Red over Red

Red over Red

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Disaster (or Nearly So)

A couple of weeks ago our Sea Scout boat, the Rowan Hope, parted her mooring in the middle of the night in 40 knots of wind and took an unscheduled voyage across Potts Harbor and came to rest as you see her above. Incredibly, as you can see in the picture, she skipped over the granite ledge, missed the ledge ahead of her, and flopped over on the one stretch of mud and eel grass along the entire shore line (God loves Sea Scouts, and there's the proof). This was actually on my neighbors', the Bibbers, property. Bobby Bibber ran a line from the bow and stern to an old apple tree while people tried to figure out who the boat belonged to.

The tide started coming in in the afternoon. Bobby drove his tractor out on the dock and we threw a line over the mast to haul her over to get the keel to clear the ledge. Some of the local lobstermen came by to help.

As the tide came in she floated free. In this picture you can see the line above the spreaders hauling the boat over. She took a couple of good thumps on the ledge but got over into the deep water.

Some of the guys helping us come over in a skiff and put her on a mooring. Incredibly, she suffered no damage, even where she hit hard on the ledge. Tough little boats, those Bristol 24s. We've since sailed her back to Bath, ten miles on open water and another ten up the river, with no problems. She's hauled out for the winter and we can't see any damage done by her little adventure. Ready for another season next year.

Speaking of Sea Scouts, our Ship, 243, the Kennebec Rover is holding a fundraiser Chowder Supper at Maine Maritime Museum November 18, 5:00 - 7:00. If you would like some great chowder, great live music performed by the scouts, and a chance to support this great cause, come on by! For more info e-mail me at

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meeting My Heroes

It was when I first started to sail seriously, and was living on my boat in Marina Del Rey, California (that's in Los Angeles, for the uninitiated) that I first became acquainted with the books of Lin and Larry Pardey. The Pardey's were one of the first cruising couples, sailing in the wake of Joshua Slocum, and among the first to seriously write about it, bringing that whole subculture of cruising sailors to public attention. I devoured their books, the narratives of their sailing adventures, starting with Cruising in Serraffyn as well as their how-too books, such as Capable Cruiser. In fact, I was ready to follow their example and head off cruising when the sailing ship Golden Hinde arrived in Marina Del Rey and my life spun off in another direction.

So, it was a great thrill to finally meet Lin and Larry in person at the Newport International Boat Show last month, where they and I were signing our new books. They were every bit as wonderful as I imagined they would be, personable and helpful, and with the sense of humor essential to successful sailing. As you can see from the above photo, Larry was even willing to interrupt his lunch to have his picture taken with me (though he was not willing to unhand the sandwich).

For anyone interested in small boat sailing, or armchair adventures at sea, the Pardey's books are a must.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back in the Element

For about four years now I have owned a lovely sailing vessel, a 26' Pierson Ariel, and for those same four years, every Spring, I have decided I did not have enough a) time or b) money to put it in the water. This Spring I decided that I still did not have enough time or money to put it in the water, but my kids were getting older, I was (apparently) not getting younger and the boat had to go in. My wife Lisa has been very into the idea as well (we met on a ship, after all, and boats were the first thing we had in common). So S/V Paraclete, along with myself, my wife and our kids are finally getting back to where we belong.

Paraclete getting ready to head to sea

Underway in the golden hour, the captain stands in the companionway

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Power of the Press

An amusing side benefit of the New York Times mention of my book Reign of Iron - I got to see the sales ranking on shoot up as people who read the article bought the book. Not to say it became a best seller, and with Amazon you have no way of knowing how many books are actually sold (I'm guessing maybe a dozen), but it was clear from the rankings that the article inspired people to buy the book.

And that's why book review editors are flooded with every new title to come out.

I heard a great quote on The Writer's Almanac this morning, by the writer Andre Dubus II:

"[T]he writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer's soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow's mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Making the New York Times for Real!

I'm happy to announce that I finally earned a mention in the New York Times that goes beyond a blurry photo from thirty-seven years ago. I was reading this article about the preservation work being done on the turret of the U.S.S. Monitor and thinking that the history part of the article sure seemed to track my book Reign of Iron pretty close. Sure enough, on the second page they cite the book and, of course, name the author.

Okay, now I can die happy.

But not immediately.

Luckily for all interested, Reign of Iron is still in print.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I Finally Make the New York Times!

