An Evening with Jeff Shaara is an event hosted by the Forsyth County Public Library as part of Forsyth Reads Together, a community reading program sponsored by FCPL Friends & Advocates, the Forsyth County Arts Alliance at the Forsyth County Community Foundation, an affiliate of the North Georgia Community Foundation, and Jan Rooney State Farm Agency.
Admission to the event is free, but advance registration on the library’s website is requested.
The 2020 Forsyth Reads Together book selection, Gods and Generals, is the prequel to The Killer Angels, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction written by Jeff Shaara’s father, Michael Shaara.
Jeff Shaara gave an interview for the library’s Unreadable podcast recently and explained how he came to write the prequel to his father’s only work of historical fiction.
“I had never written anything before – that’s not false modesty, I was a business man down in Florida. My father’s book is the basis for the movie Gettysburg, the Ted Turner film, […] but my father had passed away five years before the film came out. So, he didn’t live to see the fact that the movie made his book a number one best seller.”
Shaara explained how Turner wanted to make more movies about the Civil War era, both before and after the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Well, sure, this is something I would like to try to do,” Shaara told Turner’s representatives.
Shaara says he had no fear or intimidation about approaching Gods and Generals as his first novel.
“Whatever story I come up with, if it’s lousy and we’re not going to use it [to make a movie], it goes in the trash. Nobody will ever see it. So, that’s why I wasn’t really afraid [of] tackling this.”
While Shaara was working on the first stages of research and writing, he was also representing his father’s estate with the publisher Random House in New York and mentioned he was writing a prequel to The Killer Angels. The publisher asked to see the manuscript, so Shaara sent it in.
“The phone call I got back was, ‘We don’t care if it’s a movie. We like the book. We think you’re a writer, here’s a contract. Well, that changed my whole life,” says Shaara.
When he visits Forsyth County, Shaara is expected to discuss how important research is to representing historical characters with accuracy and authenticity.
“The importance of walking in the footsteps of those characters, that’s a lesson I learned from my father. If I’m going to describe that hill to you that the kid with a rifle in his hand walks up into the guns of the enemy, it’s really better if I’ve been on that hill, not just seen a picture of it in a book.”
Shaara will also explain how he came to understand the four main characters in the novel, General Robert E. Lee, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, through memoirs written by their fellow officers as well as their wives. Having that perspective helps the reader understand how the characters arrived at the decision to go to war, to face their former friends on the battlefields, and how their families reacted.
“That’s a take you don’t usually get in a Civil War book,” says Shaara. “It’s not just about guns. It’s not just about war. It’s the story of these characters and what they go through.”
“Forsyth Reads Together is intended to help neighbors gather with neighbors and discuss the ways literature both reflects and influences our society. Reading Gods and Generals together and engaging readers from all walks of life in our community gives us a chance to learn from our history and come to understand the people in our community more fully,” says Programming Manager Tracy Walker.
“I think Mr. Shaara has a great understanding of what programs like Forsyth Reads Together are meant to do,” says Walker.”
He summed it up nicely at the end of his interview for our Unreadable podcast when he said, ‘We have to keep in touch with our past. You can’t move forward unless you know where you’ve come from.’”
For more information or to register to attend An Evening with Jeff Shaara, please visit www.forsythpl.org.