By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Before he became an Everett attorney, James Shipman had to choose. He always loved history, his college major.
“I had two career paths, but only got to pick one,” he said Thursday. “There’s a history teacher in there waiting to get out.”
Shipman, 43, found a way to keep his day job while indulging his first academic love. Studying at the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1995, his favorite historical times were World War II and the Medieval period.
In his new novel “Constantinopolis,” Shipman has written a page-turning tale based on a pivotal event of the Middle Ages. The 1453 fall of Constantinople, a game-changer in human history, was the conquest of the eastern capital of the Roman Empire by the Ottoman Turks.
It was a victory of Islam over Christianity in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul. In Shipman’s book, it is also a human story pitting two very different men against each other.
Barely out of his teens, Mehmet II was sultan of the Ottoman Turks. “He has all the resources in the world, but no power. He is very young and passionate, but badly emotionally scarred,” Shipman said.
His foe was Emperor Constantine XI, ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire. “Constantine XI is 48, mature and sophisticated, a brilliant administrator loved by his people. But he has no resources and outside pressures,” said the author, who lives in the Snohomish area.
Over coffee Thursday, Shipman talked about those men from nearly 600 years ago as though he knows them. In a way, he does.
To write “Constantinopolis,” which he self-published earlier this year, Shipman spent hundreds of hours on research. He read definitive histories, including the six volumes of “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon, “1453” by Roger Crowley, and “The Fall of Constantinople 1453” by Steven Runciman.
“And I went to Istanbul. That was fantastic for understanding the geography,” Shipman said. Areas he imagined as miles apart are much shorter distances. “Asia is right across the water,” he said.
Shipman said his book is as historically accurate as he could make it, but it’s also rich with character. In the opening pages, Mehmet commits two grisly murders during a midnight walk.
The book has generated good online traffic. Shipman said “Constantinopolis” has been as high as No. 14 on an Amazon bestselling list of war fiction. He hopes to attract a major publisher’s attention.
Although we are centuries past the story told in “Constantinopolis,” the author sees similarities to today’s struggle between Islamic extremism and the West. “The clash of two religions continues,” he said. More than battles of faith, Shipman sees in the conflicts — then and now — a mix of religion, ethnicity, power and politics.
His bent for history is inherited. His father Jim Shipman, a retired funeral home director, has been involved in Civil War re-enactments and worked to replace grave markers for Civil War veterans buried at Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery, which he once managed.
Through his research, Jim Shipman also discovered that President Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandmother, Rachel Wolfley, is buried at Evergreen Cemetery.
“Growing up with my dad, I always had an interest in history,” James Shipman said.
His latest literary effort is a Civil War book he expects to finish next year. The main character is based on his great-great grandfather. The man came from Ireland to Quebec as an indentured servant in the 1840s. After escaping servitude, he was in the Civil War as part of a New York regiment.
“I really enjoy creating strong characters and teaching some history,” Shipman said.
He doesn’t expect his fact-filled fiction to turn him into the next Tom Clancy. And he doesn’t regret his career choice.
“I don’t think I’d want to give up my legal career,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.