Reviewed by: Warren
Print Length: 320 pages
Posting: Classic, MM Romance, Sports
Publisher: Wildcat Press; 20 Anv edition (June 1, 1996)
Book Provided by: Reviewer
Author: Patricia Nell Warren
Posting Date: November 04, 2014
It is my belief that there are books out there that deserve a special notice, and a re-introduction to the new m/m readers and the younger-than-me readers. The Front Runner is at the top of my list, and instead of just a review, I want to talk about the way the book was looked at, give a general synopsis, and then add the interview I did with Patricia Nell Warren.
First, I would like to quote a few reviews that have been made of the book.
In 1974, after publication, the New York Times called it “the most moving, monumental love story ever written of gay life.”
Tom W. in his Amazon.com review stated “This book was the first novel that I read as a young man in which people like me were treated with dignity and respect and a sense of normalcy.”
Jenta, also in an Amazon.com review stated “This book is a classic, in every possible meaning of the word.”
An anonymous reviewer on the Barnes and Noble site wrote “it was the first book I have read that discusses homosexual relationships in a manner that was both poignant and realistic.”
These reviews display why The Front Runner was the first m/m romance to reach the New York Times Bestseller List. According to Wikipedia, as of 2006, more than ten million copies have been sold, and it has been translated into at least nine languages.
In my humble opinion, I could not agree more with the reviews cited above. This book, although extremely controversial at the time, took the literary world by storm. It was considered for a film version, which I wish would have happened, but at the time, things were not nearly as open as they are now, and the idea was constantly shot down. (See more about this in my interview with the author.)
The Front Runner tells the story of Harlan Brown, a closeted running coach, who, after losing jobs in large universities, finds himself accepted at a small college where he can do what he loves, and begin to really understand his sexuality in a comforting surrounding. Due to his being so in the closet, he goes about satisfying his need in the seedy, dark side of New York City.
But his peace is shattered when three young runners seek him out and ask him to be their coach, as they have been dropped from the larger programs for their sexuality. They are all world class runners, but the star of the three is Billy Sive, a young and gorgeous thoroughbred that has a wild streak in him, and is in need of hard coaching, harsh discipline, and love.
The Front Runner is the story of these two main characters, and the trust, training, and eventually love that is needed by both Harlan and Billy. The other two runners, Vince Matti and Jacques LaFont, and Billy’s father, round out the list of main characters.
The story takes us from the very beginning of the relationship, to the exciting prospect of Billy running in the Olympics for the United States, even though he is not accepted by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and an attempt is made to keep him from attending the Olympics.
But the story also describes the lives of the boys as they become acclimated to Prescott, the college that they have come to, and how their lives are affected by living in an accepting, loving environment.
There is so much about this book, and the action and romance in it, that I will just let you read it to find out the beauty and literary wonder of The Front Runner. Be ready to laugh and cry. It is extremely well written. It will draw you in and keep you entirely enthralled. The writing is colorful and superb, the descriptions well written and made easy to imagine, and the romance will keep your heart thumping and happy.
There are two follow-up books in the series, Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Story, and both are also well worth the read. There are also many other books that Ms. Warren has written that are just wonderful. One to mention that I read and enjoyed is The Fancy Dancer. Check it out!
The Front Runner (The Front Runner saga Book 1) – Amazon UK
Wildcat Press Bookstore – For all of Patricia’s books in Paperback or Hardcover
The Book Description:
The New York Times bestseller about love and loss that stayed in print since 1974. Closeted gay track coach Harlan Brown has a shot at launching a talented distance runner to the Olympics. What will happen if America’s religious righters learn of his audacious plan to put an openly gay athlete on the victory podium? And what if he falls in love with his protege?
Patricia Nell Warren has written and published professionally since 1954, at age 18. In 59 years, her subjects have ranged from women and Goddess Earth to human rights, from gay life and mixed-blood people in American history to wildlife, the environment and current events.
Now 76 years old, she was born in 1936 and raised on a Montana ranch. She worked as a Reader’s Digest book editor for 15 years, on both the magazine staff and the Condensed Book Club.
Today Warren lives in Glendale, CA, where she co-owns an independent book-publishing and media company, Wildcat International and Wildcat Press.
Since 1971 Warren has published eight novels — several with mainstream publishers (Morrow, Bantam, Ballantine, Dial Press, Penguin) and several under her own independent imprint, Wildcat Press. The Front Runner, Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Boy are a landmark series that follows an evolving family through 20 years of gay life.
She also published two mainstream novels, The Last Centennial (1971) and One Is the Sun (1991).
Warren’s best-known fiction work, The Front Runner, was first published by William Morrow in 1974, and became the most popular gay love story of all time. The book has sold an estimated 10 million copies worldwide and been translated into ten languages, the most recent being Complex Chinese.
Film rights of The Front Runner have been in development for some years, and received a great deal attention as one of “Hollywood’s unmade gay films” during Brokeback Mountain’s run-up for the Academy Awards.