No, not a book review. That would be nice, but you gotta take what you can get. The picture below appeared in the NYT a couple of days ago, in connection to the current activity of former Watergate conspirator John Dean. It shows Dean being sworn in before the Senate Investigating Committee in 1973.

To Dean's left there is a guy looking at a pad of paper. Above that guy's left shoulder, right where his sleeve meets his coat, you can see the top of a blond head. That's my head! I was eleven years old and my family was taking a trip across country when we happened to be in Washington for Dean's historic testimony. My dad is the man standing against the back wall right over the left shoulder of Notepad Man. Notepad Man is blocking my sister and mother, who were sitting to my right.

A nearly identical picture, taken from a higher angle, appears in Dean's book Blind Ambition. In that one my sister and I are clearly visible, which is how I know that the scalp in this picture is me.

I was a bit young to truly appreciate the historical significance of Dean's testimony, but listening to my folks talk I knew it was big.

Now, the next New York Times appearance had better be a glowing book review...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Madness Continues

Haven't updated the blog in a while because I keep waiting for some exciting news to report but there appears to be none in the offing. So, just to let folks know I'm still above ground, here we go.

Still hitting to promotion trail for the new book, With Fire and Sword. I was recently down in Boston doing a book signing at U.S.S. Constitution, my favorite ship. Here are some pictures.

Cool ship. Bloody cold day.
Some school kids from St. Louis recently sent me a Flat Stanley, a cut out guy based on kids book by Jeff Brown of that name. The idea is that Stanley enjoys adventures in other places, and then returns to the kids who sent him. In this case Stanley helped me with my book signing.

Jim Nelson and Flat Stanley sign books at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum Store

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jim and Lisa's Great Virginia Adventure

Just got back from Mount Vernon, where I had the chance to deliver one of the talks at their Michelle Smith Lecture Series. Excellent trip. On the morning of the talk my wife Lisa and I (we had driven to Virginia the day before) woke up and had a leisurely (i.e. no kids) breakfast then drove the half hour to Mount Vernon. There we were shown the suite they were putting us up in (I'm not saying it was terrific, but they did have to call security to get us to leave the next day. The guards had to pry Lisa's fingers from the post of the four poster bed) and we spent the day touring the grounds and the wonderful museum they have there. Great place, a must see.

Here we are in front of Mount Vernon

Later on we changed and walked through the grounds to the Welcome Center where I gave the talk. A full house, and people who love Washington and all things Revolution, the best kind of audience. After that signed books furiously for forty-five minutes. Sold out nearly all the stock of books. Next Lisa and I had a wonderful dinner with Jim Rees, Executive Director at Mount Vernon, Mrs. Smith who sponsored the series and some other wonderful people. That done, it was back to our suite.

The next day I said to Lisa, "I'm not sure how a day can get any better..."

Furiously signing books - my favorite activity
(or at least it's pretty high on the list)

And now, back to reality...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let the Madness Commence!

The official book promo madness has begun! Did my first book signing for With Fire and Sword the other night at Borders in Portland, Maine. Had to sign books quick as the bank was in the process of repossessing the store while I sat there.

Naw, just kidding. Apparently none of the Borders in Maine are slated to close. Which is good because every other bookstore in the state has been crushed underfoot.

Tomorrow my wife Lisa and I are off to Virginia for a talk at Mount Vernon (members only...which makes me ask, "would I want to give a talk at a place that would have me as a speaker?") then next weekend off to the Virginia Festival of the Book. The whole nutty schedule is on my web site,

With Fire and Sword got a nice review in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Actually, a very nice review.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Pub Date!

For regular folk, a "Pub Date" would probably mean taking your wife or girlfriend out for a fun evening at some quaint Irish or British-inspired drinking establishment, sucking down Guiness and playing darts. But to the writer, those words have a much greater significance:

The New Book is Out!

At long last, the most anticipated literary event in south western Harpswell, Maine, With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the Beginning of the American Revolution is officially available! While it may take a week or so to filter into stores, it is available for immediate purchase on line at, (careful of that bankruptcy thing) and Barnes &

Rush out in a buying frenzy! If you buy two, you can use one for parts. And remember, it is scientifically proven that buying used books can cause irritable bowel syndrome.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Helen Hollick's Blog

A friend and fellow writer, Helen Hollick, who is much more adept at the whole blog thing than I am, has started a page where she invites guests to be featured on her blog. This month I get that honor! Check out Helen's blog here - it's fun, lots of good stuff, and an interview with me, which does not detract much from the overall quality.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Free-Bees for the Winning!

