know but I have talked about this to the movie professionals involved), is the scene in the book when Mack enters the 'transformed' shack and looks to the place where Missy's bloodstain should be on the floor. In the book it is gone, and I think that was a mistake. Just because one has worked through the damages and losses in one's life does not mean that the evidence of that process somehow magically disappears. There are still nail scars on Jesus' wrists.