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MAY 17, 2019
DIGGING DEEP INTO THE BOOK
I have been asked by a number of book clubs to submit discussion questions/topics for member meetings. What I’d like to do with this blog entry is write out a number of 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 based on the two different ways to read it, as I intended. I wrote When the Men Were Gone to be read as two entirely different novels – and it worked, as I’ve been told by readers who have read it twice.
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 Gone a 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 do we see those gender expectations play out?
13. If you believe this is a sweet story, great, but what have you missed? What emotion is embedded 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 other 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?
If anyone would like to respond to me with insights to any or all of the questions and topics, please send email to:firstname.lastname@example.org
MARCH 27, 2019
75 YEARS LATER - NO CHANGE
Like Tylene, I was treated like .... (not a word I normally use). Not by everyone, but the Texas Wesleyan head coach and defensive coordinator made me feel is if they were trying to run me off, especially once the football season was about to begin.
How do I know this? For one, the duty roster handed out at the defensive coaches meeting before the home opener listed, beside each name, individual game-day responsibilities. The sheet was handed out, and when I looked down at my name, it included: “Snack distribution pregame.”
Now, for months leading up to that moment, I had worked closely with the defensive backs coach, Quincy Butler, a fantastic coach and human being. I threw drills to DBs (even with a broken index finger), I recorded video of footwork and speed, I charted what the DBs were doing right and what they were doing wrong based on Coach Butler’s instruction. I kept practice stats, and I watched every DB closely. I did everything asked of me and more.
In turn, Coach Butler determined the lineup based on my notes. He often told me my work was invaluable.
Not only that, but when I was told I would not travel with the team for the season-opener in Kansas (another story), I was, instead, assigned to scout a conference opponent that weekend. When I turned in my scouting report the following Monday, I was told by both the head coach and the defensive coordinator that my scouting report was the most comprehensive they had ever seen.
So what happened in the days that led to my assignment as Distributor of the Snacks?
I went about my work and prepared just as I had every other week. Then after the Friday afternoon walkthrough, I asked the defensive coordinator where I find the snacks and at what time was I to distribute them.
His response: We don’t have snacks. That was Freudian.
So there you have it -- 73 years after Tylene Wilson first coached football in Brownwood, Texas, I am being mocked for being a female football coach.
If you’d like to know what other things happened that year, ask me. I’ll tell you. I’ll even show you the duty roster – yes, I kept it.
Why am I telling you this now?
Because last night I read a thread on social media speculating Kim Mulkey coaching the men’s basketball team at Louisiana State University. The comments I read told me we’re still in 1944.
I was crushed.
And that’s why it is so important that people of all ages get to know Tylene Wilson and the battles she fought to do something considered “for men only.” We all need to understand how the world was then and is now for women in sports because we may be on the cusp of great opportunities for women coaching men, but that doesn’t mean we have evolved into what we’d like to think of as 21st century attitudes.
Why would Kim Mulkey’s credentials be questioned? She is the only person in NCAA history to win a basketball national title as a player, an assistant coach, and as a head coach. She is closing in on 600 victories and has yet to lose 100 games. She has also led the Baylor women to the national championship, and she has won numerous coaching awards.
This is why we must know Tylene’s story today more than ever. Women can coach men, and soon, despite outdated notions, we’ll find out just how well they can do it.
FEBRUARY 1, 2019
I had a fantastic time on WFAA this morning (Friday, Feb. 1) talking about the novel and about the upcoming Super Bowl. As instructed, I focused on Football 101.
But with the big game looming, I’d like to dig a little deeper and channel my inner Tylene. So let’s do this.
As I did on Good Morning Texas with the talented and fantastic Jane McGarry, I’d like to focus on four key players, two from each team. Let’s start with the five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady and one of his most reliable targets, Julian Edelman.
Brady is one of the most accurate passers in the game, with quick check-offs to his receiving options, a quick release, a strong arm and great pocket presence.
Edelman, just 5-10, so small by NFL standards (Brady, for example, is 6-4), runs great routes, creates separation from the defender allowing himself to become an open target, runs a 4.52 40-yard dash, so if he gets a mismatch with a slower defender (presumably a linebacker since Edelman typically lines up in the slot), he can get more yards after the catch. Edelman averages an impressive 5.2 yards after catch, so if he catches the ball, say, 4 yards from the line of scrimmage, the Patriots could find themselves with a first down or a second or third and short. This makes Edelman a huge asset.
The thing is, however, the Rams have a strong defensive front. Out of their 3-4 formation, the Rams will rush an exceptional defensive end off the edge and perhaps the best 1-2 tackle tandem the NFL has ever seen. So if Brady doesn’t get the ball off quickly as he typically does, he could be running for his life all evening. Remember, though, Brady rarely gets sacked. He’s got great protection up front and because his receivers create great separation, he doesn’t often take coverage sacks, either. Expect him to throw short- and medium-length passes, but beware the deep pass. He can do it all.
The Rams, on the other hand, have enjoyed much success off the play-action pass set up by a strong running game, specially the power and threat of Todd Gurley.
Gurley can hit tight gaps, push off with his right foot and accelerate into the open field with incredible power and quickness. He can also run off the edge and catch horizontally and vertically. He needs to start off well because the better he runs the ball, the more success quarterback Jerod Goff will have passing the ball. Here’s why.