Now is your chance to win free copies of my George Washington related titles! In celebration of Washington's Birthday, the publisher, McGraw-Hill/International Marine is running a sweepstakes on their Facebook page. So check it out and enter! If you win, you get a free book. If you lose, an old pirate comes to your door and hands you a paper with a black spot on it. Then you're on your own.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Good News...

Just heard that the new book, With Fire and Sword, has been selected as a Military Book of the Month Club Alternate Selection and a History Book Club Main Selection. That's a nice honor, and the money I get from the sub rights sale will allow me to treat my whole family to pizza with three toppings!

With Fire and Sword will be in book stores March 1.

Off to Buffalo, NY and Ann Arbor next week for research on the next book, TBA. I would like to check out some of the War of 1812 sites, but I suspect they are under fifteen feet of snow.

Adding an increasing number of Author Events to the schedule for this year. You can check it out on my web site (which needs some serious work, and will get it, one of these days).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Another SIB

Here's one I made for my wife, Lisa, for her birthday. It's her and me sailing on the boat I owned when we met, a Newport 27. It is supposed to depict our first sail together. I wasn't sure she would like it - we have a lot of ships in bottles - but she cried when she saw what it was, which is always the reaction you want (as long as it's tears with something like, "Oh, honey, that's so romantic!" as opposed to "Oh! You cheap SOB, what I said I wanted was...").

Anyway, I was very happy with the reaction.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


That's Ships in Bottles. I've found a little time to pursue an old, favorite hobby, the traditional sailors' art of ships in bottles (a good activity when your entire world is buried in snow). Here's a Gloucester fishing schooner of pretty recent vintage. (SIBs are notoriously hard to photograph).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And it Just Gets Better...

Two more great reviews, one from Kirkus (a starred review - special merit. That's good) and one from Booklist.

The book is With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the Beginning of the American Revolution. There seems to be some confusion from the last post as to the publication date, so let me say again, the book will be published

March 1, 2011

There will be considerable mention made of that event (at least by me) so you'll know about it.

Here are the hightlights of the new reviews:

From Kirkus:

A clever, often sardonic history of an iconic battle.

Prolific historian Nelson (George Washington’s Great Gamble: And the Sea Battle that Won the American Revolution, 2010, etc.) begins in turbulent 1760s Massachusetts, which, in his often tongue-in-cheek narrative, resembles less the traditional high-school patriotic pageant than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... Nelson makes an entertaining case that the American Revolution may have been won on Bunker Hill.

And from Booklist:

The battles of Lexington and Concord, deemed the “shots heard around the world,” are usually considered
the opening conflicts of the Revolutionary War. Perhaps so, but as Nelson indicates in his detailed and
stirring account, the subsequent battle at Bunker Hill had a much greater impact in both America and
Britain. He convincingly asserts that the massive casualties sustained meant a true
turning point had arrived. American confidence was bolstered, while the British realized the rebels would
not be easily subdued. This is a well-done examination of a critical battle, ideal for general readers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Critics are Raving!

Well, one critic, anyway. And maybe not raving. But my new book, With Fire and Sword, just got a very nice write-up in Publisher's Weekly, the publishing industry's top trade magazine. In the words of PW:

With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the Beginning of the American Revolution
James L. Nelson, St. Martin's/Dunne, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-57644-8
This rousing history rescues Bunker Hill from its folkloric shroud and presents it as one of the revolution's more significant and dramatic battles. Historian and novelist Nelson (Benedict Arnold's Navy) calls the 1775 engagement--a struggle for high ground from which American artillery could hit the British stronghold in Boston--the revolution's "first real battle." Amateurish Minutemen weathered a standup fight against the superbly drilled redcoats. (That they could obey the famous order to hold their fire until they could see the whites of their enemies' eyes was a triumph in itself.) The outcome was a bloodbath in which "the [British] front ranks were mowed down as if the hand of God had swept them away"--until the ammunition ran out and the Americans fled. Nelson's gripping portrait of the battle caps a lively chronicle of the early days of the rebellion in Massachusetts and of the revolutionaries' scramble to establish a government and organize an army as they edged uneasily toward independence. Nelson's well-researched, entertaining account of the revolution's opening chapter aptly conveys the difficulty and riskiness of the patriots' gamble.

The great thing about Publisher's Weekly is you can slip them twenty bucks and they'll write anything you want.

Naw, just kidding. The review is legit. Perpare to rush out in a buying frenzy, March 1.

And Happy New Year!