T.J. Newman, 36, is a former bookseller turned flight attendant. After completing a draft of her novel, she tried finding an agent but was rejected 41 times before being taken on by Shane Salerno of The Story Factory, where other writers include Don Winslow and Janet Evanovich.
In this post, Newman discusses how her job as a flight attendant inspired her to write her debut release Falling and much more!
Name: T.J. Newman
Literary agent: Shane Salerno, The Story Factory
Book title: Falling
Publisher: Avid Reader Press
Release date: July 6, 2021
Elevator pitch for the book: 144 passengers onboard a flight from Los Angeles to New York don’t know that 30 minutes before their flight, the pilot’s family was kidnapped. The only way the family will survive is if he crashes the plane.
What prompted you to write this book?
The concept for Falling came to me at work. I was working a red-eye to New York (I was a flight attendant for 10 years before this and wrote much of this book on the plane), and I was standing at the front of the cabin looking out at the passengers. It was dark. They were asleep. And for the first time, a thought occurred to me—their lives, our lives, were in the pilot’s hands. So with that much power and responsibility, how vulnerable does that make a commercial pilot? And I just couldn’t shake the thought. So a few days later, I was on a different trip, with a different set of pilots, and one day I threw out to the captain, “What would you do if your family was kidnapped and you were told that if you didn’t crash the plane, they would be killed? What would you do?” And the look on his face terrified me. I knew he didn’t have an answer. And I knew I had the makings of my first book.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
The core concept and general story stayed pretty consistent from first draft to final—but a few threads came and went. For example, early drafts had a very prominent storyline for the media that I eventually cut completely. And the FBI ground rescue plotline was a fairly late addition to the book. As for how long it took—honestly, it was a haul because the whole time I was writing I was also flying full-time and I could only sneak pages in on light flights and days off. (Not to mention that I had to spend a lot of time convincing myself to keep going as my self-confidence’s argument that I should give up was very persuasive.)
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
This is my debut novel, so every step along the way has been a learning moment! But a very pleasant surprise in the process has been the support I’ve gotten from other writers. I wasn’t expecting a culture with a vibe that feels like any one of us winning is all of us winning. It’s a privilege to be welcomed into this community, and it’s a joy to cheer others on.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
This was a long and winding creative process with lots of dead ends and go-arounds … but when I got to the end, when I was writing the final drafts, I found myself pulling out the very first draft and my original research sources to guide me to the finish line. That was surprising, to find that even with all the changes the story had weathered, the roots ran deep. It was a nice reminder to trust myself and my instincts.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope they have a good time. I really just wanted to tell an interesting story and take people on a fun ride. But if the reader turns the last page and finds they have a greater respect for pilots and flight attendants—I won’t complain. But it really is as simple as I just want the reader to have fun.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
I hardly feel like I’m in a position to be giving advice, I really just want to keep taking it! But if there’s any aspect that I do feel I have a leg to stand on, it’s resilience. I wrote over 30 drafts and queried 42 agents to get to this point. So I guess the one piece of advice I feel confident giving is: Keep going.