Once the Patriots know Gurley has hit stride and can burn the defense, the greater the chance they’ll stack the box in an effort to defend against the run. So what will Goff do? He’ll take advantage of the play-action pass. Goff leads the league with one-third of his passes this season coming off the play action.
What that is, is Goff will fake a handoff to Gurley, hoping to draw in the defense between the tackles. Gurley then simulates the play hoping to create the illusion that he has the ball. Goff, remember, faked the handoff and still has the ball, so he will then throw to an open receiver.
One of their successful play-action routes has been off the screen. Essentially, three receivers line up on the left side of the line of scrimmage. Once Goff takes the snap from the shotgun, fakes the handoff to Gurley, the farthest left wide out in the flat prepares to catch a pass while two wide outs to the receiver’s right create a screen, essentially, a wall of protection.
So once the pass is caught, the receiver dashes along the left sideline (his protection on that side) while his right side is protected by the two receivers that have created a wall. This is just one way the Rams benefit from play-action, one of my favorite types of passing plays.
This is just a little of what you can expect to see Sunday in Super Bowl LIII, which should be a tight and exciting game. So enjoy the competition. I hope you also enjoyed my inner Tylene.
NOVEMBER 1, 2018
Thank you for joining my blog launch for When The Men Were Gone. The novel rolled out in early October, and I cannot be more pleased with its reception. With that in mind, I’d like to give you additional insight.
I love books and I love movies. I like to think of When the Men Were Gone as a book-movie. We don’t watch twenty minutes of a movie and then return to it a week later. We watch a movie in its entirety, in one sitting, and that was my intention with this novel of just more than 200 pages. From the feedback I’ve received, it appears to, largely, be working out that way, and I’m excited to know that.
But, as with any form of entertainment, there is always more than one side to a story, and that’s the case with When the Men Were Gone. One, my intention was to write an entertaining novel that chronicles, in first person, the story of Tylene Wilson’s journey to becoming the head coach of the Brownwood High School football team during World War II. On the surface, that’s the story in a nutshell.
What I would like to focus on in this first blog, however, is another side to the novel – the depth. In this blog, I am going to assume you have read the novel. If you have not yet, then I apologize for what I’m about to reveal.
First, the prologue is a metaphor for the entire book. What is the wind and rain? Why did it keep Tylene from getting to the football field sooner? What is the role of the injured man with a limp? Who is he later on? And the men in the stands, why were they amused by her knowledge? And how about that knowledge – and she was only ten! Why does the prologue end with a quote? By the way, the novel ends with a quote, too. Why?
Let me say this straight out: I do not like to lecture. Funny coming from a university professor, I know. But that’s not my style of teaching and it’s not my style of writing. (If any of you are English teachers, I am a product of the writings of Peter Elbow). With that in mind, what are the hidden meanings?
Let’s look at a few. What motivates Tylene? Does she ever tell us that she is in pain? That her motivation derives from anguish? Remember, she is a product of the 1940s, and women of that time were excruciatingly private. She quietly held onto her pain; she carried it with her every day. Her husband knew it. Her father knew it. But anyone else who once knew it had long ago forgotten. This novel is narrated by a woman in perpetual pain.
Let’s consider the scene where Tylene and Moose are leaving Ida Mae’s home. Moose asks: “Will she be okay.” What Tylene tells us next is something different from what she tells Moose. She tells Moose: “In time.” She knows that’s not true, but she is sparing Moose from pain. And what does she tell us? “I wanted to tell Moose that from a mother’s perspective, there is nothing worse than the loss of a child. That Ida Mae would spend the rest of her life living through Nick’s friends – the experiences, the milestones…” This is the big reveal. This is Tylene’s motivation. This is Tylene telling us what she is doing every day of her life and why this season is so important to her. Who would have been a senior that year? Who would have been on that football team? Who are these friends that Tylene is living through – the experiences, the milestones?
Next, let’s look at Wendell Washington. Who is he? What was the 92nd Infantry? Without saying it, we know Wendell is African-American. So with that in mind, what does he mean when the night before the game he tells Tylene: “They’re afraid of us, afraid of change. Go get ‘em.” Who is “us?” Clearly, “us” is not a reference to the football team. Wendell is not talking about the competition. “Us” is every minority on the brink of busting through an oppressive social order – in this case, a woman and an African-American man. Wendell knew that what Tylene was doing was not only breaking barriers for women, she was breaking barriers for everyone behind a barrier. What does Tylene do in response to Wendell? “I smiled back, nodded in solidarity…” She knew. They both knew.
Last, let’s look at the quote from Mr. Redwine when he argues that Tylene should not be the team’s football coach: “Tylene, this is 1944, not 1984.” Okay, this was my Orwellian shout-out. But why? Well, how many women were head coaches of football teams in 1984? This was my attempt to remind the readers that even forty years later, nothing had changed.
As you can see, there is a much deeper message to this novel than its storytelling. What else can you find? What other messages about society do we see in this novel? I could go on and on, but I’ll save some for another blog entry. Till then, thank you for reading the novel, reading the blog, and, what I hope most of all, for falling in love with Tylene.
Copyright © 2018 Marjorie Herrera Lewis - All Rights Reserved.