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Stuart WoodsFame & Fortune: Stuart Woods

'Chiefs' author soars with five best-selling book series

Most mystery writers are armchair adventurers, risking little more than a paper cut or carpal tunnel syndrome as they create daring-dos for all of us daring-don'ts.

Not Stuart Woods. In fact, whether by sea or air, the adventurous author of the Stone Barrington series has made up for a landlocked bucolic childhood in tiny Manchester, Ga., by challenging fate and nature to just try to keep him tied to terra firma.

Woods always dreamed of making a living as a novelist, but life kept getting in the way. He worked throughout the 1960s in advertising in New York City, then jumped the Atlantic for a change of scenery. After three more years of London ad work, he moved to a small cottage on a castle grounds in County Galway, Ireland, to begin his novel writing in earnest.

Instead, he fell hopelessly in love with sailing and spent the next three years building his seafaring competence to compete in the 1976 Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race, ot OSTAR. He finished the six-week solo voyage in the middle of the fleet, not bad for a chap whose previous sailing experience consisted of dinghy races on the local bass pond.

He subsequently competed in -- and survived -- the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race that was struck by a huge storm, killing 15 crewmembers and four observers. He closed out the 1970s with another trans-Atlantic voyage with a crew of six.

In 1981, at age 43, Woods' long-delayed debut novel, "Chiefs," was published. Although it sold a respectable 20,000 copies in hard cover, the six-hour TV miniseries starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, John Goodman and Billy Dee Williams made Woods a highly bankable new voice in popular fiction.

Thirty-two books later, Woods is a perennial best-seller. His five (five!) mystery series feature lawyer-to-the-rich-and-famous Barrington ("Dark Harbor"), Florida female police chief Holly Barker ("Iron Orchid"), Santa Fe attorney Ed Eagle ("Short Straw"), "Chiefs" lawman-turned-politician Will Lee ("Capital Crimes") and Beverly Hills detective Rick Barron ("The Prince of Beverly Hills").

Success not only enabled Woods to take up flying (he pilots a six-passenger Piper Malibu Mirage jetprop), but made it practically a necessity for an author who turns out two novels a year and tours heavily to support them. A "born-again" bachelor, Woods returns, depending on the season, to homes in Key West, Fla.; Mount Desert Island, Maine, and New York City.

Bankrate flagged Woods down in Atlanta for a chat about his high-flying career.

Bankrate: You were something of a late arrival when you published your first novel, "Chiefs." Was it your sailing habit that delayed your writing career?

Stuart Woods: (Laughs) That did keep me from the work. I was looking for ways not to finish the novel. Finishing the first novel is very scary. It's a big commitment to begin with, and I think that if you commit to it and then fail, then it must be devastating, whereas if you commit to it and don't finish it, people just say "Oh well, it wasn't meant to be."

Bankrate: You managed to have quite an adventurous decade at sea in the meantime. Did you always have a love of the sea?

Next: "... we lived in a nice house and I drove a Studebaker."
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