"The Shack" was one of those surprise books that came out of nowhere -- a self-published religious novel about a missing girl who is found years after her disappearance, and a man's personal visit from God.

Written with "the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian," as one reviewer said, it has sold millions of copies in 30 languages.

Canadian author William Paul Young's second novel, "Cross Roads," has just been published by FaithWords. Young, who now lives in Oregon, will be in the Twin Cities on Monday for a reading and signing. Here, he talks about how writing is a lot like being pregnant, and how he could really use a writing room.

Q You've had an unusual life -- growing up in New Guinea, facing many personal hardships [sexual abuse, an extramarital affair] that ultimately led to a break with your church. And yet "The Shack" is a very religious book. How does your faith inform your life and work?

A I think that faith and the content of what we believe informs everything about the way we live. That content spills over and out of the ordinary and customary of our lives.

I would not want you to confuse my resistance to institutional religion with a lack of love for the Church. I adore the Church -- people of community who are stumbling heavenward together. You'll find me right in the middle of that motley mix.

Q You're one of the few who have found success through self-publishing. What would you tell other writers who hope to crack the bestseller list on their own?

A I actually don't have much advice. I had no such hope and it still is not a force in my life. For writers, write. Write for those you care about. Write to get the inner world out. When you share your work, listen closely to those who don't know you. Write to create and open space, not to reduce it. As best you can, write without expectations. When we can learn to live without expectations, everything is a gift.

Q Describe your writing room.

A A writing room ... what a novel idea. I should probably get me one of those. I tend to write when the timing seems right. Where I am is not as important. When I begin seriously working on a project, the place becomes a mess, notes and papers everywhere.

Q What is your writing strategy -- do you have rituals that you maintain?

A I have no rituals about writing. As I think about it, I don't have many generally. I am not one of those dedicated writers who writes a certain amount each day. For me, the process is probably as close to being pregnant as I will ever get. Kim [his wife] and I have six children, so I am quite familiar with it. Sometimes it is a joy and other times -- morning sickness. When the timing is right, it emerges to take on a life of its own.

Q How do you get past writer's block (or the distraction of the Internet)?

A I define "writer's block" as "wanting to do something else more." So I go do something else until the compulsion to write is greater than anything else.

Q Do you have a favorite book from childhood?

A "The Little Prince," by Antoine de Saint-Exupèry, which remains one of my favorite books. Add a little Tarzan, Madeleine L'Engle, comic books and Sherlock Holmes, and you get a pretty good feel for my childhood.

Q What books do you re-read?

A Certain books in the Bible, like the Gospels and the Psalms. I also re-read books by certain writers, like Jacques Ellul, C.S. Lewis, and some of the classics.

Q What's on your desk?

A A laptop stand. A couple glass ladybugs that my grandchildren try and play with, a stack of letters people have written to me; a pile of sticky notes with random thoughts and to-dos on them.

Don't open the desk drawers, though, you might fall in and get lost. Generally, I think you would describe my office as a beautiful mess.

Q Where are you right now? Describe what you see.

A I am sitting in a Manhattan hotel on the day that "Cross Roads" has launched. I just returned from 14 back-to-back satellite TV interviews. The city is bouncing back from Hurricane Sandy, and debris is still piled high in places.

New York sounds are frequent: sirens, voices and honking. Halfway down the street stands the Church of Our Savior, where I slipped in and enjoyed the artistry of people long gone but whose touch remains to remind me that there is a bigger reality that we are all part of. My heart is grateful.

Q What are you reading right now?

A Baxter Kruger's book "The Shack Re-visited," for obvious reasons. Jean Vanier, "Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John." Also, the new book by Brian D. McLaren, "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?"

Q What's been the best place so far to do a reading?

A I don't think there is a bad place.

Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302