Astrodene's Historic Naval fiction is pleased to have obtained an Interview with James L. Nelson who's new book George Washington's Great Gamble is now available in the US and will be released in the UK on 21 June.
Your new book George Washington's Great Gamble is out soon. What can you tell us about it?
George Washington's Great Gamble is in some ways a sequel to George Washington's Secret Navy. In Secret Navy I discussed the beginnings of Washington’s understanding of the importance of naval power. In this book we look at how Washington came to understand that he would never win the war without it, and his desperate struggle to get a superiority at sea.
Great Gamble tells the incredible story of how all the stars aligned for one time to bring about the victory at Yorktown, the most important star being French naval superiority. It is the most detailed look yet at the naval action that brought about that victory, and the bold moves, the gambles, made by Washington and others, that finally paid off big. There’s a great cast of characters, including Washington, Rochambeau, Lafayette, the French admiral De Grasse, Baron de Steuben, Benedict Arnold, Charles Cornwallis and others.
How did you undertake your research for the book?
As with the earlier book, the writings of George Washington were central. Unfortunately the great series of published letters currently being done does not go up to 1781, so I used the Library of Congress’s site, where scans of Washington’s letter books are available. The correspondence of Lafayette, which is published, was very important, the collection of de Steuben Papers and dozens of other collections all played a part. This is a complicated story, and it required a lot of sources!
The previous book, George Washington's Secret Navy revealed little known information about the early days of Revolutionary War. Can we expect some more revelations?
Yes, I think George Washington's Great Gamble is really going to surprise people on many levels. Most history books will mention off-handedly that there was this naval battle before Yorktown, and then Washington went on to beat Cornwallis. In fact, when you read the original correspondence, particularly Washington’s, you see that the naval action was absolutely central to the allies’ plans for Yorktown. Once the French had won at sea, victory on land was a foregone conclusion.
People are also going to be surprised to see how much luck, behind the back dealings, British in-fighting and various other unsavoury factors led to the victory at Yorktown. I also explore how Washington ran what ended up being a virtual dress rehearsal for Yorktown in his effort to capture Benedict Arnold, a thing I have never read anywhere else.
Are you planning a sequel to this book?
Not right now. This book pretty much finishes up the naval action of the Revolution. I might at some point go back and look at some other, earlier aspect of the Revolution at sea, or perhaps look at the War of 1812.
Your recent work has been factual books about the Revolutionary War but you have three fiction series to your name. Which have you enjoyed researching and writing more?
It’s hard to say whether I like fiction or nonfiction more. They are such different animals. I enjoy the challenge of fiction, creating realistic characters and plots that keep the pages turning. On the other hand, with nonfiction you still need to flesh out characters and keep the pages turning, but you are limited by the fact that you can’t make things up! One of the things I most love to hear is “your nonfiction reads just like a novel.” That’s the idea. And I think my years of writing fiction have helped with that.
Are you likely to write any more fiction?
I’d like to write more fiction but right now the publishers don’t seem so interested in historical fiction that they perceive as being directed toward a male readership. So for the immediate future, it’s nonfiction.
Where did your interest in the sea originate?
That’s hard to say. I have always been drawn to ships and the sea. No one in my family sails or has any real interest in the sea, so I didn’t get it from them. I really believe it’s something you are born with. I tell people it’s clearly a genetic disorder, and not learned behaviour.
What intrigues you about the Age of Sail?
Like my love of ships and the sea, I have always been drawn to history. I love delving into the past and trying to get a sense for what the people were like, what their lives were like. I am awed looking at relics from the past. So it’s only natural that I would be drawn to the Age of Sail, particularly the 18th and 19th Centuries, the high-water mark for sailing ships. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by other periods. I’ve been floored by relics from ancient Mesopotamia and from WWII. Though Age of Sail is my speciality, and what I love most, I do love it all.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Always grateful for the dwindling but still significant number of people who enjoy the old technologies of words printed on paper in book form. And indeed for any readers, who are becoming fewer and further between. It’s always nice to hear from them. Thanks for your support and I hope you enjoy the new book!
George Washington's Great Gamble is published by International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press is available in the US. It will be released in the UK on 21 June 2010.