Stuart Woods started out as an advertising copywriter in the 1960s and sold his first major novel, Chiefs, in 1981. It was a modest hardback hit and then exploded in paperback and was made into a six-hour television drama for CBS-TV, starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams and John Goodman. The book also won the Edgar Award.
More recently he was awarded France’s Prix de Literature Policiere, for Imperfect Strangers. These days Stuart has logged forty-four novels and set up permanent camp on the New York Times best-seller list. His latest novel, Santa Fe Edge, hits bookstores this month. Stuart took a few minutes to chat with The Big Thrill about his books and his process.
You’ve been doing this for a long time–44 books–what keeps it fresh for you?
I think it must be that, when writing, I live in the book, so each one is a fresh experience for me.
Tell us about Sante Fe Edge.
Santa Fe Edge is the new Ed Eagle novel, which is published September 20. It is the fourth novel in which Eagle appears, beginning with Santa Fe Rules. I’m not going to tell your readers any more than that; they’ll have to read the book.
Your bio mentions that you studied sociology. Has that influenced your storytelling?
I wasn’t actually trained as a sociologist. I took a sociology course from a professor that I liked, and after that, took as many of his courses as I could, as electives. Pretty soon, I was, willy-nilly, majoring in sociology. I remember little of it.
You worked as a copy writer, and your novels betray a clarity in characterization, story points and action. Are we seeing the copy writer collaborating with the novelist?
I always advise young would-be writers to begin by getting a job that requires them to write every day, whether they feel like it or not. It is the second most valuable skill, after the language, that a writer can have who wants to make a living doing it. Advertising made me a sharper, more persuasive writer, and I had the advantage of working under three or four bosses who were both talented and demanding.
This features the return of Ed Eagle. Will new readers be able to jump on board with this book or do they have to read the Eagle books in order?
It’s not necessary to read them in order, but it couldn’t hurt.
You write books in several series and also standalones. Which do you prefer?
I avoided continuing characters for a long time. Stone Barrington appeared first in my eighth novel, I believe, which like all my novels, was meant to be a standalone. Five or six novels later I had an idea that worked for Stone, and it saved me the labor required to invent a new character. Thus, a series was born. All the other series happened the same way.
Maybe a new Will Lee novel: Lame duck president gets involved in a crime?
What’s your process from ‘I have an idea for a new book’ to ‘it’s on the bookshelf’?
As soon as I send off my manuscript I sit down and write half a dozen chapters of the new book, and as soon as I get acceptance I send in the new chapters. I do this quickly, because I get a check when I send in the first chapters. After that, I work five days a week for one hour a day, writing a chapter of five or six pages. I don’t work from an outline, I improvise. When I get about fifty chapters into the book I start looking for a way out of the corner I’ve painted myself into, and so far, I’ve always found a way out.
What’s the most interesting thing about the writing biz that you NEVER get asked?
At this point I don’t think there’s anything about being a writer that I haven’t been asked. The most frequent question, of course, is “Where do you get your ideas?” I reply that I have a fevered imagination and a rich fantasy life, which helps with the sex scenes. That’s all you need, really.
FIND STUART WOODS ONLINE: www.stuartwoods.com/