Nevertheless, because he had a few months off between leaving Towers Perrin and starting at Merrill Lynch, he decided to write the book. "It had flaws," he says, and it has never been published. But it was good enough to land him a literary agent. After leaving Merrill Lynch he began writing nonfiction pieces about his old love: submarines. He decided to write a novel about them, as well, and in 2000, Bantam published Deep Sound Channel, a thriller about a war fought in the South Atlantic in 2011. Over the next five years, he cranked out five more novels, including Tidal Rip, which made the Barnes & Noble top 20 paperback bestsellers list.
Then, in 2005, Buff took time off to help care for Sheila, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She is now in remission.
What he's doing now: Buff is back at work on a new novel, a more science fiction–oriented one this time. He's also writing, mostly about naval issues, for DefenseTech.org, a military site owned by Monster, the career Web site. Despite his father's naval experience, according to Christian Lowe, the managing editor of Military.com (DefenseTech's parent site), this may seem odd, given Buff's own lack of a military career, but his research and insight make up for it. "He wasn't in the Navy, but sometimes it's a lot better to have someone who's coming at it from a noninstitutional angle," he says.
Lowe recently featured a podcast with Buff about a topic very much in the news: Piracy off the Somali coast. Although it has become trendy to argue that the Navy needs new, lighter craft to combat pirates, Buff disagrees. "The blue water Navy, he argued, was perfectly postured and equipped to defeat piracy," Lowe says. ("Blue water Navy" refers to the ships that can sail in the open sea, unlike smaller ones that are limited to inland and coastal waters.) Existing guided missile destroyers intimidate pirates more than small ships. "[Buff] thinks for himself and [is] a darn good writer," Lowe adds—so he's glad to have him on board.