Image (c) Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
A novel titled Falling is scheduled to be published on July 6, 2021. There has been quite a bit of pre-publication chatter about it. Many are calling it the beach-read for this year. The truth of that declaration is way above my paygrade but I have read it and suspect that beach-read or not, many other people will read it this summer as well.
Falling has a terrific plot and is well-written, two parts of a creative equation that are not always present at the same time. Falling concerns an airline pilot whose family is taken hostage by an enigmatic individual while the pilot, his plane, and one hundred forty-nine innocent souls are in mid-air. The pilot is given a choice: crash the plane or his family dies. His response is that neither will happen.
Photo (c) Melissa Young. All rights reserved.
That is the plot. Let’s talk for a minute about the well-written part of the equation, which means that we get to talk about the author. T.J. Newman worked for a while at a bookstore in her home city of Phoenix. She left that worthy and honorable position approximately ten years ago and, as did her mother and sister before her, became a flight attendant. Ms. Newman often found herself on “red-eye” flights, so-called because they are long in duration and take place late in the night. She conceived the idea that became Falling during one such flight. After asking a pilot a “what if” question about her plot and receiving the reaction she hoped for (a look of utter terror) she began writing her ideas, vignettes, sentences, and paragraphs in dim light during her flights while her passengers slept. Her software was a pen and cocktail napkins. She somehow kept all of those little paper squares dry and legible until she could transcribe them into what eventually became the story that she wanted to tell.
Ms. Newman, thanks to her bookstore employment, knew a bit about what she was getting into before she started. Writing the book was the first and extremely important step. The next step was finding an agent. Falling flew out into the ether forty-one times and crash-landed on takeoff. Query forty-two, however, met with success. An agent, who saw something that forty-one others did not, accepted stewardship of Falling and pitched it to Simon & Schuster. S&S offered Ms. Newman a two-book deal for an amount I am too polite to disclose. Let me say that it is enough to keep her in wine, cheese, and whatever else she might reasonably want for the foreseeable future. Oh. I almost forgot. There was a bidding war for the film rights. The winner paid a royal sum for the right to create a movie version of Falling. The book that nobody wanted thus became the movie that everyone wanted to make.
I originally wrote that last sentence to include the phrase “all of a sudden.” I took it out because what occurred here didn’t happen “all of a sudden.” It took well over a year of writing, keeping those napkins dry and secure, polishing, proofing, and polishing some more, and then getting so used to hearing “no” that, I would guess, Ms. Newman couldn’t believe it when she heard “yes,” “yes,” and “yes” again.
After learning this backstory, one might wonder why the author and her manuscript were rejected by forty-one agents, each and all of whom knew what they are doing and who are probably exhaling a collective “oops” over this missed opportunity. Agents spend a lot of toil and trouble learning what editors and publishers want and don’t want at any given point in time. Whether an agent likes a book or not is important, but it is but one moving part of the entire process. Another is that an agent, and for that matter an editor at a publishing house, does not get in trouble on the job for the books they turn down. They get in trouble for the books (and authors) they take on that do not subsequently sell, for whatever reason. You, as an author, can’t control that part. What you can control is forming your premise clearly and writing the best book that you can, regardless of genre. When you get discouraged, think of Ms. Newman writing the best book she could on those cocktail napkins at thirty thousand feet in a dim cabin sometime after midnight, and then being turned down forty-one times by individual gatekeepers who, probably to their quiet dismay, wound up looking like Monty Python’s Black Knight. The lesson is that, regardless of the endeavor, we must hack our way through the naysayers until we reach our personal Holy Grail. You have just read the story of one who did.
Happy reading on July 6, and happy writing for the rest of your days. If you are inclined, would you care to share any encounter with adversity that you have experienced recently, in writing or otherwise? How did you get through it or around it? Thank you.