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Illinois Wesleyan alum T.J. Newman's writing career takes off after a decade in the sky

Illinois Wesleyan University alum and best-selling novelist T.J. Newman.
Courtesy
Illinois Wesleyan University alum and best-selling novelist T.J. Newman.

Illinois Wesleyan University alum T.J. Newman spent 10 years working as a flight attendant. Now, her decade in the sky has helped her launch a successful career as a novelist.

Newman’s debut novel “Falling” was a success, and her much anticipated follow-up “Drowning” will be published May 30 by Simon & Schuster. Both thrillers are set on airplanes, and both have been optioned to become movies. “Drowning” just set off a wild weeklong bidding war in Hollywood that ended with a 7-figure deal with Warner Bros.

“Drowning” will be released May 30. T.J. Newman’s book tour includes a stop at Exile in Bookville in Chicago on June 6.
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/
tjnewmanauthor.com
“Drowning” will be released May 30. T.J. Newman’s book tour includes a stop at Exile in Bookville in Chicago on June 6.

“It was surreal and insane in a way that I’m still trying to comprehend what happened. It was chaos in the best of ways,” said Newman. “I’m so interested to see what somebody else will do with a story that I’ve spent so much time with and know backwards and forwards – to see somebody else put creative hands on it and see how they would interpret it.”

“Drowning” is about a plane that crashes into the ocean 6 minutes after takeoff, with survivors trapped inside and a rescue mission en route as the wreckage begins to sink.

Newman has an unique understanding of aircraft – the nooks and crannies, how it behaves – from her decade as a flight attendant. And that comes through in the specificity of her writing.

Newman got the idea for her first book, “Falling,” while on the job as a flight attendant. She began writing in the forward galleys of planes during redeye flights.

“I’d put the passengers to sleep, and I’d get to work,” Newman said. “I wrote by hand, sometimes just scribbling a note on a cocktail napkin if I didn’t have time to fill up a whole page. And little by little, the book came together, and that’s how I wrote my first book.”

Getting published was not easy. She got rejected by 41 agents for “Falling,” which later debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list. She signed with The Story Factory.

“Falling” got a film deal too, with Universal. Newman is adapting that into a screenplay herself.

Newman has been scribbling stories since she was a kid. She majored in musical theater at Illinois Wesleyan and said she enjoyed her four years in Bloomington-Normal.

“I just loved it. It was the perfect environment to really discover my young adulthood, what I was, what I wanted to be. I know that I would not be here without the education I got at Illinois Wesleyan,” said Newman, who is a native of Phoenix and still based there.

“Drowning” will be released May 30. Newman’s book tour includes a stop at Exile in Bookville in Chicago on June 6.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.