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BY SUE McALLISTER
San Jose Mercury News
Jeff Shaara, the author of 11 novels about the Civil War, World War II and other historical conflicts, launched a mail-order business selling rare coins and precious metals when he was only 16.
It wasn't until after the 1988 death of his father, Michael, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel "The Killer Angels," that Jeff Shaara, now 60, began writing.
In 1996, he published "Gods and Generals," a prequel to his father's work, and has been writing stories about wartime ever since.
"A Blaze of Glory," published this year, tells the story of the Battle of Shiloh, fought in Tennessee in 1862.
Here are excerpts of his recent conversation with reSue McAllister:
Do you think of yourself as a war writer?
I don't write war books, I write people books. When people call me a novelist, I hate that word. I'm a storyteller. My father was a master storyteller, and that's the lesson I learned from him: Just tell a good story. I never think about the audience; I'm just trying to go back to an era. And I'm excited about the characters, I'm excited to be there, and I tell you what I see and hear.
How do you complete your research?
The key in the research is finding who the voices are going to be. [That] involves reading a lot of letters, a lot of diaries and creating what amounts to a composite character. It's enormously fun to find a heroic character and bring him to life.
I do all the research first; I can't go back and forth from research to writing. I read probably 40 to 50 books for every book I write. And I make enormous use of the Internet to find this material; there are rare, out-of-print used-book sites where you can find amazing stuff. [And] people will write me and say, "We have my great-great-grandfather's letters here in the attic. Would you like to see them?" Some of those are useful and some not.
The other essential part of the research is to go walk the ground. I've spent a lot of time in every field I've written about, with the exception of Libya.
Why do the stories of the Civil War have such enduring appeal?