I’ve just read your novel Cross Roads which is an impressive and powerful piece. But, frankly speaking, I didn’t expect you would easily go into new novel after The Shack. Maybe because The Shack seemed as a work which fulfilled your essential motivation for writing. What was the main trigger for the decision to get into writing Cross Roads?
I am not an agenda driven writer. I am more an exploratory writer who is investigating questions that matter to me and hopefully to those I care about, my family and friend predominantly. I would rather create space, or push out the walls of existing space and make room for others to hear within that landscape whatever it is that God might want to communicate to them personally and communally. So if I have good questions to explore, the writing follows.
As The Shack was great global bestseller, which deeply impressed the readers, will Cross Roads be in the shadow of its success, or it might be an advantage for even better selling of new book?
I think everything I ever do will be in the shadow of The Shack, and that is an advantage in most respects. It certainly does not hurt to be pulled along by its wake. At the same time I would like to see other work I do have their own personality and independence, which I think Cross Roads accomplishes with clarity and integrity.
What do you think and expect, will readers of Cross Roads be those who read The Shack yet, or maybe some new ones?
My thought is that it will go both ways. Cross Roads will pick up new readers and they will go back to the first book, while many readers of the The Shack will pick up the new book. I don't think either will be disappointed.
What’s your feeling, have you made an important step forward, sort of new approach to the art of storytelling in Cross Roads compared with The Shack?
There are approach elements that are indeed new, some playing with techniques utilized by writers like Dickens and C.S. Lewis, but these and some others are distinctly different from The Shack. In the new book there is a deeper exploration of the soul of a human being and how choices ripple through the landscape of the inner world. Going deeper allowed for the possibility of exploring new ways to see and understand.
The Shack made you famous and rich. What’s really changed in your life?
So of the surface elements of our lives have changed; (we live in a house we bought rather than rent, I am not working three jobs, we created a Foundation to help others, I travel and have a platform to engage a wider conversation), but all the things that really matter were in place before I published The Shack. Writing the book added nothing to me in terms of identity, security, worth, value, significance, meaning, purpose, or love, the realities of our lives that truly matter. This grants to me a great deal of freedom with regard to what happens with whatever I write. It can be held loosely and remain gifts.
As reading Cross Roads I frequently had in mind sentences like Quid ergo sum, Deus meus, que natura sum or No man is an island. Are St. Augustin and John Donne the writers and thinkers whom you would recommend to be read for better understanding of your work?
That is a very good connection and accurate. Many writers wrestle with the tension created by the individual and the community. I would recommend Donne without hesitation, while Augustin with a strainer as he was so highly influenced by Plato and Aristotle. Donne was a poet and I think the artists are better often at working inside the tension. Dickens, Tolstoy, MacDonald, Lewis, Dostoyevsky...all wrestled with this. If someone wants to understand the 'theological landscape' in which The Shack resides, the best book is The Shack Revisited, by C. Baxter Kruger.
If you are supposed to answer the questions which St. Augustin asked both himself and God what would you say? What is real nature of modern man or woman?
In Cross Roads the question of the nature of Man (female and male) is of central importance. There are more than a few conversations between the characters about precisely this. Because I believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons who completely share Oneness, I see the human person in much the same way. Spirit, soul and body, each distinct but each essential and intended. Without each element in the human oneness, person would be lost. I think this is partly why such an emphasis is placed in Scriptures on the resurrection of the dead, to a physical existence as an essential experience that awaits us in the healing and reconciliation of the cosmos. I also believe that every human being is a child of God, that it is God who has placed the breath of life with her or him and thereby participated with us who bring our gifts of DNA and timing etc to the conception. You matter, your unique perspective and personality essentially matter to the human race and as a reflection of the nature and character of God.
We live in the world where religious conflicts and wars are frequent. Some call it “clash of civilizations”. Why is it so?
I would agree with your assumption if you also included atheism and materialistic humanism as religions. These have perpetuated untold misery and destruction and violence as deep and wide as any traditional religious ideology , especially in the modern era. Religions of any sort are largely the expression of human desire, some of which is good (helping the poor, education, health, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, the gathering of the community etc) and some of which is evil (greed, fear, control, power, subordination of women etc). People within religious community or ideology gravitate more toward one side of the scale than the other and that itself creates tensions and rifts within the adherents of the particular group. It is the evil in our hearts that expresses itself in violence, with the pen or with the fist. It is the evil in our hearts that divides us one from the other, that locks us into dismissive categorization of the 'other', that devalues children and is willing to sacrifice them on the alters of national or territorial gain and self preservation, that uses women, that plunders the earth, that believes the ends justify the means. And yet, what tyrant has not wanted to treat their own children well? The hope is someday we will consider ourselves members of the human family first, before all the diversity and important cultural differences and find a way to celebrate our unique stories without violating our common humanity. We are lost as individuals and as cultures, in need of the healing presence of Jesus.
After The Shack you have often been called religious writer. Is it really true and precise? What about Cross Roads, would you name it as religious work?
I suppose it depends upon your definition of Religious. I don’t think God entered humanity in Jesus to establish a new religion. Rather, I think God wanted to introduce us to relationship, something that would move us away from religious myths and divisions. If by religion you mean that the subject matter has to do with spirituality or relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then yes, I suppose everything I write is religious. But generally I don’t trust religion, I trust God.
There is an interesting sentence in Cross Roads: “He had never questioned the profoundly inventive power of the human mind, one of evolution’s most impressive accidents.” I understand that as emphasizing the importance of imagination. What does for you personally and for your writings mean imagination?
First, the reference to strict material quantum evolution is facetious. While it is true that evolution, change with respect to time, is a reality, I don’t find material evolutionary theory satisfying. But this is how Tony, the main character views his extraordinary mental ability and imagination, the result of evolutionary progression. For me imagination that is used to explore is a profound gift. Imagination that is used to exploit is a tragedy. Imagination is holy ground where we co-create with God. I have incredible respect for the human imagination and every day am benefited by its presence in the world.
You also said in the book that some of the main characters are based on real people. Do you rely more on imagination or on your own experience?
It depends. Cabby, a character in Cross Roads, is 100% real. His real name is Nathan Vredevelt. It was one of those innovative ideas to weave into a fictional story an authentic and real human being. The other characters are composites, part real people, part imagination. There is always at least a little of ‘me’ in all my characters
You spent much of your own childhood with your missionary parents in what was then Dutch New Guinea among the Dani tribe. It seems it was rather traumatic experience. From the point of view of mature man, how do you see your early life now? Is it still traumatic memory?
One of the beautiful activities of God is taking trauma and creating in the middle of it something that emerges as a monument or icon of grace. There was a lot of Great Sadness in my childhood, as there is for many of us, deep wounds and broken places. God is not the author of evil or the wrong, but climbs into the mess with us and begins to transform our hearts in spite of the hurt. That is among the greatest miracles that occurs in our lives.
As I understood, sort of world premiere of Cross Roads happened in Serbia. How do you understand such big interest of Serbian publisher Laguna and Serbian readers in your work? Finally, you launched The Shack in Belgrade two years ago and had the opportunity to get to know your Serbian readers.
Of all the places we visited in Europe, the Serbian people were among the most generous of heart and open of mind. We loved our time with you. Serbians know loss and pain and suffering and the need for forgiveness, reconciliation and grace. I find that you have big hearts and open arms. The more I have been involved in conversations with readers from Serbia, the more I appreciate your wounds and kindnesses. May we all come to healing, together. May we choose to be human first, brothers and sisters, and then celebrate our differences.