Stuart Woods is a busy man.
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Stuart Woods is a busy man.
In addition to writing some three mystery novels a year, he maintains three different homes – one in New York, another in Key West and a third on Mount Desert Island, overlooking Somes Sound. He gets from one home to the next aboard his own jet, which he pilots himself.
Mr. Woods will be jetting into the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport this week, just in time for a booksigning at the Jesup Memorial Library Bar Harbor for his latest, and at last count, 44th book, “Bel-Air Dead.” Like most of his books, “Bel-Air Dead” made an appearance on the New York Times Bestseller List.
It’s not too farfetched to think that at least one of his homes, all of which offer an array of potential distractions, might be what “normal” folk would call a vacation home. But Mr. Woods really isn’t like the average procrastinating writer. He somehow manages to discipline himself and keep turning out his books, here, there and everywhere.
“Yes, I write wherever I am,” Mr. Wood said in a phone interview recently, adding that when he is in writing mode, the only concession he makes to the alluring power of a beautiful day on Somes Sound is to stay away from windows.
It was not always thus. As a younger man, according to his own online bio, he seemed to be beset by distractions, although he furiously denied an implication that he might have an unfocused personality.
Just out of college in the early 1960s, Mr. Woods kicked around New York for a spell and, unable to find a job writing for a magazine or newspaper, worked at an ad agency for the better part of the decade.
The building of the Berlin Wall interrupted that job for 10 months. As a member of the U.S. Air National Guard Reserve, Mr. Woods was sent to Manheim, Germany, where for close to a year drove a large truck up and down the Autobahn.
While he doesn’t seem to feel his stint at truck driving was an impressive contribution to keeping the free world safe from communism, it appears he was impressed with the idea of seeing a little more of the world than New York. In the beginning of the 1970s Mr. Woods moved to London where he continued working for ad agencies for a few years. But in 1973 he decided it was time to get back on his original course – writing; in particular, writing a mystery story that had been percolating in his head since he was kid who liked reading mysteries.
Ireland, the home of James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas and a host of other renowned writers, seemed like a good atmosphere for his own literary efforts, and Mr. Woods rented a flat in Galway and set to work.
Perhaps there were too many windows in that flat. Or perhaps he just wasn’t ready to settle into his future as a writer. About 100 pages in, Mr. Woods said he discovered, and was seriously distracted by, the sport of sailing.
For the next couple of years he abandoned his typewriter for a tiller, competing in a variety of regattas, most notably, in 1976, the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR), from Plymouth England to Newport, R.I.
As it turned out, his first book was not in the mystery genre but a true-life adventure book about his sailing titled “Blue Water, Green Skipper,” which was originally published in Great Britain.
When the American Publishing House W.W. Norton bought the rights to that book, they also showed an interest in the hundred or so pages of that mystery novel. It was about a murdered teenage boy and the newly minted police chief who solves the case. Titled “Chiefs,” when it was finally published in 1981, this book seems to have opened a floodgate of creative energy. Like a primed pump, he started with a trickle of works, publishing something every one or two years; then once a year, then two a year and now, although he’s in his 70s, his publishers have asked for three books a year.
Hence the “I write where-ever I am,” statement. In fact, Stuart Woods is so prolific (his books take up a good five or six feet of library shelving) it is not out of the realm of possibility to expect to see him scribbling away at the dinner table, at parties, in the bath and in the bed.
It was one of his wives who introduced Mr. Woods to Mount Desert Island.
“We were looking for a place I could be on the water and she could go hiking,” Mr. Woods said. “MDI seemed like the perfect fit.”
More so it seems than the marriage. When he and his last wife parted ways, Mr. Woods said he got custody of the Somes Sound House. He said he tries to be here from mid-June to mid-September.
Although he writes his mysteries here, he said he has only used Maine as the primary setting for one of his books, “Dark Harbor,” which is a triple murder that brings together two of his recurring characters, detectives Stone Barrington and Holly Barker.
Despite his astonishing output, Mr. Woods insisted that he does get to play a little while he is on MDI. He attends some charity events, such as the Friends of Acadia gala; he owns a Hinckley motorboat, which he enjoys gunking about in, and he said he still enjoys sailing.
“But I prefer being a guest on other people’s boats, now,” he said.
Perhaps on one of these future boating excursions another murder, uh, make that murder mystery idea, will come to him. And perhaps, judging by his impatience with telephone interviews, the victim will be a newspaper reporter.