In a previous post, I discussed the ideal number of words for a thriller. Publishers recommend anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words. As an author, should I agree with this? Well, from my experience with 3 WISE MEN, I am mostly in agreement, and here are my reasons for this. First, at just over 80,000 words, using Times Roman in 12 point and a 6 x 9 inch format, the approx. 80,000 word novel feels ‘right’ in paperback. The only reason that it might not actually be ‘right’ is when poor writing pads out the story. At 80,000 words, the novel will be sitting close to 300 pages and that is a good read for devotees. Much less – at say 280 pages – and the novel will be short of room for a sub-plot, or lacking dramatic tension. In 3 WISE MEN, my early word count was only 70,000 words and I pumped that out to about 86,000 before falling back to 78,000. On critical review, I needed to add about 3000 words in order to give the story more substance in a few places, and help build the necessary tension at a pace that engaged my readers – rather than over-shock them. I hope you agree?
Cumulonimbus clouds are those rising columns of unstable air that you often sea on a hot summer’s day. In 3 WISE MEN, Jak’s flight from Rome is directed away from these ‘serpent heads’ soon after takeoff. Let’s pick up the conversation between the control tower in Rome (at Fiumicino Airport) and Jak’s flight.
[“Fiumicino tower, Alitalia ten-twenty-six. Climb and maintain thirty-two-thousand.”
“Up to thirty-two-thousand, Alitalia ten-twenty-six,” Captain Bruno replied.
“Roger, flight ten-twenty-six. Head three-two-zero to Genoa to avoid cumulonimbus storms building over Tuscany. Genoa will guide you into Milan. Have a pleasant flight, ten-twenty-six.”
“Copy, Fiumicino. Roger and out.”
As they leveled off, the cockpit brought an update.
“This is Captain Bruno speaking. We have now reached a cruising altitude of 32,000 feet and are on a heading that follows the Italian coast to Genoa. This will take us away from bouncy air over the Apennine Mountains. Although we have clear skies ahead of us, we advise all passengers to remain seated with your seat belts fastened.
“Expected landing time in Milan is now 4:15pm and local weather is cloudy with a ground temperature of 15 degrees Celsius. Rain is forecast for later in the evening. I will give you an update closer to our arrival. Now please sit back and enjoy your flight.”
He turned to the Co-pilot.
“It’s all yours from here.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
Captain Bruno released the controls, sat back in his seat and scanned ahead to a large expanse of blue sky. At 1 o’clock, a bank of dark-gray clouds rose above the horizon, their billowing serpent heads appearing angry through his polarized glasses. To his trained eye, they seemed stationary and too distant to bother them.
“It should be a comfortable flight,” he announced confidently, unaware of the severity and speed of the brewing storm – ]
3 WISE MEN is available in Kindle or paperback format from Amazon.
This yellow E-Type Jaguar looks the part – on show in front of the muted tones of an Italian village perhaps? However, I saw the E-Type in 3 WISE MEN in a softer yellow.
If there is one part of 3 WISE MEN that seems to leave a lasting impression on my readers, it is the section that includes the classic yellow E-Type Jaguar car. I won’t give too much away, but this car becomes a symbol of freedom for Jak and yet also a crisis in his life. Here’s a small extract from 3 WISE MEN.
[A yellow E-Type Jaguar pulled up with its wire-wheels flashing brightly.
“Jak! Hop in!”
He stepped off the footpath and into the passenger seat.
“Nina! I am pleased to see you!”
Jak listened to the purr of the six-cylinder engine and reclined all the way back on his generous leather seat. “Thanks for picking me up, but how did you know when I would exit of the hotel?”
Jak paused to take in what Nina said and closed his eyes. He sank into the comfort of the car and its quiet ride. In a short time, he was snoring. Nina rubbed her hand through his curly hair and smiled.
“Sleep well, Jak.”
She eased off the accelerator, and they motored leisurely into the late afternoon sun, its orange glow radiating like a raging fire across the distant sky. She felt relaxed and pleased with herself.
Nina nudged the E-Type along the coastal route, skirting the industrial hub of Genoa. The exhaust growled when she put her foot to the accelerator to ascend up the Alpes-Maritimes freeway. They climbed past small villages and deeper into the rugged terrain and finally pulled over near the summit. Nina’s sunglasses reflected her view across an expansive massif of rolling peaks—their aged and bare ridgelines bent like knuckles, rolling steeply to the sea. She imagined a photographer posing her in the perfect position—dark glasses, yellow E-Type against a warm orange sunset.
“Elizabeth Taylor would have been jealous,” she whispered.
Jak found it awkward to climb out of the low seat, relieved to stretch his legs and inhale the cool coastal breeze.
Nina reached over her seat and fetched a shopping bag. She handed it to Jak. “Here are some things I got for you on my way to the hotel.”
“Thanks! You think of everything,” Jak replied.
By this time, a small group had gathered to admire the classic car.
“Amazing for an old girl,” thought Jak. “She still turns heads wherever she goes.” He smiled to the onlookers and paraded past them—feeling like a movie star on the red carpet.]
