A Writer’s Flashback: My 2005 Interview With Author Stuart Woods

He has long been known as one of America’s most consistently-selling novelists.

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“I learned to write every day, whether I was in the mood or not, which is a rare thing for a writer to learn.” — Stuart Woods

I interviewed author Stuart Woods in 2005, along with nearly 75 other creatives, for a motivational non-fiction book, “How to Survive a Day Job.” My intent with the book was simple: I would interview a number of successful writers, actors, and others who have worked in a given creative arts field, to motivate those of us who had not yet attained our own artistic career goals.

At the time of his interview, Stuart was well into his career, and his brand, as a prolific novelist.

An edited version of the original introduction to his interview follows:

Stuart Woods is a licensed private pilot and a sailor who competed in the 1976 Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR). Beginning his passage in Plymouth, England, he arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, in forty-five days. His non-fiction work, “Blue Water, Green Skipper,” was in part an account of this race.

Stuart’s first novel, “Chiefs,’ won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and was adapted into an acclaimed six-hour television miniseries for CBS Television starring Charlton Heston. He is the creator of several franchise characters, including Senator Will Lee, P.I. Stone Barrington, and Chief of Florida’s Orchid Beach Police Department Holly Parker; for the first time, the latter two appeared together in his novel “Reckless Abandon.”

Please visit www.stuartwoods.com to see what Stuart has been up to in recent years.

To the interview …

Stuart:

Born, raised, Manchester, Georgia. Public schools. University of Georgia. Ten months in the air force during the Berlin crisis. Career in advertising. Left advertising in ’73. Moved to Ireland to write my first novel, discovered sailing, everything went to hell. Took me eight years to finish the novel. That was “Chiefs.” I’ve been writing ever since.

Writing was always my first professional ambition. My mother taught me to read a year before I went to school, and I became a voracious reader as a child.

When I was nine or ten, I was rummaging in the closet in my grandmother’s house, and I came across a shoebox with some family memorabilia and old photographs and things, and among those things was a large brass policeman’s shield, which said “Chief of Police, Manchester,” and it was half shot away with buckshot; it still had dried blood on it. And my great aunt, who was the only person in the house at the time, saw it and blanched and told me it belonged to my grandfather, who was a cotton farmer who had lost his farm to the boll weevil and become a chief of police in a new town for lack of any other work, and he was killed seven years later.

My publisher suggested the idea of recurring characters in my books.

He said, “Then your readers will know what to expect from you.”

And I said, “I don’t want my readers to know what to expect from me.”

I try to make each book as different as possible, which may have retarded my career, I don’t know. But finally, I think, after I’d written the Stone Barrington novel, I had another idea for a book in which the Stone character was a good fit. So I began that, and I’d already written a Will Lee novel as my second novel. He was born in “Chiefs,” and so after a while I began just to accumulate this cast of characters.

I’m a pilot. When you fly, you don’t really think about anything else, until the airplane is at altitude, and you’re cruising, and then sometimes that’s a sort of nice place to think without any distractions. Also, I’ve used flying in several of my novels and made that part of the action.

Write something. You will have to find time. I was very fortunate in that I did not get married until I was forty-seven. So, when I decided to start my writing career and move to Ireland to do that, I had no dependents. I had no one relying on me for support, or anything else for that matter, and it was very self-indulgent. You can’t do that if you have a wife and a couple of kids.

So it must be very, very difficult for people like that with full-time jobs that come home tired and have families to deal with to find time to work. So that they’ll just have to accept that they’ve made things harder for themselves and by their early choices and to work exceptionally hard to get the work done. There are lots of people who have done it. I don’t think I could have done it.

I knew I could be a successful writer, I think, when we got the paperback sale for “Chiefs.” Everything had been very discouraging up until then. My agent didn’t particularly like the book, and I changed agents, and he immediately got a large paperback sale, and there’s nothing better for your confidence than when somebody is willing to pay money for what you do.

I think if you have to work from nine to five in an office for somebody else, you can’t do much better than advertising. It’s full of interesting people who would really rather be doing something else — painting or sculpting, or writing plays or novels — and it was a lot of fun. You also get much more immediate gratification, because your work comes out quickly. And that’s helpful.

Also, I had a series of difficult bosses, who demanded really good writing, and I learned to write concisely and persuasively in all sorts of styles. I learned to write every day, whether I was in the mood or not, which is a rare thing for a writer to learn.

Stuart was direct, fast, and to the point. I appreciated his taking the time.

Thank you for reading.

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Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

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