Stuart Woods: Writing Success Comes With Maturity, Confidence, by Douglas Hubbuch

Stuart Woods knew at an early age that he wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until many years later that maturity provided him the necessary tools to be successful.

Woods, New York Times best-selling author of the recently released L.A. Dead and 20 other novels, says an early introduction to reading fueled his desire to write. “My mother taught me to read a year before I went to school, and I became a voracious reader as a child,” he says. The writing bug bit soon after, and Woods started his first novel at age nine, but gave up after only a few pages “when I found out how hard it was.”

He tried another novel while in his twenties and finished a few chapters, but says his agent was so negative about his effort that he didn’t try again for another ten years. He thinks the wait was a wise one. “I think you need a little maturity and experience in life in order to write convincing fiction, Wood says.

Woods certainly acquired the necessary life experience to prepare him for a writing career.

Born in Manchester, Georgia, Woods graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in sociology. His area of study didn’t indicate a career interest in the field. “I just found a professor whose classes I loved, and he happened to teach sociology,” he explains. Plus, he adds, it was a nice escape from one quarter in business school, which bored me rigid.”

After a brief stint in the Air National Guard, Woods headed for New York in search of a writing job. Striking out at the newspapers and magazines, he took a job in an advertising agency training program earning seventy dollars a week. “It is a measure of my value to the company,” he says, “that my secretary was earning eighty dollars a week.”

After nearly a decade in New York, Woods moved to London. After three years there, he decided it was time to write that novel he had thought about since he was a boy. He moved to a small flat in the stableyard of a castle in Ireland and wrote about a hundred pages until another bug bit. He discovered sailing, and, Woods says, “everything went to hell. All I did was sail.”

Woods developed a passion for sailing over the next few years, which later became an important subplot in several of his novels. Both of his major characters — Will Lee and Stone Barrington — are sailing enthusiasts. Woods’ sailing experience included competing in both the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race and the ill-fated Fastnet Race of 1979, in which fifteen competitors lost their lives in a storm.

Woods chronicled his experience in Ireland and the transatlantic race in his first nonfiction book, Blue Water, Green Skipper, which he wrote after returning to Georgia to live. He followed that with a nonfiction travel book, A Romantic’s Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland.

But Woods hadn’t given up on his novel, and when W.W. Norton gave him a $7,500 advance on the basis of 200 pages and an outline, he says, “I had taken their money, so I finally had to get to work.” In 1981, his first novel, Chiefs, was published, eight years after he had begun it. Despite a modest hardback print run, the book was a success in paperback and was turned into a six-hour CBS television drama starring Charlton Heston, establishing Woods as a novelist.

One of the characters in Chiefs, Will Lee, became a recurring character in five subsequent novels, most recently in The Run, published in summer 2000. But perhaps Woods’ best-known character is New York City cop-turned-lawyer Stone Barrington, whose adventures have been chronicled in six books including L.A. Dead. The seventh, Cold Paradise, is coming in the spring of 2001.

Woods is currently doing two books each year, quite a change from the eight years he spent writing Chiefs. Again, he attributes his comfort with that pace to maturity. “I feel guilty if I’m not working, and I like setting deadlines for myself and meeting them.” Woods says he is so comfortable writing now that he spends only about two hours each afternoon working. “I write in two hours what it used to take four to do. That’s the result of confidence gained along the way.”

Woods should be confident in his abilities. Chiefs won the coveted Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and his novel Imperfect Strangers recently was awarded France’s Prix de Literature Policiere.

Woods, who shares homes in New York City, Maine and Vero Beach, Florida, with his wife, writer Chris Connor Woods, recently took time to share his thoughts on both his own career and the craft of writing.


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