Since graduating from the Mountainview MFA program, Marjorie Herrera Lewis has gone on to publish her first book, When the Men Were Gone, a World War II historical novel that is also a love letter to Marjorie’s second passion: sports. She agreed to take some time out between the heavy promotion of her new book and her position at Texas Wesleyan University, where she has recently become a member of the coaching staff to its football program, to let me ask her about her book, her background and what life is like after publication.
Let’s start at the beginning, I hear that’s a very good place to start. Tell us a little about where you are from. What about your parents? Do you have any siblings?
I am the second of five children, born and raised in Santa Fe NM. My father is a retired dentist and a huge football fan of his alma mater, Northwestern University. My mother is a retired accountant, and a big fan of just about every college football team in the country When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was it early on or did that develop later in life?My parents subscribed to two morning daily newspapers, one afternoon daily, and one weekly. I grew up reading newspapers and magazines, and that’s why I chose to be a journalist. Combine that with my love of sports, and it’s no wonder I became a sportswriter. I spent many years writing for The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I’ve also taught journalism for many years at the college and university levels. When I discovered Tyler Wilson’s story, I set out to write a biography. I ended up becoming a novelist only because Tylene’s story was lost to time, and writing a novel became the only avenue for memorializing her story.
What was the process like writing your novel? How much research was involved?
I spent the first three years researching Tylene’s story. Eventually, I realized the story was lost to time, so I decided to fictionalization the account in order to memorize what she, and at least three other women, I discovered, had done during such a difficult time in our country’s history. Because I had never written fiction, I enrolled in the Mountainview MFA so I could give Tylene’s legacy my best effort.
What was your path to publication? Was it what you expected?
I am represented by a fantastic New York literary agent, Andrea Somberg. She sold the novel in 14 business days and the movie option rights within two months. The experience was nothing like I had expected. Being new to novel writing, I actually had no expectations, so this was beyond anything I could have imagined.
So, this must be an exciting time for you. What has life been like since the publication of your book?
I have been on the go. Morrow/HarperCollins has scheduled me for book festivals, book signings, speaking engagements, print, TV, radio, and podcast interviews. It’s been busy and fantastic.
I love the artwork, the young woman looking out off to the distance. And I know that the story takes place during World War II, but could you go a bit deeper and explain more of what the story is about?
The novel is based on a true story of a woman who coached football in Texas during World War II. It’s a story of perseverance and love.
You went through the Mountainview MFA program. What advice would you give our current MFA candidates?
My advice is to be passionate about what you write about. Enjoy every writing day, even the difficult days.