Guest Post & Giveaway: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis


  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 themselves — Tylene remains resolute. And when her boys rally around her, she leads the team — and the town — to 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’ debut.” — Kirkus Review




Two different ways to approach reading When the Men Were Gone

Guest Post by Marjorie Herrera Lewis


I have been asked by a number of book clubs to submit discussion questions/topics for member meetings. What I’ve done here is write out questions/topics for not only book club and individual inquiry but for high school (advanced) and middle school readers to digest and dissect. In doing this, I will present the novel, When the Men Were Gone, with questions geared towards my intended two different ways to read it. I wrote When the Men Were Gone to be read as two entirely different novels – and as I’ve been told by readers who have read it twice, it worked.


Book Club and Advanced Readers: A novel narrated by a grieving mother 

  1. The Prologue is a metaphor for the book. Discuss the imagery used as metaphor.
  2. Discuss the symbolism. Why does Tylene focus on a “box”? A body in a “box,” a letter jacket in a “box,” the “box” at the end of the book. What role does a “box” play in motivating her on this journey? How does a “box” fit in with Tylene’s distaste for the word “over” or the words “if only?”
  3. The reason for Tylene’s journey is set out in the first several pages of the book with the metaphor of her expectations when she walked to the field for what would have been the first day of practice. She expected to see “our crossbars standing tall in each end zone, hovering over an empty playing field like parents at the dining table waiting for children to fill the seats between them.” Who do those goal posts represent?
  4. This yearning is reinforced several times throughout the book in her words but also in her movements. For example, she catches a football from Moose, brings it down, and stares at the football while cradling it in her arms. Why? What is the metaphor?
  5. When the principal tells Tylene, “This is 1944, not 1984,” what does this say about women in football? Were things different for women by 1984? Are they different today?
  6. Tylene becomes a football coach. Why? What was her underlying motivation, and why didn’t she just come out and tell everyone?
  7. Tylene tells the readers why she does it at the point in the novel when she and Moose leave Ida Mae’s home, and Moose asks Tylene if Ida Mae will be OK. This is the novel’s big reveal, but to the readers only and not to Moose. Why does she not reveal the purpose for her journey to Moose?
  8. Is When the Men Were Gonea book about football? Why? Why not?
  9. Tylene knows the Lions would have beaten Stephenville had she put Bobby Ray back into the game for the final play. Why didn’t she do it?
  10. What does it mean when on the night before the game, Tylene and Wendell come across each other at the football field, speak, and when Tylene walks away, she smiles at him “in solidarity”? What solidarity? What does that mean?
  11. Tylene invites her friend, Mavis McSorley, to watch practice. While practice is beginning, Mavis becomes agitated and begins to shout. What does this scene tell us about the role and expectations of a wife in the 1940s? Why is Mavis angry with her husband?
  12. Tylene is clearly a woman ahead of her time, but she is also a woman of the 1940s? How those gender expectations playout?
  13. If you believe this is a sweet story, great, but what have you missed? What emotion is imbedded in the voice of the narrator, Tylene?

Middle School: A novel about a woman who doesn’t let gender norms define her and becomes a football coach even when the odds are against her

  1. What traits show us that Tylene is a strong woman?
  2. Why is she so determined to take on a role that was “for men only”?
  3. What was her relationship like with her father, and how did that help set her up for the journey to coaching football?
  4. Why did Tylene learn football in the first place?
  5. How do we know John knew Tylene was a woman ahead of her time?
  6. How do we know John was supportive of Tylene and of the decisions she made?
  7. Why did John and Tylene argue the night before the game?
  8. Why did Moose finally come to trust Tylene?
  9. Why didn’t the boys on the football team come to the first practice?
  10. Why was Tylene shunned by the men at the football coaches meeting?
  11. Why was the principal hesitant to hire Tylene to coach football?
  12. Why were people so mean to her? Why did they come around and cheer for her?
  13. What does Tylene teach us about inspiration and perseverance?


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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