Currently Warren is working on a new novel titled Wrong Side of the Tracks.
Warren’s newest title is her second nonfiction book. It’s titled My West: Personal Writings on the American West, an anthology of nonfiction articles about Warren’s roots in the historical and modern West. Published in 2011, it won an international Rainbow Award in the nonfiction category.
Warren’s articles and op-eds have appeared in a variety of mainstream publications, including Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, Reader’s Digest, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Modern Maturity, Persimmon Hill, New York Press, Des Moines Register, Mythosphere, Corporate Africa. She has also published in various leading gay publications.
For A & U Magazine she writes a monthly column on the politics of AIDS and public health. Online, she blogs at The Bilerico Project, the most popular and politically vociferous glbt blog on the Web.
As a result of interest in movies based on her novels, Warren has moved into active development herself as an executive producer, in partnership with Greg Zanfardino of Moniker Entertainment. At present, she has several docudrama projects on her slate, including an Australian group’s novel search for the wreck site of Amelia Earhart’s aircraft in Papua New Guinea.
Activism and Politics
Warren’s political activism started during the 1960s, with efforts — while still a Reader’s Digest editor — to have American media recognize the individuality of Ukrainians and other ethnic groups in the USSR.
In the 1970s Warren was the plaintiffs’ spokesperson for Susan Smith v. Reader’s Digest, a landmark lawsuit that resulted in a class-action victory for women. As a former amateur athlete, Warren helped lead a group of women distance runners who forced the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union, the then governing body of amateur sports in the U.S.) to change discriminatory rules in the mid-70s.
More recently, in the free-speech realm, Warren has been a named plaintiff in both federal lawsuits over Internet censorship — namely ACLU v. Reno (which went to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in a victory for the plaintiffs) and the more recent ACLU lawsuit over the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was also struck down as unconstitutional.
As recognition for her activism, Warren has won a number of awards, including New York City’s Public Advocate Award and the Barry Goldwater Award.
The Interview by Warren:
For those of you who don’t know, Patricia Nell Warren is the acclaimed author of The Front Runner, and the series of books that follow the original. This book was published in 1974, and was like a lightning bolt in the literary world, really bringing the m/m genre into the mainstream of fiction. Many discussions were made, and still are, of turning this wonderful love story into a movie, but so far, my dreams have not been answered. It would be an amazing movie.
Ms. Warren, thank you so very much for agreeing to answer a few questions. I know many people who remember the book so fondly, and are interested in you, what you are doing these days, and what your life has been like since the publishing of The Front Runner. Would you be so kind as to fill us in a little about your life, hobbies, etc.?
What has my life been like? I’d have to finish writing my autobiography to give you details. Short version of the story: life has been hyper busy since 1974. I’ve been writing steadily, and traveling to speak and promote new books, in Canada and Europe as well as the U.S. The 1980’s were spent researching a lengthy historical novel, “One Is the Sun.” This project meant that I left New York, where I’d lived since 1957, and moved back to my native West. Since 1981 I’ve lived all up and down California.
Right now I’m based in Glendale, CA, with my own publishing company, Wildcat Press. In the late 1980’s, with political activism, I started writing nonfiction and commentary as a corollary to my fiction, and have two nonfic titles in print, “The Lavender Locker Room” and “My West.”
Today, at age 78, I’ve slowed down a bit, physically, with arthritis. But many hours a day are still spent writing and researching. I don’t have “hobbies” in the traditional sense, but I do love to garden. Southern California is a great place to garden year-round (though the current drought has made this difficult).
I would be so interested in what brought about the writing of The Front Runner, and where you got your inspiration for the book, and for the characters in the book.
In the late 1960s, when I was still married and in the closet, I got involved in long-distance running, at a time when women were trying to break into this sport. In 1969, I ran unofficially in the Boston Marathon along with 11 other women, as a protest against the fact that we couldn’t enter. In the course of this female activism, I found myself running into other closeted people like myself, both women and men.
These encounters and conversations started me thinking about what was obviously a sizable presence of lesbians and gay men in amateur and professional sports. Yet little had been written about it. Indeed most straight people believed, for instance, that all gay men are very effeminate and uninterested in sports.
For me, a book usually starts with asking myself a question. In this case, the question was: “What would happen if a very talented gay runner made the Olympic team and got outed on the way to the Games?” The religious right was already making its first noises across America, and I was sure that American church conservatives would stop at nothing to keep this “abominable” person from representing the U.S. at the Games.
Around 1972, the “Front Runner” story first shaped up as one about two women — a coach and her runner. I wrote some chapters only to realize that it wasn’t going to work. In the early 1970s, in real life, sports were way behind the curve where women were concerned, and there were no women track coaches yet. So the story wouldn’t be believable. This was why I decided to re-do it from the viewpoint of a male coach, Harlan Brown.
