Monday, October 10, 2016

Interview With Historian & Author Craig Nelson

PEARL HARBOR: From Infamy to Greatness

1. What inspired you to write your book? The reasons why I write the books I write are pretty quirky. I did a biography about American founding father Thomas Paine because I heard that story of how, ten years after he had died, his biggest fan became incensed that Americans weren’t properly honoring his memory, and went to his grave in New Rochelle, dug up the body, and ran off with it to London. I wrote a book about the first men on the moon after going to a launch in Florida and wondering why I had to sit 3.5 miles away from the liftoff, and it was explained to me that if something goes wrong on the pad, the rocket will explode with 4/5ths the power of an atomic bomb hurling 100-pound pieces of shrapnel for a radius of 3 miles; so NASA prefers that its guests sit 3.5 miles away. And the reason why I picked Pearl Harbor is that on September 11, 2001, I was living about a mile away from the World Trade Center and had gone up on the roof to look at the accident that had happened there that morning. I saw that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and was wondering how this accident could have happened, and then I wondered why that other plane was flying so close to the towers. For the next three years, I developed a phobia about planes; not riding in them, but being under them. I’d look up and see one and think: what is it doing there? Where is it going? And I looked into how to cure myself of this crazy fear, and I found out that thousands had gone through the exact same phobia. Those thousands were survivors of Pearl Harbor. 

2. What is it about? A definitive history of December 7, 1941, and why America’s reaction to it defined our nation more than July 4, 1776.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?  That if you wait long enough, things usually turn out all right in the end. 

4. What advice do you have for writers? I advise novice writers to seriously investigate what books are similar to theirs, go through the acknowledgements, find the agents and editors, and write a pitch email with the subject “Since you worked on XXX by XX …” So few submissions from first timers show any effort at cracking the business that it is almost guaranteed to get a serious response. 

5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I’m very sorry that the industry didn’t window ebook release dates to have a hardcover exclusive for at least 6 months. But I do love that books can now exist in all these different formats and I hope that even expands so that you can buy everything and anything from a beautifully produced autographed cloth edition in a great brick and mortar to a free download sneak preview chapter to a pallet of riches at Costco. 

6. What challenges did you have in writing your book? Pearl Harbor is the Everest of research. The guy who wrote the big book before me, Gordon Prange, was ordered by Douglas MacArthur to interview every member of Japan’s military involved with Operation Hawaii, and he went totally off the rails, writing an infamously endless letter to his publisher about why he couldn’t finish his book, and then dying before he could in fact finish it. So the tome he spent his life on, At Dawn We Slept, ended being written by two of his students, who then went on to write I think five other books under Gordon Prange’s name; he became the Ian Fleming or VC Andrews of military history. So right away the question came up: was Pearl Harbor going to kill me too? And on top of the unbelievable amount of material that’s already been written on this topic is the fact that it’s infested with conspiracy theory people who pop up everywhere you look and make a mess of things. And they did such a good job that a lot of people when they found out I was working on Pearl Harbor their first question was: did Roosevelt do it?

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? Every facet of human existence is in this story. Bravery and cowardice, triumph and failure, professionalism and ineptitude, racism and reconciliation … so many have taken up Pearl Harbor because it is an endlessly fascinating story. 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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