One dark night several years ago, on her usual Virgin America red-eye between Los Angeles and New York, flight attendant T.J. Newman, 36, looked out at all the sleeping strangers who put their trust so completely in the hands of their flight captain. She had a crazy thought: what would a pilot do if someone took his family hostage and demanded he crash the plane to save them? She asked one of her colleagues, and his eyes filled with terror.
“I knew he didn’t have an answer, and I knew I didn’t have an answer, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I found out what the answer was,” she says. That nagging question became Falling, a new thriller (out July 6) that ignited a Hollywood bidding frenzy and has been called “Jaws at 35,000 feet.”
Newman spent years writing the book while at work flying across the country, tapping out the story on her iPad and occasionally sketching notes on airplane cocktail napkins.
A native of Phoenix, she grew up going to her local bookstore, Changing Hands, which she credits for inspiring her to become a writer. She studied musical theater at Illinois Wesleyan University and, after graduation in 2006, went to New York in pursuit of Broadway dreams. Two years of rejection sent her back to Arizona where, in 2011, like her mother and sister before her, she became a flight attendant and spent the next ten years jetting about aboard Virgin America and Alaska Airlines.
Newman wrote dozens of drafts of Falling and approached 41 literary agents with the book, all of whom rejected her. In 2019, she blindly submitted to a boutique literary agency called the Story Factory, and it decided to take a chance on her. Later that year, she and her agents sent the manuscript to just one publisher—Avid Reader Press, a division of Simon & Schuster. Avid paid seven figures for a two-book deal, and the movie rights were sold in a bidding war to Universal for $1.5 million.
“To say this is a dream come true is the biggest understatement. It’s been surreal, and everything has changed,” she says. In early 2020, she took a voluntary furlough from her job to polish the book, with notes from best-selling authors Don Winslow, Adrian McKinty, and Steve Hamilton. She’s now working on her second book.
“Kind of nothing has changed,” she says, “but also everything has changed.”
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