As he emerged in my imagination, Harlan was very conservative himself – raised on the Bible, a military veteran – the kind of person who would find himself in maximum anguished conflict with his own ingrained values in order to let himself love another man. In the gay fiction published by then, many of the male characters were liberals, so I felt it was important to explore the inner conflicts of a conservative man battling to accept himself.
Distance runner Billy Sive, on the other hand, had to be a child of the Youth Revolution – which guaranteed more possibilities for attitude battles and conflicts between himself and the coach. Open long-distance running was full of young college-age runners I knew, so there was lots of opportunity to find real-life inspiration for Billy’s quirks of character.
When you wrote The Front Runner, did you realize that it would be as popular as it became, and had you already planned on writing Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Boy, or did that come about because of the popularity of the first?
When I wrote “The Front Runner,” I had already been working in the book business for many years. I knew that when you publish a book, there are no sure things. The history of books in the U.S. is littered with surprises – obscure little titles that suddenly skyrocketed to stardom, and books by major celebrities that flopped in spite of major promotion.
So I had to proceed on my own convictions about the value of my story, a step at a time. First, get the book written. Second, proceed towards divorce and the freedom to come out. Third, pray that my literary agent would like the book. “The Front Runner” was a quantum leap from my first novel! I had no idea if the agency would agree to handle such an in-your-face gay story.
Fourth, get a publisher. All those things did happen – indeed, William Morrow was the first publisher that my agent submitted the Front Runner manuscript to, and we had a contract in a week.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, when “The Front Runner” was still selling heavily in paperback, and going into numerous foreign-language translations, and the fan mail still coming in, that I began to realize how popular it had become.
The two sequels had to happen on their own timeline. In the 1970s, William Morrow and I had actually planned to do “Billy’s Boy.” But the book turned out to be un-workable, since we’re in the 1970s, and I was writing about a character who was a teen in the 1990s. What would the U.S. be like for teens in the ‘90s? I couldn’t predict, and was unwilling to put my byline on something
that amounted to science fiction. So we abandoned the project, and I just…waited.
When the 1990s finally arrived, it was time to write “Billy’s Boy.” But I realized that a second novel was needed to bridge the characters through the 1980s. That bridge book was “Harlan’s Race,” which I published in 1994 with Wildcat Press. Only then did I write and publish “Billy’s Boy.”
I know this may be a touchy question, and you are welcome to tell me it’s none of my business, but with all the interest in a film of The Front Runner, and knowing how the rights to the film have been transferred from hand to hand, including Paul Neman’s to name one of several, and eventually back to yours exclusively, are there still dreams of turning the book into the movie it should be?
Definitely yes, there are still dreams. The interest in a Front Runner film is still strong, and I’m optimistic that a deal will show up that is the right fit for the story.
Incidentally, Paul Newman never actually purchased the rights – he just had an option for a year.
Another question I have is about your thoughts on being the first author in the m/m genre to reach the New York Times Bestseller list. Can you tell us what it felt like at the time, and how it still feels, and how it affects you and your life?
The bestseller breakthrough of TFR came as a complete surprise. As I said — nobody can predict for sure how a given book will do. Fortunately, in this case, William Morrow believed in the story and promoted it heavily. Critics and and bookstores and book buyers responded. “Gays in sports” was a new subject in 1974, and people wanted to know more. Also, Morrow promoted it as a love story, which appealed.
Today, it’s amazing for me to think that “The Front Runner” is 40 years old this year. Sad to say, the battles for and against LGBT people in sports (and elsewhere) are still happening, which means that the Front Runner story is still timely.
And finally, I am wondering if there is anything that I missed that you may want to share with us regarding the book, the series, other books or publications you would have us check out, or just some other thoughts you may have?
The question of same-sex marriage was an important thread in “The Front Runner.” I was probably one of the first authors to write about marriage equality.
Later novels of mine have dealt with a range of religious issues. In 1976, I published “The Fancy Dancer,” about a young Catholic priest wrestling with his clear awareness that he’s gay. This book was also a bestseller. In 1978 came “The Beauty Queen,” where the characters are involved in politics and dealing with Protestant homophobia.
In 2001 I did “The Wild Man,” inspired by the years I spent in Spain during the 1960s. Spain was still a fascist dictatorship then, with the Catholic Church in complete control of the country’s sensibilities. The Franco government was very homophobic. So I wanted to explore the muffled anguish of four young Spaniards — two gay men and two lesbians — who were trying to have relationships amid the threat of what would be done to them if they were caught.
In short, I’ve hammered on religion a lot. In the new novel in progress, titled “Wrong Side of the Tracks,” I’m going to move to some other issues.
Thank you again so very much for doing this interview for me. I am such a fan, have read the books numerous times, and consider you one of the heroes of the gay rights movement due to the fact that this well-written book helped start the mainstreaming of the gay life into society, and into sports in particular. The fact that you made this gay love story into a warm, touching, and
emotional work of fiction made it a book that could be read and enjoyed by millions.
Thank you for what you have done! It is such an honor to speak with you.