Pilot Journal
Saturday, July 1, 2006

The Author's JetPROP

From best aircraft performance to best seller

piperAh yes, the first novel. It’s every writer’s dream to someday pen a novel. No matter what their medium—motion pictures, television shows, advertising, technical manuals or even magazines—nearly all who wield pens for their daily bread, and even some who don’t, aspire to author the next great American novel, to create their own characters, their own stories, even their own worlds.
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This book, titled Chiefs, was a murder mystery set in a location Woods knew well—a small town in Georgia. Focusing on a mixture of politics and racial tensions, the book chronicled a half-century-long murder investigation in the Deep South.

The Author's JetPROP
Mystery novelist Stuart Woods flies his JetPROP Piper Malibu Mirage around the country to attend book signings.
Woods’ grandfather died soon after the writer began working on Chiefs and left him “just enough money to get into debt for a boat.” Woods’ obsession with sailing consumed him, and Chiefs was shelved, with only 100 pages complete.

With the money left to him by his grandfather, Woods had a sailboat built for him in Cork, Ireland. He then proceeded to take a shakedown cruise to and from the Azores before entering the 1976 Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race, in which he sailed solo across the Atlantic from Plymouth, England, to Newport, R.I. Woods made the crossing in 45 days, placing in the middle of the field, but doing so in the race’s smallest boat.

Eventually, however, Woods forced himself to sit down at the typewriter and finish Chiefs. “I was out of excuses to not finish it, and I had taken money for it, so I finally had to get to work,” Woods explained. When he sent Chiefs off to the publishers, it had taken him eight years to complete.

As a first novel, Chiefs couldn’t have been more successful. The book, released in 1981, won the Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America that year and went on to become a six-hour, television mini-series starring Charlton Heston and featuring Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams and John Goodman. The success of Chiefs gave Woods the freedom to write more books. And, thus, a career was launched. (Woods’ first novel has been an enduring triumph, too. In March 2006, a 25th anniversary edition of Chiefs was released.)

With Woods’ first bestseller came a succession of powerboats and sailboats. However, the need to make frequent long-distance trips inspired Woods to look into faster modes of transportation. As a young boy, following World War II, he used to hang around Georgia’s Warm Springs Airport, and one day, a friend took him for a ride in a Piper J-3 Cub. He was hooked.

Soon after, he began taking flight lessons, completing 17 hours before economics forced him to quit. He joined the Air National Guard hoping to train as a pilot. Instead, he wound up in Germany in 1960, “flying a two-and-a-half-ton truck up and down the autobahn” during the Berlin Wall crisis.


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