Emeritus professor honored for sunken-ship tale

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When Pat Nelson looked over at the handsome man standing in the hallway of the Harris Fine Arts Center, she wondered what would happen to her then-fiance back in Nebraska. Forty-four years later, she is married to the man she saw in the hallway, and has not thought of the Nebraskan fiance since.

Jack Nelson, a BYU emeritus professor now living in Provo, was the man she noticed, and was working as a television writer for BYU Broadcasting at the time. While Pat Nelson took notice of his good looks and undeniable charm, the literary world has also taken notice of Nelson, but for his remarkable writing skills. Nelson recently received the third place International Book Award in the Non-Fiction Narrative category for his most famous work, “Flashes in the Night: The Sinking of the Estonia.”

Writing has always been a staple in Nelson’s life. With previous experience at BYU as a sports writer for The Daily Universe, Jack Nelson went on to receive a doctorate from the University of Missouri and later taught at BYU in the Department of Communications. While at BYU as an undergraduate, he won fiction writing awards and throughout his career has written several novels, including “The Hijacker,” and his most recent novel, “To Die in Kanab: The Everett Ruess Affair.”

While most of his works are novels based off of true events, “Flashes in the Night”  is a non-fiction story. The book relates the stories of the survivors of the Estonia, an overnight ferry which sunk in a storm on the Baltic Sea in 1994.

Jack Nelson’s cousin and friend Bill Sego helped fund Jack and Pat Nelson’s research about the Estonia and the tragic shipwreck.

“My wife and I were very interested in the project,” Sego said. “We knew with Jack’s background and experience that he would get interviews with people that most journalists would not be able to in order to write factually. Jack’s account is probably more accurate than anybody’s because of the people he was able to talk to.”

Jack and Pat Nelson spent a month researching and interviewing people in Sweden and Estonia, where most of the survivors and those who passed away in the accident are from. Their trip included an overnight passage from Estonia to Sweden on the sister ship of the Estonia, which had sunk only two years prior. The trip, according to the Nelsons, was busy and at sometimes strenuous.

“We worked, we did not have a lot of time for site seeing,” Pat Nelson said. “I got really tired of the Swedish Royal Library.”

After the book was written, Jack Nelson found a publisher in Baltimore, Md., who was interested in publishing the book. The story has a five-star rating on Amazon.com, and because of its praise, Jack Nelson said he felt confident entering it in an international contest.

“I felt good about the book and I had heard about the International Book Awards, and this book takes place in Sweden and Estonia, what is more natural?” Jack Nelson said. “I felt honored to be praised internationally.”

With several novels and an internationally-praised non-fiction story under his belt, Jack Nelson said he hopes to continue to write and publish more stories. As for his wife, she could not be happier with the man she noticed in the HFAC all those years ago.

“He’s a very good author,” Pat Nelson said. “If I did not know him — if I was not married to him, and I just picked up some of his books — I would love them. This is the reason: my husband is an artist, and a creative writer. He is not a salesman. Once a book is written, for him, that’s it. He moves onto something else because he is done with his artwork.”

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