Yes indeed – a car that turns heads. I have sat in an E-Type and it enfolds you in a position just above the road – very confined when compared with modern SUVs! This particular E-Type occupies a pivotal space in 3 WISE MEN – one that ratchets up the tension even more for Jak. 3 WISE MEN is available in Kindle or paperback format from Amazon.
Readers of 3 WISE MEN will find themselves immersed in exotic locations. Most are centered on the Mediterranean. The French Riviera follows a beautiful section of the northern Mediterranean coastline. Côte d’Azur was the name given to this exotic coast by the writer Stéphen Liégeard in his book, La Côte d’azur, published in December 1887, and the name has stuck-and even become synonymous with ritzy vacation hotels for the rich and famous. What a perfect location to contrast the tension building in our protagonist’s life when he is captured-literally- by the Riviera’s charms.
[“Forgive me. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Sasha.”
Jak responded, impressed by the softness of her red lambskin gloves and engaging smile.
“Pleased to meet you. Were you staying in Antibes?” she enquired.
“I was just there for the day.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Oh, it’s charming I guess.” But his thoughts fled elsewhere, searching for answers. His head slumped to read the unfolded note in his hand.
“I love Antibes,” she continued. “With its rich history, it’s been a favorite place for many well-known people.”
Jak nodded and raised his eyes to view the lights now sparkling along the coast. The horizon had vanished into a cobalt-gray shroud. Night was closing in and he sought solitude.
“What was a scientist like you doing in old Antibes?” she asked. “The town has been more popular with artists than scientists.”
She nodded. “Antibes was the social whirlpool for many famous writers, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. They gravitated together at the popular Hôtel du Cap-Eden Roc—an idyllic location on the coast to help calm their personal differences and give them literary inspiration.”]
“He accelerated around the waterfront, passing between the rows of opulent apartments on his left and super yachts in the marina to his right. People on the sidewalk turned their heads in reaction to the loud disruption. Léo ignored them. He threw the bike from side to side up the Boulevard Albert, frantically searching for an escape route.
Jak felt sick.
To regain his equilibrium, he focused on the distant hills and glimpses of the Mediterranean—wondering if this nightmare would finish without them both being killed.
“Where can I escape?” Léo asked himself.
He lowered his speed and turned tightly into Rue Grimaldi. Near the top of the rise, he paused alongside a bronze statue of the winning entry into Monaco’s first Grand Prix. The life-size driver—Grover Williams—was in racing mode and leaning over, as if looking at something. Léo looked too.
“Of course,” Léo yelled, “there’s a pedestrian underpass!””
James Hayden has just been accepted as a new member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Inc. ITW was launched in 2004 by a group of writers who saw the need for a different kind of authors’ group – one dedicated to the celebration of the thriller genre. What emerged was a service organization founded by authors, for the benefit of authors, and run by authors.
ITW is truly “international” with more than four thousand members from around the world whose cumulative book sales total almost three billion copies. There will be more news soon about this great opportunity for James Hayden.
“My stupid head!” he thought. “I need painkillers and more rest.”
You would too, after going through what Jak did! No wonder his decision-making soon get blurred after his flight leaves Rome, heading for his meeting in Milan.
Italy is a rugged country, with a spine of mountains reaching out of The Alps like the arm of an octopus. These peaks – known as The Apennines – can play havoc with weather patterns over Italy – as Jak soon finds out.
Read more in 3 WISE MEN.
… “Shall we get going then?” David asked impatiently.
Pierre did not respond. He took his time to scrutinize the faces now mingling beneath the canopies nearby. Nothing was unusual, except for a mixed-aged couple at the café opposite—a gray-haired man romantically entwined with a younger lady wearing a dark beret.
“Dirty old man,” Pierre thought, before turning back to David.
“With such an important meeting, we can’t take any chances. Let’s split up and meet at the hotel. It is only a short walk and we can take the taxi together when we arrive.”
“Great,” David replied, “but where shall I meet you at the hotel?”
“Wait for me in the main floor gallery—the Royal Lounge. You will not miss it. The huge circular room once hosted a fabulous ballroom. It’s often used for spectacular events and what could be more spectacular than the one we are meeting for?”
He laughed aloud before continuing. “Look for Marie Leszczynska—the painting of the red lady. She became a famous consort in France and married Louis XV.”
David was fascinated. “How did you say her name?”
Pierre spoke slowly. “Les-chenz-ka! Now, you take the back route. I will wander along the promenade.”
He pointed across from the café. “Follow the Rue Massena. It joins on to Rue de France. Turn left when you go past the gardens at Le Musée Masséna or, if the museum is open, you can walk through the gardens …
Life is about choices and David has the choice between taking the road or going through the leafy gardens of Le Musée Masséna (pictured here). I wonder which he will choose and will it matter?
The two main ideas for the plot in 3 WISE MEN were swirling in my imagination for several months before writing began. These ideas were a springboard for a novel but, alone, were not enough – I needed substance for the scaffolding; substance that built characters, locations that fitted the themes, and carefully timed dramatic events. Without its plot, 3 WISE MEN would not have begun; with it, the subsequent twists and turns fell into place! A plot is like an hypothesis in a scientific experiment – it only gets you started.
Conclusion? “A good plot is a good start, but a good novel thickens it!”