Will the REAL Mr. Newland Please Stand Up?

If you’re near my age (55), you probably watched that television game show, TO TELL THE TRUTH, which aired from about 1956 to 1978. On the show, four celebrity panelists were presented with three contestants. The challenge was to identify which contestant accurately matched up with the unusual occupation or experience that was read aloud by the host. Two challengers were lying; one was telling the truth. At the end, the legitimate person stood up.

A recent experience has had me thinking about that show all week. It started with an idea that’s been buzzing around in my brain for a middle grade book—you know, lots of chapters, aimed at readers age 8-12. I’ve already written the first book in what I hope might turn into a children’s series, and I secretly refer to it as The Bee Book (not the real title). I’m currently querying agents with that manuscript in hopes of getting on the path to publication. I’ll blog about the query experience later!

I’m now working on an outline so that I can draft what I’ll call Bee Book Two. The second book is going to require a good bit of research because it covers a scientific topic that’s outside my area of expertise. I needed to interview someone who specializes in astronomy, and I remembered my son took that class last year at his high school. I emailed Will’s former teacher—Jimmy Newland—and asked if I could talk to him in person about a potential book idea. He was happy to help, and we set up an appointment. Mr. Newland asked me to show up at a specific time, on a specific day, and told me he was in Room 186 of the school’s science wing.

Punctual as ever, I showed up, walked into the classroom, smiled. I think I even waved at him, chirping, “Hello!” The teacher replied, “Hi!” I explained, “I’m Will Nickell’s mom.” He said, “Cool, give me five minutes. I just need to start these kids on a makeup test.” I waited until he was free, and he then said, “So what’s up? What can I do for you?” I proceeded to tell him about my book idea, and he got animated. “This is good,” he said, “and it’s definitely a real-world plausible story idea. This could work!” I was excited by HIS excitement. It was contagious. He gave me lots of ideas, pointers, and recommendations. I took notes. I thanked him for his help and left.

Feeling pumped about the experience, I texted my son: “Hey! I just met Mr. Newland and he loved my book idea. He was so helpful!”

After a while Will texted me back: “When did you see him?”

ME: “Today! He was great! And he gave me so much info!”

WILL: “Umm, I just went by to say hello to Mr. Newland. He said you were a no-show.”

ME (annoyed): “Nope, I was there. He was great! So helpful!”

WILL: “When? Today? Where did you go? What room?”

ME (exasperated): “No worries. Let’s just talk after school.”

When I picked Will up from school, he peppered me with questions. “Exactly which guy did you talk to, Mom?” I went through the details again, explaining that I met Mr. Newland in Room 186, he loved my idea, blah-blah-blah. Not letting it drop, Will said, “Mom, did he have on a red shirt? Because Mr. Newland is wearing a red shirt today.” Confused, I admitted that the man I had spoken to wore a blue sweater. Not red.

This was NOT the REAL Mr. Newland!

Will (laughing at me) Googled a photo of Mr. Newland, and turned his phone screen toward me: “Is THIS who you talked to today? Because THIS is actually Mr. Newland.” Alas, it was not. I wasn’t sure who I had interviewed! I quickly opened my laptop and emailed Mr. Newland: “I was there today, but apparently I met with some random teacher who was not you. But he was very helpful and knew a lot about astronomy! LOL!” The red-shirted Mr. Newland wrote me right back: “I’m curious who this person was. That’s a very good story though. Let’s try again Monday.”

Round Two. I returned to the high school, went to the science wing and realized my mistake. On the prior visit, I had accidentally entered Room 185. This time, I made sure to go to the correct room (186, doh!). The good news is that the REAL Mr. Newland liked my story idea, too … just as much as the “fake” Mr. Newland did! Halfway through my premise he said, “I’m already excited about this.” He gave me names of three experts for me to interview as part of my research; I took more notes. He encouraged me to proceed, saying, “You’ve definitely got a great idea.”

I eventually figured out who the teacher in the blue sweater was—another legit science teacher who does, indeed, know plenty about astronomy. He didn’t deliberately pose as Mr. Newland; in his defense, he had no idea why I was there, but he chose to be nice and helpful. And come to think of it, he never actually SAID his name. (I’m sure he was scratching his head later: “Who was that mom and why was she bothering me!?”)

To tell the truth, it was affirming to get a thumbs-up from not one but two smart astronomy teachers. And next time I’ll double-check the classroom number a little more closely.

Now I’m off to outline this new book.

—Bee Amazing. 😉




by Cathey Nickell

Houston-based author of ARTHUR ZARR'S AMAZING ART CAR—the first book for children about art cars. I do Author Visits at elementary schools. SCBWI member.

See more posts by this author

© 2018 Cathey Graham Nickell