Thursday, February 19, 2015

Interview with Amazon bestselling novelist James Shipman

Today I’m happy to introduce Amazon best-selling historical fiction author James D. Shipman. We’re talking about his novel, Constantinopolis.

James D. Shipman is a historical fiction author published by Lake Union Publishing. His current title, Constantinopolis will be republished on March 15, 2015. His next title, Going Home, will be published in July 2015. Mr. Shipman is a practicing attorney in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in history and from Gonzaga University with a law degree. Mr. Shipman has published a number of short stories and poems in addition to these novels and is currently writing a World War II novel set in small town Washington State. He lives with his wife and family north of Seattle.

Welcome, James. Please tell us about Constantinopolis.
Constantinopolis is a historical novel about the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

For over a thousand years, the medieval city of Constantinople has been the jewel on the crown of the Roman Empire. Now, the once-mighty metropolis is broken down, with its defensive walls in shambles. Long have the neighboring Turks wanted to claim the city, and Mehmet—the impetuous new Turkish sultan—thinks he and his legions might finally have their chance. In defiance of his late father’s advisors, Mehmet vows to be the first leader in a millennium to wrench Constantinople from the Christians. He is determined to take the city from the weakened but beloved Emperor Constantine—even if he loses his throne and his life in the process.

An epic historical military adventure, Constantinopolis plots out the future of civilization as shaped by a number of fascinating characters, including one leader desperate to save his people from destruction and another determined to lead his nation to glory.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always been intrigued by medieval history. I found the story of Constantinople particularly fascinating, particularly the epic struggle pitting several hundred thousand Ottoman Turks against less than ten thousand Greek and Italian defenders. The conflict between Islam and Christianity echoes down through the ages and still finds application today.

Excerpt from Constantinopolis:

Mehmet held the twisting adolescent tightly while he drove the dagger deeper into the boy’s throat. Blood pumped from the wound, but Mehmet was behind the body and most of the hot liquid splashed onto the cobblestones. The boy’s muscles convulsed beneath his hands, trying to break free, but Mehmet kept his left arm wrapped tightly around the boy’s waist while his right hand gripped the knife. Soon the body went limp, and he let it slide gently to the ground. He knelt down and wiped the dagger clean on the boy’s robes, then walked on casually into the darkness.

Mehmet waited a moment in the shadows, listening for voices or footsteps, then continued prowling the midnight streets of Edirne. He was dressed in simple clothing that hung loosely on his frame. He was tall, with dark features, a thin hooked nose, and full, almost feminine lips. He was twenty-one, although he appeared older, particularly his eyes, which held a cautious wisdom.

He enjoyed his walks in the dark. He liked Edirne. The city formerly called Adrianople still contained a large Greek population but also was home to an increasing number of Ottomans. The narrow stone streets ambled through mixed neighborhoods with closely huddled residences, opening periodically to the impressive churches and cathedrals now largely converted to mosques. Edirne had served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire since its capture in 1365, taking the distinction from Bursa, in Anatolia. Bursa continued to serve as the religious center of the empire, and contained the tombs of the Ottoman founding fathers: Osman, for whom the empire and people were named, and his son, Orhan.

As Mehmet walked through the sleeping city, he let his thoughts wander, trying to relax. He loved the night—his quiet time to escape. He could mull over the questions and issues he had experienced during the day without the multiple interruptions and problems he was typically forced to address. He needed peace and quiet. He did not trust people, particularly those closest to him. Out here he could let down his guard. He also liked to eavesdrop, seeking information in the shadows that he would never learn otherwise.

At a crossroad, he came across a street sweeper who growled at him to move aside. As Mehmet turned, the sweeper looked into his face and gasped, falling to the ground in prostration. Mehmet sighed in annoyance and again drew his dagger, plunging it deeply into the sweeper’s neck. The man struggled, surprised, blood gurgling from the wound. Mehmet held him to the ground with his knee until he stopped moving, then again wiped his blade clean on his victim’s clothes and continued on. Two tonight. More than typical. He hated these interruptions. Why wouldn’t people simply leave him alone?

As he walked, he strained his ears to pick up conversations that would sometimes emanate from the thin walls of the closely crowded houses. He was searching for the thoughts of the city. He paused at a number of locations to pick up conversations, but he heard nothing of interest. Then, as he passed the outside courtyard of a wealthy merchant’s home, he discovered what he sought.

“Times have changed,” stated a deep voice, speaking Turkish. Mehmet could speak Turkish and Greek, as well as Persian and Arabic.

“What do you mean?” answered another man, with a slightly higher voice. Both spoke the educated Turkish of the middle and upper classes.

“Murad is dead. I think our days of glory are over. At least for now. For a hundred and fifty years our sultans have expanded our empire at the expense of the infidel Christians, but we can hardly expect that to continue.”

“Yes, Allah has favored our people.”

“Until now. We have conquered Anatolia and driven our way far into Europe. We have defeated the Italians and Hungarians and every crusading army sent by the infidels. But how can we hold these gains? With a young sultan who twice had to give power back to his father? Who could not win control of his own household guard? I am afraid he will be driven from power, and we will return to the bad days of civil war among our people.”

“Come now, Ishtek, you are hardly being fair. He was only ten or eleven when he was made sultan the first time. Murad should have kept the sultanate until the boy was ready. I do not agree with you. I think he will do fine. Perhaps he will even be greater than Murad.”

“Bah! You are ever the optimist. I will be content at this point to live out my life in Edirne, without being driven back to Bursa or farther by the Hungarians. Can Mehmet stand up to John Hunyadi? Murad hardly could. I would not be surprised if Hunyadi’s armies were massing in the north right now, ready to strike against us.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
My newest novel is Going Home. Going Home is a Civil War novel based on the true story of Joseph Forsyth. This book examines the effect of codependency and living as the child of an alcoholic in nineteenth century America.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That may have a few different definitions! I thought of myself as a writer in high school when I was writing short stories and poems and had a few published in our school creative writing book. I reached another level in college when I had a couple of poems and short stories published in some small magazines. Fast forwarding quite a bit I felt even more like a writer when I self-published a couple novels and was lucky enough to sell some copies. Finally, I really felt like a writer when I was fortunate enough to be picked up by Lake Union Publishing.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t write full time. I am a full time attorney and mediator. I shove writing into every nook and cranny I’m able to locate. My writing is done mostly with a shoehorn.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I would say how I fit in my writing is pretty quirky. I do much of my writing hunched over my laptop in my car waiting for my kids’ sporting events to start. In the summer I will also sit out at the sports fields in my camping chair and type away. I’m sure the other parents think I’m out of my mind. I just don’t have a lot of other time to write. I usually take one vacation where I’ll try to write as much as possible, but other than that I’m fitting my writing in wherever I can jam it.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a military officer, a history teacher, a writer and an attorney. I ended up with a history degree and went to law school. The only thing I missed entirely was the chance to serve in the military, but three out of four is pretty good!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I encourage anyone who is interested in writing to jump into the fray and live out their dreams. Just remember it’s a little like making sausage, particularly at first.

Thank you, James!

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