A couple of years back, William P. Young wrote a novel as a gift for his kids.
Titled The Shack, it was Young's way of dealing with some painful, traumatic events in his life, including having been the victim of sexual abuse as a child. It was also his way of teaching his kids about his relationship with God.
But something happened after Young, a Christian, showed the book to a few friends. They told a few more friends, and a few more friends, and somebody said, "Hey, you ought to publish this." In 2007, he and a couple of friends did just that.
Today, Young's self-published novel ranks sixth on Amazon's list of best-sellers. The Shack has been on USA Today's list of best-selling books for 15 weeks, and it's No. 4 on the Publisher's Weekly list of trade paperback best-sellers.
Young says the protagonist, Willie, borrows much from his own story. Willie is middle-aged and has a large family, just as Young does. Willie is called back to a shack, the scene of a terrible crime, by a note from someone who might even be God.
"There is a God who is involved in things like this," he says. "There is really no human explanation for some of what's going on here." Young calls himself an "accidental author," one who has happened into a publishing miracle.