Good to Know
Shaara didn't begin writing until he was 42 years old. In our interview, he explains, "My father had been the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Killer Angels, and died never fulfilled, nor successful as an author. I had no inclination to pursue writing at all, but was inspired by the suggestion of filmmaker Ron Maxwell, who suggested I continue the Civil War story my father had begun."
For 24 years, Shaara was a dealer in rare coins and precious metals. "The polar opposite career choice and lifestyle of an author," Shaara admits. "My criminology degree was inspired by a serious drive to find fulfillment as a wildlife officer (a game warden). With my coin business thriving, I never pursued the career."
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In the fall of 2002, Jeff Shaara answered some of our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life ?
The Killer Angels, by my father Michael Shaara. The success of this book after my father's death created an opportunity for me to continue the story he began; his book became the centerpiece of a trilogy on the American Civil War, with my books as the bookends. This led to my own full-time career as an author.
What are your favorite books?
All of the following are magnificent examinations of the lives, times and personalities of key characters in our history as a nation, and all are extremely important primary sources of research for my own books:
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- The Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
- General Robert E. Lee, 1861-1865 by Col. Walter Taylor
- The Memoirs of a Confederate by Col. E. Porter Alexander
- The Passing of the Armies by Joshua L. Chamberlain
- Memoirs by Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee
- Memoirs of The Marquis de Lafayette
- The Letters of John and Abigail Adams
- The Life of Lt. Gen. "Stonewall Jackson" by Mary Anna Jackson (his wife)
- General Winfield S. Hancock by His Wife by Almira R. Hancock
The Graduate -- shaped my adolescence. Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Coming Home, and The Deer Hunter all gave me a brutally graphic sense of war -- the costs and consequences -- which in many ways has led me to dig deeper into our own history of war, and the characters who rose to the occasion to ultimate success.
Mostly from the 1960's: I grew up with groups such as the Beatles, The Doors, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Cream, and many more. They shaped much of my view of the world of the 1960's -- not a pleasant time to be a teenager. Lately, I focus a great deal on opera -- the sheer emotional power of Puccini, Verdi or Mozart can drive me easily to tears.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
As many original accounts of primary historical events as are available. Only through the experiences of those who lived and shaped their own times can we truly understand their sacrifice, heroism, and why they are crucial to the understanding of the time we live in now. Most examinations of historical events by modern biographers and academic historians fails to do this, often reflecting no more than what is either in vogue or is politically correct for the current era.
What else do you want your readers to know?
I spend half my time in Montana, the other half in New York City. In unique ways, both places help me unwind, and both are the most satisfying places to live I can imagine. I thoroughly enjoy the outdoors: fishing, hunting, camping, etc. I equally enjoy the opportunities of New York: theatre, restaurants, etc.
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