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‘Jaws at 35,000 feet’: the flight attendant whose thriller debut sold for seven figures

TJ Newman dreamt up her terror-in-the-skies novel Falling while guarding the cockpit as the pilots took a toilet break. She reveals how she kept going through furlough and 41 rejections

Flight attendant Torri Newman was working on the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York when the idea for her debut novel came to her. To be precise, she was blocking access to the cockpit, a security procedure required when pilots take a toilet break. “I was standing at the front of the airplane,” she says, “looking out at the passengers. It was dark and they were all asleep. And I had this thought, ‘All of their lives, our lives, are in the hands of the pilots.’ That’s not exactly new – but the flipside of that also came to mind. With that much power and responsibility, how vulnerable does that make a commercial pilot?”

Newman, speaking via Zoom from her home in Phoenix, Arizona, was rattled. “I just couldn’t shake the thought. A few days later, I was working a different trip with a different set of pilots, and I said to the captain, ‘Hey, what would you do if your family was taken, and you were told that if you didn’t crash the plane, they would be killed?” What was his reaction? “He had no clue what he would do – the thought terrified him.”

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