Michael Shaara was born in 1928 in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of Italian immigrants ("Shaara" was originally spelled "Sciarra"). He graduated from Rutgers University, and it was during his college days that he knew his one goal was to become a writer.
In the early 1950s, Michael published a number of award-winning science-fiction short stories in the most popular pulp magazines of the day. He later began writing straight fiction and published more than 70 short stories in such magazines as Playboy, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post, and many others. Two of his stories were produced as television dramas in the late 1950s. Moving his wife Helen and young son Jeff to Florida in the mid-1950s, he began to teach English, literature, and creative writing at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Soon after, his daughter, Lila, was born.
Always a writer first and a teacher second, Michael continued to write short stories, but he always knew there was a larger work to be pursued. Throughout the early 1960s he worked on his first novel, a deeply brooding story of a soldier who returns home from the Korean War and becomes a prizefighter. In 1968, The Broken Place was published by the New American Library. While critics admired the style and the content of the book, it was a commercial disappointment. Though hit hard by the lack of public interest in The Broken Places, Michael's drive to write continued. Reflecting on an extraordinary experience with his family visiting the battlefield at Gettysburg, Michael became obsessed with telling the story of that momentous event through the eyes of the main characters themselves, something that had never been done before. After seven years, the manuscript for The Killer Angels was completed. Teaching during the day, writing late into the night, and relying on a steady dose of cigarettes and coffee, Michael's lifestyle and his deep involvement with his story took a toll. In 1965, he suffered a major heart attack at only 36 years of age.
To Michael's disappointment, The Killer Angels were rejected by the first fifteen publishers who saw the manuscript. Finally, in 1973, it was bought by the small independent publisher, The David McKay Company, which was subsequently bought by Random House. Michael's second novel received very little attention and mixed reviews; thus, it was a shock to both Michael and the literary community when the announcement was made that The Killer Angels had been awarded the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But the disappointment continued. The Killer Angels never enjoyed commercial success, and to Michael's dismay, it seemed that there was very little audience for a personalized story of our nation's most horrible chapter. His writing veered off in different directions. Always active in the turbulent political climate surrounding Florida State University in the 1960s, Michael penned a novel that focused on a violent confrontation between radical students and the "establishment." Though beautifully written, the novel A Rebel in Autumn never found a publisher. Then, after suffering the effects of a devastating motorcycle accident, Michael struggled to maintain the quality of his writing and was able to publish one more novel, The Herald, in 1981. But that book never found an audience, and Michael changed course again, writing a baseball novel that, to his enormous dismay, no one in New York wanted to publish.
After a prolonged decline in his health, Michael suffered his second heart attack, this one fatal. On May 5, 1988, the long and often frustrating writing career of Michael Shaara ended. However, the legacy of his work did not die with the author. Five years later, the film "Gettysburg" was released, propelling The Killer Angels to number one on the New York Times Bestseller List (19 years after its publication!). And, rediscovering the manuscript of the baseball story in Michael's files, his two children secured an agent who presented it again to the New York publishing community. Carroll & Graf published it in 1991. Titled For Love of the Game, the wonderful story was optioned by Universal Studios. It was released in theaters in September 1999 as a major motion picture, starring Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston.
In September 2013, arrangements were made with Amazon.com to release e-book editions of all of Michael's early science fiction and straight fiction short stories, as well as all his previously published novels that were long out of print. Also, for the first time, his unpublished novel, A Rebel in Autumn, is now available.
With the success of Jeff Shaara's first two Civil War novels (Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure), which create bookends for the classic The Killer Angels, Ballantine released this trilogy in a boxed set. Now, with the publication of Lila Shaara's first two novels (Every Secret Thing and The Fortune Teller's Daughter), the father and his children are linked for all time. Thus, the author's legacy continues for future generations.