Monday, October 10, 2011

Jeff Shaara - Like Father, Like Son

As a youngster growing up in Tallahassee, Jeff Shaara watched his father struggle with the disappointments and uncertainty of a writer’s life. While Michael Shaara enjoyed some critical success, commercial success eluded him. Even after his novel, The Killer Angels, was awarded the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, it seemed there was little public interest in a book about the Battle of Gettysburg. When a heart attack ended his father’s frustrating career, and his life, Jeff had already decided that he didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. He had instead gone into business, becoming a successful rare coins/precious metals dealer. But fate had something else in mind: a way to link father and son forever.
In 1993, the film Gettysburg was released. Based on The Killer Angels, it enjoyed the kind of success Michael Shaara had never known in his lifetime, driving The Killer Angels to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Jeff was approached about finding someone to write a prequel/sequel to his father’s novel. Although he had no experience as a writer, Jeff decided to tackle the project himself. “I don’t know how it happened. As a kid, I was interested in the Civil War. I had the little toy soldiers, but history wasn’t my best subject. I hoped I learned from my dad how to be a good storyteller.” Two years later, Gods and Generals was published. To Jeff’s surprise, his prequel to The Killer Angels spent fifteen weeks as a New York Times bestseller. Encouraged, Jeff went on to pen a sequel, The Last Full Measure.
Since then, Jeff has gone on to publish eight more best-sellers. Although his books focus on military themes, he is quick to point out that “they aren’t just testosterone stories; they’re stories about characters, told honestly, the way I believe the historical characters would have told them.” Jeff is always mindful of the legacy his father left him. “I’m proud of what I do, but I never take it for granted. I know that my books are getting the attention, but my dad paid the dues.” Jeff’s novels are meticulously researched, requiring him to read up to seventy books before spending six months writing. He also visits historical sites to walk in the footsteps of his characters – something else he learned from his father. As a result, Jeff has become the self-described “poster child for battlefield preservation,” donating the royalties from his only non-fiction work, Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields, to organizations working to preserve these important landmarks.
Jeff’s most recent novel, The Final Storm, was published this past May, and was the fourth volume of Jeff's World War II series, covering the final months of the war in the Pacific.  The book was Jeff's tenth consecutive bestseller.  His next work, scheduled to be published spring of 2012 is titled A Blaze of Glory, and will be Jeff's first volume of a new trilogy that will take him back to the Civil War.  This first book will deal with the Battle of Shiloh.  Each of the three volumes will be published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the event.  While his writing schedule allows little time for fishing (his favorite pastime), Jeff loves making history come alive for his readers. “If I’ve done my job, what I hope I’ve given you is a good story. And a good story will always have an audience.”

For more about Jeff Shaara, visit his website at

Next: Lynn Sholes - Linking Science and Spirituality

1 comment:

  1. what an inspiring profile! I love that Jeff is carrying on his dad's work (How sad, though, that his dad didn't live to see his OWN success as a best-selling author, and now his son's success, too.)
    another great job, Jackie, introducing us to some of the great authors in the Sunshine State. Thanks!