Thursday, June 20, 2019

Guest Post & Giveaway: WHEN THE MEN WERE GONE

  Genre: Historical / Biographical / Sports Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow 
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Number of Pages: 240

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A cross between Friday Night Lights and The Atomic City Girls, When The Men Were Gone is a debut historical novel based on the true story of Tylene Wilson, a woman in 1940s Texas who, in spite of extreme opposition, became a female football coach in order to keep her students from heading off to war.

Football is the heartbeat of Brownwood, Texas. Every Friday night for as long as assistant principal Tylene Wilson can remember, the entire town has gathered in the stands, cheering their boys on. Each September brings with it the hope of a good season and a sense of unity and optimism.

Now, the war has changed everything. Most of the Brownwood men over eighteen and under forty-five are off fighting, and in a small town the possibilities are limited. Could this mean a season without football? But no one counted on Tylene, who learned the game at her daddy’s knee. She knows more about it than most men, so she does the unthinkable, convincing the school to let her take on the job of coach.

Faced with extreme opposition by the press, the community, rival coaches, and referees
and even the players themselvesTylene remains resolute. And when her boys rally around her, she leads the teamand the townto a Friday night and a subsequent season they will never forget. 

Based on a true story, When the Men Were Gone is a powerful and vibrant novel of perseverance and personal courage.


"Sublimely ties together the drama of high school football, gender politics, and the impact of war on a small town in Texas.” – Best of Books, 2018, Sports Illustrated

“A beautiful story that stays in your heart long after you finish reading.” - Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author

Based on a true story that most people probably don’t know, readers will find plenty to love in Herrera Lewis’s debut. -- Kirkus Review

By Marjorie Herrera Lewis

I’ve often been asked how I came across the story of Tylene Wilson, a woman who coached football in Brownwood, Texas, during World War II. My answer is simple: serendipity.

After decades of cajoling by my allergy doctor, I finally relented and scheduled myself for allergy-shot testing. My nurse, Jean Van Waters, commented on the T-shirt I was wearing, which declared me a Tulsa Golden Hurricane football fan. “I’m a football fan, too,” Jean said. “The women in my family all love football. Probably because my great-aunt was a football coach during World War II.” I just about fainted. Hearkening back to my days as a sportswriter, I began a stream of questions.

By the time my head had stopped spinning and my adrenaline had stabilized, I stopped asking questions and just let Jean talk. The more she told me about her great-aunt, the more the story resonated with me. I began to believe I was the only one who could tell Tylene’s story with any level of authenticity. In a way, I had lived a similar story, only forty years later and not as a coach but as a sportswriter. Tylene and I had both walked into life experiences we had not sought out, and in many ways we had not been welcome.

I was a sportswriter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when in 1986 I was asked to temporarily cover the Dallas Cowboys beat during the off-season. My job was to monitor the beat—handle any press announcements, stop by the training facility to see if anything interesting was going on, and check up on any contract talks or free-agent signings. But I loved the thrill of competition, so I set out to develop sources and break stories. I broke a few that caught the attention of my sports editor, Bruce Raben. Bruce liked my tenacity, so he handed the full-time beat to me. What he did not know at the time was that I didn’t want the beat. And the first person to find out was Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm.

I was in the Cowboys public relations office of Greg Aiello when Tex stopped by. He said he’d heard I’d been given the beat. Always the proud Cowboys executive, Tex asked me how it felt to be a beat writer for the best team playing the best sport in the world. My honest reply was not well received. “I prefer college football,” I told him. “I didn’t ask for this assignment, and I’d rather not have it.” His face became fireball red, and I realized that perhaps honesty wasn’t valued as highly as I’d expected. He went on to tell me I was a fool. When he finished scolding me, I asked him why he cared so much. “Does the idea of a twenty-nine-year-old woman, five feet two inches, give you comfort? Because if my appearance leads you to believe I’m a pushover, you'd be wrong.”

From then on, Tex, Coach Tom Landry, and all the other coaches and staff members treated me respectfully and professionally. One football player, however, had a different point of view, and he was eager to share it. I was covering my first training camp at California Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks, California, when I walked from the field at the end of practice alongside a free-agent linebacker who turned to me and said, “You don’t belong here.” I looked at him and said, “I’ve seen you practice, and I’ll be here a lot longer than you will.” He was cut the next day, and I never saw him again. Despite his point of view, at least that football player was honest, and frankly, I appreciated it.

Like Tylene, I had grown up a football fan and had learned the game from my father, William Herrera. Like Tylene, I did not seek my job. And like Tylene, I endured ridicule, even from someone I had thought of as a friend. Tylene’s story resonated with me because we were both unwitting trailblazers. And like Tylene, I had a backstory.

As we see in the book, Tylene wanted the boys to play football—not because she wanted to coach them, but because she didn’t want them to lose their youth prematurely, as her son had. Her son, Billy, died only minutes after his birth. He would have been a senior in high school during the season that Tylene became coach. As Tylene’s grandniece Jean told me, Tylene and John desperately wanted to have children.

I, too, endured a private personal struggle—one my colleagues did not know about—while covering the Cowboys. I, too, wanted to become a mom. I had a miscarriage early on, and while I was a Cowboys beat writer, I had undergone surgery that left my husband, Chuck, and me with no more answers than before it. I was also hospitalized on three occasions—the last time, I awoke to find my husband at the foot of my bed telling me he could no longer stand to see me suffering. He said it was time that we forget about becoming parents. It was a chilling moment.

Although we eventually had two daughters, I understand Tylene in many ways. I believe Tylene’s life must be memorialized. Tylene was a woman whose life transcended football, who discovered what she was capable of even when she didn’t seek it, and who brought joy to a grieving town during a time of war, even if only for three hours on a Friday night.

This is why I am telling her story.

Marjorie Herrera Lewis is an award-winning sportswriter, named the first female Dallas Cowboys beat writer when she was with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She later joined the SportsDay staff of The Dallas Morning News, where she continued to cover the NFL and professional tennis. She is currently a contributing sportswriter for 

While writing When the Men Were Gone, she became inspired to try her hand at coaching football herself and was added to the Texas Wesleyan University football coaching staff in December 2016. Marjorie has degrees from Arizona State University, the University of Texas in Arlington, Southern New Hampshire University, and certificates from Southern Methodist University and Cornell University. She is married and has two grown daughters and one son-in-law.
June 18-28, 2019

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