Jeff Shaara e-interviewed by Josephine Anna Kaszuba Locke (May, 2007)
Jeff Shaara was born in 1952 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University with a degree in Criminology. At the age of sixteen, he operated his own rare coin business at home, later venturing into a retail store. After a move to Tampa, Florida in 1974, Jeff's enterprise grew into the Florida Coin Exchange, becoming 'one of the most widely known precious-metals dealers in Florida'.
After the death of Michael Shaara in 1988, Jeff sold his coin business to manage his father's affairs. Jeff followed in his father's footsteps to continue writing in the Civil War setting begun in Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels. Jeff published Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, followed by Gone for Soldiers (Mexican War), and Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields. Shaara also wrote To the Last Man (World War I) and a two-volume publication on the American Revolution - The Glorious Cause and Rise to Rebellion.
Jeff's historical novels have consistently been on bestseller lists, as has his latest release, The Rising Tide, the first volume in a World War II trilogy. Jeff says of his discussions with veterans, 'It amazes me, regardless of how aged the man, how memories from this time in their lives are so firmly etched in their minds, bringing those experiences home in a much more vivid way.' Jeff Shaara is a master of historical novels.
Q: In The Rising Tide, planned Allied invasions are assigned names - Operation Torch, Operation Husky, Operation Avalanche, and Operation Overlord. Were these their real names?
A: These were the actual names assigned to each operation by the Allied high command. Code names were always used, to attempt to keep the details somewhat secret from the enemy.
Q: Which locations did you visit for research before and during the writing of The Rising Tide?
A: I spent a great deal of time at various military libraries, such as West Point, where many of the (unpublished) memoirs and papers can be found. I traveled to Europe, which greatly helped with some of the research I had to do for subsequent books as well (Normandy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, London, and Italy).
Q: The varied maps in your book provide readers with graphic visuals of battle lines and who went in from specific directions. Did you develop these maps or are they in the historical record?
A: I specified the kinds of maps that should pertain to the story line, but the maps come mostly from the West Point Atlas of American Wars, and other similar reference books.
Q: I found moments in the novel with paratrooper Sergeant Jesse Adams and tank gunner Private Jack Logan emotionally moving. Are they modeled after real soldiers?
A: Thank you. Both characters are composites, drawn from the true experiences of several tankers and paratroopers. One disadvantage of trying to follow one specific (real) figure like this is that most of the time, no soldier is everywhere I would need him to be to tell the story effectively. They are constantly being pulled out of the line, or placed suddenly in an area where nothing happens for prolonged periods of time. That doesn't move the time-line of the book very well. But every event, and all the peripheral characters around both Logan and Adams are accurate, especially the officers, and the specific deaths of certain characters.
Q: You mention George Patton's son-in-law as being in the German encampment with Private Logan and others. Was he actually a POW?
A: Lt Col John Waters is very real, and his story is portrayed with historical accuracy - he spent the remainder of the war in prison camps in Poland, and finally, Bavaria. I have actually received a letter from a veteran who was in a POW camp with him in Bavaria.
Q: General George Patton is portrayed as having a mouth, but also as an excellent leader in making decisions and getting the job done. Visiting injured soldiers in the novel, he refers to a mentally-drained, crying soldier as a coward. Did he really strike the soldier and point his gun at him?
A: The "Patton Striking Incident" is real down to the last detail, including most of the harsh language he used. My primary source was the outraged doctor, who made a report of the incident directly to Eisenhower (bypassing chain of command). That report still exists in its entirety, and Eisenhower dwells on the incident a great deal in his memoirs.
Q: You write of Erwin Rommel's illness, and recuperation leaves in the Austrian Alps. Do you think this illness significantly detracted from Rommel's role in the war?
A: Not really. It certainly was a miserable time for him, but his concerns were far more affected by his deteriorating relationship with Hitler. The recuperation time for Rommel was certainly a positive, since anyone who deals with the sorts of conditions he was facing in North Africa needs some "down-time". It is unfortunate from the German perspective that he was not present when Montgomery launched his attack at El Alamein, but Rommel's defeat was inevitable, given the utter lack of support and supplies he was receiving.
Q: Il Duce Mussolini is scantily referred to in the novel. Did he actually participate in any battles in North Africa, or in Italy before he was stripped of his title and power?
A: No. Mussolini was dictator of Italy - there would have been no reason for him to actually be a part of any specific battle - any more than FDR or Churchill participated in battles elsewhere.
Q: The dialog between characters in The Rising Tide seems very real. How much did you base it on the memoirs, letters, and diaries you referenced in the book?
A: In every case, my research relies on diaries, collections of letters and memoirs. It's the only way I can put myself into the minds (and shoes) of the characters. I am painstaking about avoiding anachronisms, of phrasing that didn't exist at the time. One of the great mysteries (to me) of how I write is how those conversations come out on the written page. When I'm writing, I'm simply describing to you what I see and hear. I feel as though I'm in the room (or the tank) with these people. That can only happen if I immerse myself into their lives, and hear their voices. I never rely on modern biography or modern historical accounts for my research.
Q: The novel refers to the views of some citizens and politicians that the United States should send more support to the Pacific, instead of being involved in North Africa. How prevalent was this viewpoint?
A: Throughout 1942 and 1943, FDR was in a constant struggle with those in Congress and the military (notably MacArthur), who urged the US to focus first on the Pacific. Fortunately, FDR and George Marshall understood that if the British were defeated, and Hitler had free reign over Europe, the Mediterranean and thus, the Atlantic, no matter what we did in the Pacific, we would have a serious problem on the Atlantic front.
Q: After the trilogy is completed, have you considered writing any fiction or non-fiction spin-offs, e.g. on Eisenhower, Churchill, Montgomery, or Rommel?
A: Not really. I plan to follow the European trilogy with a fourth book on the end of the war in the Pacific. I don't feel I'm qualified to focus on only one character - which would tend to make the book more of a biography than a story. That's just not what I do. After the WW2 books are complete, it's a logical progression to move forward to Korea - but that's at least five years away.
Q: Your dedication of The Rising Tide is 'To Colonel Jesse Wiggins, USAF (Ret.)'. Can you tell us more about him?
A: Col. Wiggins is my father-in-law, who served two terms in Vietnam, and was instrumental in many of the early programs dealing with stealth technology that we take for granted today. He is a prince of a man, and has been extremely supportive of my work. Beyond that he is simply a good American, and in my mind, the image of what a veteran should be.
Q: What period of WWII will be covered in volume two and what else can you tell us about it?
A: Volume 2 will focus on early-to-late 1944, and cover primarily the Normandy invasion, and the subsequent break-out that truly turned the tide of the war in France. Volume 3 will follow the time line further, and move through the end of the war in Europe: the Battle of the Bulge, and the fall of Hitler.Find out more about the author and his father, the late Michael Shaara, the books and the movies, at JeffShaara.com.
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