2017-03-17 / Faith

Local publishers help open door to ‘The Shack’ story

Best-selling book now a major motion picture
By Becca Whitnall


IT’S A HIT—In its debut weekend, “The Shack” earned over $16 million. Forbes called it a “divine” opening. IT’S A HIT—In its debut weekend, “The Shack” earned over $16 million. Forbes called it a “divine” opening. “The Shack” is the stuff dreams are made of.

Brad Cummings, who helped turn the tale into a best-selling book and now a major motion picture, so believed in the story of a man’s meeting with God that he maxed out a dozen personal credit cards to get the book published.

In no time, Cummings and publishing partner Wayne Jacobsen had sold out of first-run copies, and sales weren’t slowing.

“You always dream something you do might have a connection with so many people, but this was unexpected,” Jacobsen said. “Within the first year, we’d sold a million copies out of a garage in Newbury Park.”

Both Jacobsen, 63, and Cummings, 50, live locally. The two are former pastors and current co-hosts of a weekly podcast, “The God Journey.”


UNEXPECTED DREAM—Ventura County residents Wayne Jacobsen, left, and Brad Cummings helped turned Wm. Paul Young’s book, “The Shack,” into a New York Times best-seller. The novel, about a man’s meeting with God, has sold more than 20 million copies. Lionsgate recently released the film version. UNEXPECTED DREAM—Ventura County residents Wayne Jacobsen, left, and Brad Cummings helped turned Wm. Paul Young’s book, “The Shack,” into a New York Times best-seller. The novel, about a man’s meeting with God, has sold more than 20 million copies. Lionsgate recently released the film version. The story behind “The Shack” begins in Oregon, where Jacobsen met Wm. Paul Young, the story’s author, at one of Jacobsen’s book signings.

Not long after their first meeting, Young sent him a tale about a man suffering from unthinkable pain who encounters God in the flesh, represented by three characters.

A large, humorous black woman referred to as “Papa” is God the Father; a jeans-wearing Middle Eastern carpenter named Jesus is the Son; and Sarayu, an Asian woman with a green thumb, is the Holy Spirit.

“‘The Shack’ was a story written for my six children, with no thought or intention to publish,” Young says on his personal website.

When Jacobsen received one of the dozen or so copies Young had printed, he thought of Cummings, who’d been looking for a story to make into a film.

“I came over to Wayne’s house and he was reading and had tears in his eyes,” Cummings said. “I had never seen him cry but he was really taken with Paul’s story, so I read it and instantly saw a beautiful movie in the making.”4x2.5

Putting in the work

As much as they loved Young’s story, the duo believed the book needed some heavy editing, and they suggested changes. Young wasn’t interested in rewriting the story himself, but was open to allowing the men to do so, they said.

For the next 16 months, the three worked together through four major rewrites. Finding a publisher proved harder than expected.

“It was too edgy on the Christian side and there was too much Jesus for the secular publishers,” Jacobsen said.

So the trio created Windblown Media and published the book themselves. The first run of 10,000 copies was published in May 2007.

“The reason it took off is people would read it, and they would go buy a copy to give away to a friend so they could talk about it,” Cummings said.

By word of mouth, the book’s popularity grew. Pastors discussed it from the pulpit, church groups ordered it and even therapists recommended it to patients experiencing deep grief. By February of 2008, 1 million copies were sold, and, around that time, the book caught the attention of Hachette Book Group.

Hachette, considered one of the “big five” publishing companies, partnered with Windblown. In return for half the profits, it would help with printing and distribution.

“The Shack” would go on to spend an entire year at No. 1 on the New York Times’ paperback fiction best-seller list. To date, it’s been translated into 40 languages and sold over 20 million copies.

“It was one of those proverbial

Cinderella stories,” Cummings said.

Like all fairy tales, there was a dark side. The partnership between the three men began to fracture in 2009 when Young sued Cummings and Jacobsen in Ventura County Court over royalty payments.

A jury trial was slated to begin in September 2011, but the suit was settled out of court, according to a story on the website ChristianRetailing.com,

The film

In 2013, Lionsgate acquired film rights to “The Shack,” and brought Cummings and Young on board to help with the screenplay.

The challenge for the two Christians was to preserve the Bible doctrine in the book as much as possible. Their screenplay, which took over five years to finish, went through 60 drafts.

“We really wrestled with, ‘What is the right word here? I know what I’m trying to say, but will that make sense to someone who doesn’t believe what I believe?’” Cummings said. “That was excruciating at times because you didn’t feel the other side was getting it and I’m sure they wanted to boot me at times, too.”

Jacobsen said the bulk of the work fell on Cummings, who was a television and film major in school. In turn, Cummings welcomed his good friend Gil Netter as a co-producer. Netter’s film credits include “Life of Pi,” “The Blind Side,” “Marley and Me,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

“He said, ‘Let me look over your shoulder and make sure you don’t get eaten by the sharks,’” Cummings said.

“The Shack”—starring Sam Worthington and Tim McGraw, with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) as God— opened in theaters nationwide March 3, earning $16.1 million its first weekend.

Muvico in Thousand Oaks was the top-grossing movie theater for the film nationwide, with more than 2,200 people viewing the film on all 14 of the theater’s screens, Cummings said.

“We are legitimately thrilled with how it’s come out,” Jacobsen said. “I’ve seen it 10 or 12 times and I cry through the movie in particular parts.”

He’s not the only one.

“It’s a thrill to stand up at the end of the movie and everyone has tears in their eyes and nobody wants to get up and leave,” Cummings said. “They don’t want to talk; they just want to sit there and contemplate.”

Everyone can take something from the book, the duo said.

Nonbelievers can enjoy an entertaining work of fiction. Those who question God’s existence can ponder what God might be like in person, if he exists. And for believers, it shares the message you’re never as alone as you think you are.

“I think we’ve all been hurt, and the book addresses the questions: What would it look like for God to crawl into that and bring healing and closure to a wound? How does God walk someone through to the other side?’” Cummings said.

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