“A Season with Mom is a story about using the strikeouts in life to propel you forward.”
LONE STAR LITERARY: First, our condolences on the passing of your mom, Ms. Newland. I lost my father a few years ago and know what a hole opens in your life, part of your support structure gone. The good news is you have just published a well-reviewed memoir, A Season with Mom, about your mom, cancer, and baseball, among other things. Please tell us about your mother, Anne.
KATIE RUSSELL NEWLAND: My mom loved life. She embraced the ups and downs, the right turns and wrong ones too. She managed to always keep things in perspective and take everything in stride. She maintained a sense of adventure and an exuberant curiosity—part of which, growing up, drove me crazy but now as an adult I’ve come to realize is one of the secrets to living a fulfilled life. She was always at her best when traveling! The ultimate dreamer, it was during a trip to see our beloved Chicago Cubs play where she spontaneously shouted out to me and the entire Harry Caray’s restaurant, “Let’s go see all the ballparks!”
Nothing reveals love more than loss. It took losing my mother to finally understand her love of life and of me.
Life intervened, as it does, with the vow to visit all thirty Major League Baseball (MLB) ballparks, and you undertook that trip alone. What led to your decision to finally make this epic thirty-thousand-mile odyssey?
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and melanoma three years after my mom died. Going through cancer treatment gave me the space and stillness to think deeply about what I wanted for my life. Not unlike this past year with COVID, it feels like we have all collectively been given the opportunity to think long and hard about what kind of life we want—for ourselves, for our communities, for our planet.
After facing my own mortality and watching my mom die, I didn’t want to wait anymore to live. Two years after I completed my cancer treatment, I took a journey of a lifetime, proving our thirty-year-old dream was still alive.
Did you always know you wanted to document your journey in a book? How did that come about?
When I decided to embark on the journey, I had no idea what it would become. For the first time in my life, I jumped in without having much of a plan. And I certainly had no intention of writing a book as I stepped into America’s ballparks.
It wasn’t until a few years after the tour, when the story continued to resurface, that I began to consider writing something about my adventure. Friends, family members, and even media outlets would ask—even nudge, in some cases—long after I’d thrown out the first pitch from the Wrigley Field mound (the culmination of my 2015 journey). I’d learned during my adventure to pay closer attention to the signs and to trust my intuition. And all signs pointed me in the direction of telling my story. Writing a book is an incredibly vulnerable act—one I’m not sure I would have been capable of doing without having gone on the baseball tour.
In the end, I wrote a memoir because I wanted my mom’s legacy to live on in the pages of this book and in the hearts and minds of all who read her story.
A Season with Mom is an epistolary work. Please tell us about your writing process and what inspired you to use this form. I am also curious about the chapter titles, “Be Present”, “Be Adventurous”, “Be Balanced”.
I chose to write letters to my mom because I wanted readers to feel like they were eavesdropping on our relationship. Letters are intimate and so, too, are the childhood memories we share with our parents.
Regarding my process, I began with thousands of images I captured throughout my journey. Having gone to graduate school to become a qualitative researcher, I looked across the portfolio of images to see what themes emerged. Through that process, I began to identify the “Be” themes for each chapter. While I had an outline of the themes, I didn’t actually write the book from beginning to end. As I began each letter, the stories surfaced through the act of writing. I think the nonsequential nature of the book provides an intriguing experience for the reader.
I set out to see thirty MLB ballparks and found a spiritual experience. It was exactly as my mom intended. For most of my life, she encouraged me to “Just be.” And it wasn’t until I completed my journey that I finally understood what she meant. She was trying to get me to be more open to life’s serendipities, to be more present to the people and experiences right in front of me, and to be captivated in the moment instead of worrying about the future.
You are, as noted on your website, “a sports and games fanatic.” You also say that your mom was a great baseball fan. Where did her love of baseball come from, and how did that become a special bond between you?
