How does a busy lawyer, husband and father find time to write a novel?
James D. Shipman, an Everett family law attorney who grew up in Marysville and now lives in Snohomish, spends every other Friday, some weekends and two weeks in the summer just writing.
“I’ve always loved to write,” he said. “I decided when I was 40 that I wanted to get serious about writing. I didn’t want to be 85 and look back at what I hadn’t done.”
Now 46, Shipman has published three works of historical fiction, with yet another novel just off to the publisher and expected in print later this year.
His most recent book, “It Is Well,” was released in December just days before the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II.
Yes, the title comes from the hymn by Horatio Spafford, whose children all died tragically:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say; It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
And, yes, Shipman’s novel, set during World War II, includes a lot of sadness — and some solid hope.
The main character, Snohomish hardware store owner Jonathan Beecher, is a middle-aged widower. His eldest son, a contractor, is trapped on a Japanese-occupied island in the Pacific. His teenage son joins the Army and is sent to Europe. And his daughter is mixed up with an abusive guy.
Jonathan begins to doubt his Christian faith.
But then Sarah Gilbertson, who also is widowed, comes into Jonathan’s life. Shipman writes with knowledge about grief.
“My parents owned Shaefer-Shipman Funeral Home in Marysville. I know a lot of people who went through some terrible losses,” Shipman said. “And mom is a widow now.”
The novel involves the deepening friendship between Sarah and Jonathan. But don’t call it a romance novel.
“All of my books have a love story. I like to explore relationships between men and women,” Shipman said. “Set in the 1940s, this story reflects the attitudes of the time. So a lot takes place off stage.”
Likewise, the story can’t be labeled a Christian novel. However, the book is an examination of how people keep their faith when everything around them falls apart, he said.
“And these characters are faced with multiple tragedies.”
Shipman grew up in the Methodist Church. He graduated from Marysville-Pilchuck High School, attended Everett Community College, earned a degree in history from the University of Washington and then graduated with a law degree from Gonzaga University.
His wife, Becky, is a teacher in Snohomish. Together they have seven children — four in college and three in middle school or high school.
One of the enjoyable things about “It Is Well” is its setting in Snohomish County.
“I believe in writing what you know, but I needed to know about more downtown Snohomish when it was still a small town,” Shipman said. “I got a 1940s map and then I got people to walk around and talk about what it was like at that time.”
“It Is Well” is historically accurate, he said.
“I’m a longtime student of World War II, and I have tried to portray people on the day and in the way that it occurred in history.”
His first book — “Constantinopolis” — is set in 1452 during the Ottoman Empire. The second book — “Going Home: A Novel of the Civil War” — involves a true story about his great-great-grandfather.
Book No. 4 — a manuscript with a working title of “A Bitter Rain” — focuses on a family in Germany as the Nazis came to power.
“They went step-by-step into the nightmare,” Shipman said. “The reality is that it wasn’t unique. These were sophisticated people who allowed themselves to slowly become passive observers. It’s important for people to realize that the biggest crime of the holocaust was that millions of people let it happen.”
Shipman currently is at work on another World War II novel, this time set in Holland, which will complete a trilogy on the war.
“Constantinopolis” was self-published through Amazon. After Shipman finished “Going Home,” Amazon asked to acquire his books under its imprint trade name Lake Union Publishing.
“I was at Disneyland with my family when I got a call from Lake Union,” Shipman said with a laugh. “I thought it was a joke.”
Having his books published by a company that focuses on historical fiction is beyond what Shipman dreamed of when he set up his writing schedule six years ago.
“The important thing was just to have time to work on the craft,” he said. “Now I am so glad I did it.”
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