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Notes on an Icon

A Personal Glimpse at Author Patricia Nell Warren

Published in “The Texas Triangle,” May 5, 2000

My friendship with Patricia Nell Warren began four years ago when she sent me a response to a column that was published by the Arizona Republic.

I first became aware of this gay icon when I came out in the spring of 1990. Being an avid reader, I devoured every book that I could lay my hands on. First, I read non-fiction. However, it wasn’t long before I discovered her book “The Front Runner”, which became an instant favorite.

Our friendship began four years ago when Patricia sent me a response to my guest column published by the Arizona Republic. An Email friendship ensued and soon we shared a glass of wine during one of my frequent business trips to Los Angeles. Her publishing house, Wildcat Press, which she runs with her business partner, Tyler St. Mark, is located just ten minutes from West Hollywood.

There is more to Patricia Nell Warren than “The Front Runner,” which remains the best selling gay book of all times with over ten million copies sold in ten different languages. The milestone book has impacted the lives of so many people. Patricia wrote “The Front Runner” in the eight weeks during the spring of 1973 while working as an editor at Readers Digest, divorcing her abusive husband and coming out of the closet. During Patricia’s 22 year tenure at Reader’s Digest, she also edited condensed books from such illustrious authors as William Manchester, Barbara Cortland and Merle Miller.

Patricia, age 63, grew up on a sprawling cattle ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana. Her writing reflects the practical experience gained working on her family’s ranch that became a national historic site upon her parents’ death; now its owned by the National Park Service. Tyler described his visit to the ranch as feeling as if he was at the mansion shown during the opening of TV’s “Dynasty.” Patricia’s knowledge of cattle breeding came in handy later when she helped a friend raise wild cats (species such as Tigrinas and Brazilians) and pioneering the Abssynian long-hair breed of domestic purebred cat.

Patricia is best known for her Front Runner Series, which also includes “Harlan’s Race,” published in 1994, and “Billy’s Boy,” published in 1997. She also has several other successful gay novels, four books of Ukrainian poetry and a historical novel of Indian spiritual teaching, and of women dedicated to Goddess Earth called “One Is The Sun”. Patricia’s newest novel, “The Wild Man,” is scheduled for publication later in the year. Its protagonists are an aging gay bullfighter and his lover, set in fascist Franco Spain. I read the book as one of her readers; you are in for a treat once its published. If it helps your imagination, I’d cast Antonio Banderas in the leading role in a movie version!

Some of Patricia Nell Warren’s most impactful writing has been non- fiction pieces written for numerous periodicals including The Advocate, A&U, Cybersocket, Frontiers and a plethora of other gay/lesbian and mainstream publications. Her topics range from the state of gay/lesbian writing, publication and bookstores to plight of gay youth, aging and the gay community, First Amendment rights and the Internet, the prison system, Issues on HIV and AIDS and challenges in the field of education.

In 1994, in an effort to get in touch with gay youth and to exercise her rights as a citizen living within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Patricia spent an afternoon as a speaker at EAGLES Center, a charter school for GLBT students within LAUSD. Her afternoon lecture turned into a six-month volunteer teaching stint and also provided her with research material for “Billy’s Boy.” She has become a gay youth advocate, serving on LAUSD’s Gay & Lesbian Education Commission and Human Relations Education Commission.

Author Patricia Nell Warren with Dallas’ John Selig. Photo by: Jay Pratte Patricia’s current hot-button issues include alternative AIDS theories and the history of fundamental religion in the United States (or as she calls it, Neo-Pilgra-imism). Her work in these areas will gain wide exposure and raise controversy. Controversy doesn’t scare her. While visiting, Patricia has shared with me her thoughts about ABC television medical reporter, Nicholas Regush’s best-selling book “The Virus Within: A coming Epidemic,” which deals with the HHV-6 and it possible role with AIDS. Patricia is convinced that AIDS dissent will explode nationally within the next year.

I was honored recently in helping with PR for Patricia’s participation in the Gay Lesbian Straight Education (GLSEN) Safe Schools Conference that occurred in Dallas on March 4th. The conference, which was a huge success with over fifty registered participants, featured Patricia as keynote speaker and a breakout session presenter. While in Dallas Patricia appeared on Rick Vanderslice’s “Evening Talk Show” on KERA and on LAMBDA Weekly, as well as being she was included in several television interviews.

One lazy Sunday morning I sat with Patricia in her office which is adorned with research materials, photos, momentoes and scrapbooks of her published works. With Patricia in her desk chair and me in a plastic chair from by her computer, we poured through a plastic paged book filled with her articles on her Grand Champion Somali cats and others on the fierce wildcats from Central and South America that became the moniker for Patricia’s and Tyler’s publishing house. These fierce wildcats, often no more than three pounds, could terrorize an animal many times their size by attacking their heads. The vividness of her keen respect for nature and love of animals came alive in her sharing.

My time at Wildcat Press has been fascinating. Patricia rises around 5:30 a.m. to deal with Email and begin writing. There is always a pot on the stove by 7:30 a.m. to feed the Wildcat family. Meals are grabbed solo when time permits; she is a fabulous cook. The phone doesn’t stop with calls starting at the crack of dawn (Easterners don’t care that its three hours earlier in California). Casting, financing and other pre-production work is progressing at a feverish pace for the “The Front Runner” film. Planning for Patricia’s upcoming appearances in Montana, Canada, Florida, New York and New England are progressing. “The Wild Man” prepublication work continues as does writing for a variety of periodicals. And, of course, there is the selling of Patricia Nell Warren’s list of titles. As time permits each day, Patricia enjoys time outdoors, barefoot, tending her luscious garden, feeding humming-birds and watching butterflies.

My life has been enriched by our precious friendship. What began as an e-mail response to her letter has blossomed into a spirited kinship of souls and a cherished love.

John R. Selig is a freelance writer and photographer based in Dallas.