Part of why I went on the journey was to learn more about my mom and where her love of baseball came from. While I don’t know for certain why she was such a baseball fan, the journey revealed a few clues. I think my mom loved baseball because of the sport’s pace and the people. Despite what critics might think, the lack of a clock lends baseball its charm. The slower pace gives you the opportunity to be present with the fans around you. She loved connecting with people and learning about others’ stories. But I also think baseball allows you to be present with yourself. It gives you the opportunity to reflect on not only what’s transpiring in the game but also in your own life.
Lacking a local major-league team in Louisiana, the Chicago-based television station, WGN, brought something special to far-away places such as the Garden District of New Orleans. Nationally televised Chicago Cubs games made it easy to tune into the daily action. And as most kids do, I wanted to emulate my mom. She loved an underdog and, cheering alongside her for the perennial underdog, I fell for the lovable losers too! It was a critical element to my relationship with my mom who otherwise remained out of reach to me due to her professional pursuits as a self-trained chef and restaurant owner.
How have the losses and gains and battles and triumphs changed you? What will be different about the rest of your life because you’ve had this transformative journey?
A Season with Mom is a story about using the strikeouts in life to propel you forward. I’ve learned that the losses and battles nudge me on a different path. In contrast, the gains and triumphs reinforce when I am heading in the right direction. The key is to get still enough to hear the universe whispering.
I’m just a baseball-loving kid from New Orleans who had a dream. Through a great deal of adversity—both personally and for my family—I never lost sight of trying to find a way to make it all have a purpose. This transformative journey reminded me of the importance of finding a way to live a more thoughtful and examined life.
For readers that have enjoyed A Season with Mom, what are some other great books about moms and/or sports that you recommend?
I love a good sports autobiography/biography! Some of my favorite sports books are Open by Andre Agassi, Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, The Phenomenon by Rick Ankiel, and Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Books I’ve enjoyed about navigating the complexity of mother/daughter and mother/son relationships include Heavy by Kiese Laymon, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
Since this is Lone Star Lit, I always ask a writer what Texas means to them and how the state has influenced their work. You live in Austin and have a Ph.D. from UT Austin. What does Texas mean to you and how does it make its mark on your work?
I moved to Texas in 1994 to attend Trinity University in San Antonio, and I’ve never left! While I’m a New Orleans native, I most definitely consider Austin my home now. Living in a college town motivates me to continue to learn and grow.
As a debut writer, I have felt supported by so many organizations in the Austin writing community. I met my literary agent and learned to grow my craft at the Writers League of Texas. Retreats at the Writing Barn brought me closer to other writers and held me accountable to keep going. I’ve found inspiration time and again at the preeminent Texas Book Festival. And there’s no better place to write, discover a new book, and lose yourself in your thoughts than at local independent bookstore BookPeople.
Can you tell us what the next season holds for you? Will there be another book?
Currently, I am working on a children’s book version of A Season with Mom. As told from the perspective of a young girl, the book portrays her experience going to see all thirty MLB ballparks with her mom.
What books are on your nightstand?
Too many to count! Here are a few: Did I Say That Out Loud by Kristin van Ogtrop, Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye (My favorite Texas Poet!), and The Cost of These Dreams by Wright Thompson.
Katie Russell Newland is an Austin, Texas-based writer with a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy from the University of Texas at Austin. Katie’s debut book, A Season With Mom: Love, Loss, and the Ultimate Baseball Adventure, tells the story of her journey to visit all thirty Major League Baseball parks in a single season to fulfill her late mother’s dream. In 2012, Katie survived a double diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Melanoma. Since then, she has turned her insatiable appetite for learning toward cancer and related health topics. In 2018, she completed a year-long program to become a certified Integrative Nutrition Coach.
Katie is a sports and games fanatic who loves to travel and is now on a mission to see every major sporting event’s finals. When she’s not watching sports or her favorite teams play (Chicago Cubs, New Orleans Saints, and Texas Longhorns), she can be found at a music festival, hosting a board game night, cooking a healthy meal, or playing Pickleball.