Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
THE SON ALSO SHINES
JEFF SHAARA'S FATHER, MICHAEL, wrote the great American novel about the great American battle (Gettysburg); The Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975. So it was no casual undertaking for Jeff, 44, a rare-coin dealer without a literary resume, to write a prequel to his father's Civil War masterpiece.
The gamble paid off. Shaara's Gods and Generals, an epic novel that probes the hearts and minds of four great military leaders up to the time of Gettysburg, has been on the bestseller list for seven weeks, and his publisher has already signed him up to write a sequel to The Killer Angels.
Shaara, who lives in Missoula, Mont., with his wife, Lynne, says he wrote Gods and Generals because he wanted to add to the legacy of his father, who died from heart disease in 1988. "Before I committed to the project, I talked with my sister Lila about worst-case scenarios," says Shaara. "She said if it was good, every reviewer under the sun would compare it to my father's book, and if it was bad, well, enough said."
Despite the pressure, "the story just poured out, as if it were being told through me," says Shaara. "It felt like the characters and my father were helping me write the novel." Two years of extensive research—walking battlefields and camping out in libraries reading Civil War-era journals and biographies—also helped.
Shaara says the book has changed his life. "The Civil War has become a mission for me," he says. "Once I started the first book, I felt my father had handed me the torch." Shaara is keeping it well lit.