How a cocktail napkin started one of the summer's buzziest debuts

·2 min read

The splashiest book debut of the summer was first served on a cocktail napkin. Author T.J. Newman, then a flight attendant for Virgin America, was working the L.A.–to–New York redeye in 2017 when she wondered: If the pilot's family was kidnapped and the only way to free them was to crash the plane, what would they do? She posed the dilemma to her captain, who was stumped.

Simon & Schuster Author T. J. Newman and the cover of 'Falling'

"That's when I knew I had a story," Newman tells EW. "Because I had to figure out what the ending would be." The idea grew into the thriller Falling (July 6), and Newman — who scored a two-book, seven-figure deal and sold the film rights after a bidding war — spent shifts sketching out story points in between drink services. All of Newman's original scribblings made it into the final draft of the novel, most notably what she describes as her "mantra," the plot's breathless pace. Oxygen masks not included.

At the center of the napkin — and the plot — lies Newman's initial conceit: the impossible choice that protagonist Bill Hoffman is forced to make between saving the plane full of passengers or his own family. Newman was also adamant from the beginning that the flight crew be integral to both the book itself and the safekeeping of everyone onboard; she also knew that the story would involve Air Traffic Control (ATC), whom she calls the "unsung heroes of aviation."

After Newman developed the idea for Falling, she spent many cross-country flights building out the storyline — on more cocktail napkins, but also by writing longhand as the passengers slept. She spoke to pilots about the more technical aspects of the plane's response to potential threats, but found plenty of inspiration in the travelers she was tasked with protecting. "Being a flight attendant is like being a professional people-watcher," she says. A profession that, for Newman, proved highly successful.

Falling is available on July 6.

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