James L. Nelson was born in Lewiston, Maine, which is not exactly on the coast, but if people choose to think it is, he is not inclined to disabuse them of that notion. It is, however, enough to earn Nelson the coveted status of "Native Mainer." Nelson's father, David, taught English at Bates College in Lewiston, his mother, Selma, taught English at Lewiston High School. It was clear, early on, that Nelson was not going to be a mathematician.
Nelson's love of ships and the sea began early. At seven he started building plastic ship models and soon moved on to scratch-build wooden models. He also read, voraciously, whatever he could, fiction and nonfiction, about the days of sail.
In High School, Nelson went from model building to boat building. He built a fifteen foot skipjack in his mother's garage, and he and a friend built an eighteen foot canoe in the basement, which proved somewhat problematic to remove. Nelson also began working part-time as a disc jockey at the local Top 40 AM station, spawning an interest in broadcasting and filmmaking.
In 1980, Nelson graduated from Lewiston High School, with, if not honors, then at least a High School diploma (which he never did pick up). He took a year off to wander around the country, first hitchhiking and then riding his first motorcycle, a 1977 Honda 550-4 which he purchased while working as a tour guide at Denver's Zoo. On that bike he rode from Denver to Northern California and back to Maine. Nelson hoped a year on the road would cure him of his wanderlust.
And it did.
For a little while.
Nelson attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for two years, and then transferred to UCLA Film and Television, with the ambition of becoming a film director, much like every other waiter and parking lot attendant in Los Angeles. He began sailing with the UCLA Yachtlater, a Newport 27, which he lived aboard in Marina Del Rey.
After several years of working in the television business, Nelson had had enough. Learning that the replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hinde would be visiting Marina del Rey - and that they were looking for crew - he decided to chuck it all and run away to sea, which is what he had always wanted to do, anyway. In 1988, Nelson signed on as a deckhand aboard the Golden Hinde and was soon promoted to boatswain, much to the annoyance of fellow crewmember
Lisa Page, who also sought the position. Lisa vowed then that she would some day marry Nelson and make him pay for the rest of his life for taking that job from her.
James Nelson was with the Golden Hinde for a year, sailing from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal to Texas, eventually leaving the ship in Houston. After selling his boat and nearly all his possessions he moved to Washington State, where he went to work aboard the Lady Washington, a replica of an 18th Century brig, as a rigger and deckhand. After the Washington, beset with financial troubles, laid everyone off, Nelson joined "H.M.S." Rose, a replica of a Revolutionary War British frigate.
Nelson sailed with Rose for two years, ultimately as third mate. While working aboard Rose, Nelson came up with the idea for his first novel, By Force of Arms. In January of 1992 he finally succumb to the writing urge,and began work on the novel.
The following September, Nelson "swallowed the anchor" to pursue writing. He moved to Northern California, where his old shipmate Lisa Page made good on her threat of matrimony.
In 1994 the book was completed and sent off to agent Nat Sobel, who managed to sell it and two more books in the series to Pocket Books. This was the beginning of Nelson's career as a novelist, the fulfillment of a dream. But there was a down side, too. With deadlines for more books looming, he was forced to give up his paper stocking career.
Nelson and his wife, Lisa and their daughter Betsy lived for two years in Steubenville, Ohio, while Lisa attended Franciscan University. They now live in Harpswell, Maine (which really is on the coast). The family has expanded to include two boys, Nate and Jack, and a second daughter, Abigail, born in 2006. James Nelson continues to write full time (when he can find the time).