In early 1973, he decided that the time had come for him to write the novel he had been thinking about since the age of ten. He moved to Ireland, where some friends found him a small flat in the stable yard of a castle in south County Galway, and he supported himself by working two days a week for a Dublin ad agency, while he worked on the novel. Then, about a hundred pages into the book, he discovered sailing, and " . . . everything went to hell. All I did was sail."
After a couple of years of this his grandfather died, leaving him, " . . . just enough money to get into debt for a boat," and he decided to compete in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR). Since his previous sailing experience consisted of, " . . . racing a ten-foot plywood dinghy on Sunday afternoons against small children, losing regularly," he spent eighteen months learning more about sailing and celestial navigation while his new boat was being built at a yard in Cork. He moved to a nearby gamekeeper's cottage on a big estate, up the Owenboy River from Cork Harbor, to be near the boatyard.
The race began at Plymouth, England in June of '76. He completed his passage to Newport, Rhode Island in forty-five days, finishing in the middle of the fleet, which was not bad since his boat was one of the smallest. How did he manage being entirely alone for six weeks at sea? "The company was good," he says.
The next couple of years were spent in Georgia, writing two non-fiction books: Blue Water, Green Skipper was an account of his Irish experience and the transatlantic race, and A Romantic's Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland was a travel book, done on a whim. He also did some more sailing. In August of 1979 he competed, on a friend's yacht, in the tragic Fastnet Race of 1979, which was struck by a huge storm. Fifteen competitors and four observers lost their lives, but Stuart and his host crew finished in good order, with little damage. (The story of the '79 Fastnet Race was told in the book, Fastnet Force 10, written by a fellow crewmember of Stuart, John Rousmaniere.) That October and November, he spent skippering his 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.
In the meantime, the British publisher of Blue Water, Green Skipper had sold the American rights to W.W. Norton, a New York publishing house, who had also contracted to publish his first novel, Chiefs, on the basis of two hundred pages and an outline, for an advance of $7500.
He is a licensed, instrument-rated private pilot, and currently flies a Jetprop, which is a Piper Malibu Mirage (a six-passenger, pressurized single-engine airplane) in which the piston engine has been replaced by a turboprop, owns a delivery of a Hinckley T38 power boat and is a partner in a 85-foot antique motor yacht, Enticer, built in 1935 and fully restored.
Chiefs, the author's first novel, was published in March of 1981. Though only 20,000 copies were printed in hardback, the book achieved a large paperback sale and was made into a six-hour television drama for CBS-TV, starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams and John Goodman. The work established Woods as a novelist, winning the Edgar Allan Poe prize from the Mystery Writers of America, and he was later nominated again for Palindrome.
Woods' most prolific series of novels focus on Stone Barrington, a former NYPD detective turned lawyer who is of counsel to a prestigious law firm and handles cases that the firm does not wish to be publicly associated with. The novels are noted both for a strong cast of recurring characters such as Barrington's ex-partner Dino Bachetti, frequent use of the New York restaurant Elaine's as a setting and Stone's frequent exploits with women, travel and fine dining. Stone, like Woods, is also an experienced pilot and frequent references are made to his aircraft.
In addition to Stone, Woods has written several other character-focused series. These characters include Holly Barker, a retired Army major and Florida police chief recruited to become a CIA operative; Ed Eagle, a Santa Fe defense lawyer; William Henry Lee IV, a Georgia senator who is elected President of the United States; and Rick Barron, a police detective who becomes a security officer and later chief of production for a Hollywood movie studio in the 1930's. All of Woods' novels take place in the same universe and characters frequently appear in other series.
Woods has written thirty-nine novels in a twenty-seven year career. In the past he has written two novels a year and has increased that to three novels a year, at the request of his publishers. He publishes each year in January, April and September.