Stuart Woods was born in 1938 in Manchester, Georgia. After graduating from college and enlisting in the Air National Guard, he moved to New York, where he worked in advertising for the better part of the 1960s. He spent three years in London working for various ad agencies, then moved to Ireland in 1973 to begin his writing career in earnest.
However, despite his best intentions, Woods got sidetracked in Ireland. He was nearly 100 pages into a novel when he discovered the seductive pleasures of sailing. "Everything went to hell," he quips on his web site "All I did was sail." He bought a boat, learned everything he could about celestial navigation, and competed in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) in 1976, finishing respectably in the middle of the fleet. (Later, he took part in the infamous Fastnet Race of 1979, a yachting competition that ended tragically when a huge storm claimed the lives of 15 sailors and 4 observers. Woods and his crew emerged unharmed.)
Returning to the U.S., Woods wrote two nonfiction books: an account of his transatlantic sailing adventures (Blue Water, Green Skipper) and a travel guide he claims to have written on a whim. But the book that jump-started his career was the opus interruptus begun in Ireland. An absorbing multigenerational mystery set in a small southern town, Chiefs was published in 1981, went on to win an Edgar Award, and was subsequently turned into a television miniseries starring Charlton Heston.
An amazingly prolific author, Woods has gone on to pen dozens of compelling thrillers, juggling stand-alone novels with installments in four successful series. (His most popular protagonists are New York cop-turned-attorney Stone Barrington, introduced in 1991's New York Dead, and plucky Florida police chief Holly Barker, who debuted in 1998's Orchid Beach.) His pleasing mix of high-octane action, likable characters, and sly, subversive humor has made him a hit with readers -- who have returned the favor by propelling his books to the top of the bestseller lists.
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Some fascinating facts about Stuart Woods:
His first job was in advertising at BBDO in New York, and his first assignment was to write ads for CBS-TV shows. He recalls: "They consisted of a drawing of the star and one line of exactly 127 characters, including spaces, and I had to write to that length. It taught me to be concise."
He flies his own airplane, a single-engine turboprop called a Jetprop, and tours the country every year in it, including book tours.
He's a partner in a 1929 motor yacht called Belle and spends two or three weeks a year aboard her.
In 1961-62, Woods spent 10 months in Germany with the National Guard at the height of the Berlin Wall Crisis.
In October and November of 1979, he skippered a friend's yacht back across the Atlantic, with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands and finishing at Antigua in the Caribbean.
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Woods took some time to answer some of our questions:
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
Winston Churchill's Memoirs of the Second World War, because it is an extraordinary history, not only for the quality of the writing -- it won a Nobel for literature -- but because he lived it.
What are your favorite books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
John le Carré, because he is one of the best writers alive in the English language, and Elmore Leonard, because he writes better dialogue than anyone else.
In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Stuart Woods had to say:
Lassie Come Home by Eric M. Knight -- The greatest possible read for a kid. It forced me to finish learning to read at five, so I could find out what happened to the dog.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- Maybe the greatest novel ever.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell -- Not the romantic potboiler most people think it is. Everyone forgets that, in the year of its
publication, it won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award.
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum -- Lots of fresh air, some of it full of solid salt water.
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys by Max Shulman -- A forgotten, but wildly funny novel by one of this country's truly great humorists.
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh -- If only for the scene where a writer has to watch a customs agent burn his memoirs (because they are "filth") and for the negotiations between the novelist and his publisher.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- To remind us all of our childhoods.
Gay Talese's new collection of his journalistic pieces, especially for "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold."
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth -- In case you've forgotten how much fun sex is.
Everybody Comes to Elaine's by A. E. Hotchner -- Finally, a book to explain to the world why writers go there.
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