I was born in 1936 and grew up on that ranch. Today it's known as the Grant-Kohrs ranch at Deer Lodge, MT. My parents were Conrad Kohrs Warren and Nellie Flinn Warren. I have one brother, Conrad Warren II.
The ranch was one of the first to be established in the Pacific Northwest — by mixed-blood Canadian trader John Grant, who settled in the Deer Lodge Valley in 1860. He sold the ranch to my greatgrandfather Conrad Kohrs in 1866.
Kohrs and his half-brother John Bielenberg were German immigrants from Holstein, then part of Denmark. They launched a lifetime partnership, and were among the pioneers in crossing Spanish and English cattle in search of an ideal type for grass finishing and winter ruggedness in the Northwest. By 1900 they expanded their holding to 50,000 deeded acres and 2 million acres of leased grazing. For a time, in the early 1900s, the CK shipped more beef to the Chicago stockyards than any other American ranch.
After Kohrs and Bielenberg died, my father Conrad Warren took over the ranch in 1932. He was a pioneering rancher in his own right, who put to work the latest in everything from range conservation to veterinary medicine. Both my parents had a passion for Western history that rubbed off on me as I grew up. My mother's passion, in particular, would later serve to protect and preserve the ranch as a future historic site.
Ethnically and spiritually speaking, my family drew its red threads from all over the Western Hemisphere. On my dad's side, there were English Quakers, German Mennonites, French Huguenots, Irish Methodists, Sephardic Jews and Cherokees. My dad's father, Dr. Otey Yancey Warren, had left West Virginia, where his side of the family spent several generations, and migrated west to Montana, where he married into the Kohrses. On my mother's side, it was a shade less mixed — mostly Irish Freemasons and Norwegians whose bent in politics and religion somehow didn't get on the record. Her father, Roland Flinn, worked for the Milwaukee Railroad most of his life.
I started writing at age 10, and told everybody who would listen that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. My first stories were done in the ranch office, hunting-and-pecking on the big Underwood typewriter with an extra-wide carriage for cattle and horse pedigrees. The carriage made an extra-satisfying thunk! when you hit the return lever. I always loved that sound.
Both my parents, especially my mother, encouraged my writing bent. Their liberality on this point was remarkable in a time when women were mainly encouraged to be housewives, secretaries, nurses or airline "stewardesses." My first efforts were short stories — mostly (and predictably) about wild horses and ranch life.
The interest in writing came up as naturally as the grass in the fields. My family's library was well-stocked with classics and current bestsellers, including that new-fangled postwar thing called nonfiction. In fact, the home library still included venerable morocco-bound German-language tomes that my greatgrandmother Augusta Kohrs had brought over from the old country. The family's oral tradition was strong, and resulted in endless storytelling at the dinner table.
So all that word magic conjured a lifetime fascination with following the many trails of Western history. They are as many-laced as the cow trails and game trails across a mountainside. The trails included recognition of the many Western families like mine with a blended heritage, and many ways to look at Life.
In addition to helping my dad on the ranch, I participated in high-school rodeo, including that new sport called women's barrel racing. On the print-media front, I jumped into publishing activities at Powell County High School — editor of the school paper and yearbook. Printers' ink was definitely my thing.
Already in high school, I knew somehow that I was "different," and had my first closet relationship with a girl in town. But it was not a time when Americans talked openly about other brands of sexuality, so I stayed firmly in the closet till 1973.
Like many Montana kids of my time, especially those from the older families, I got sent "back to the states" to college. In 1954, my first year at Stephens College in Missouri, I won the Atlantic Monthly College Fiction contest with a short story about ranch life titled "Slave of the Sky." I also continued working on publications at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in Purchase, NY, where I edited the campus literary magazine, The Essay. Graduation came in 1957.
Later in 1957, I married Yuriy Tarnawsky, a Ukrainian émigré writer that I had met through a Ukrainian student friend at Manhattanville. His family were World War II DPs (displaced persons) who settled in New Jersey. They had fled western Ukraine to avoid living under communism after the Soviets occupied it. This was the beginning of my involvement with émigré literary life for 16 years. Though I was never actually to visit Ukraine, the country fascinated me with its vast steppes — grasslands and wheatfields and histories of galloping Cossacks — so reminiscent of my West.
Throughout the 1960s, I kept to short stories and poetry. U.S. poetry magazines were not very interested in my work. Having learned Ukrainian, I published three books and most of a fourth in that language with a New York-based Ukrainian poetry co-op, the New York Group. Later on, my work became known in Europe, and appeared in translations of émigré Ukrainian writing — in German, Czech, Polish, Portuguese. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1989 and Ukraine became independent, a few of my Ukrainian works were published there in anthologies.
Meanwhile, in 1959 I got a copy-editor job at the Reader's Digest, working at the magazine's corporate headquarters near Mt. Kisco, New York. Like many Montanans of my generation, I definitively left my home state to make a career elsewhere. At that time, RD was still at the peak of its power and prestige. Professionally speaking, it was a great place to work, though ideologically I evolved into one of the staff liberals who were forever writing memos in favor of more diversity in magazine content. In 1964, I was promoted to book editor, working on both nonfiction for the magazine, and fiction for the Condensed Book Club. I continued in that capacity for the next 17 years, occasionally writing an article for the RD magazine on the side.
In the mid-60s, my husband and I took a sabbatical from our jobs and lived in Spain for two years. We fell so in love with Spain that we bought property there and returned to spend a month of vacation every year. There I worked with the Digest's Spanish edition, Selecciones, assisting the staff in developing various original book and article projects of interest to their own readers. As a Westerner who grew up in ranching, I found many points of connection in Spain, especially with the horse and cattle industry.
By 1971, my personal creativity had expanded to full-length fiction, and I published my first novel — The Last Centennial — with Dial Press. My agent in those days was John Hawkins at Paul Reynolds, Inc. My editor was Bill Decker, who really knew the West. The book was my way of reconnecting with those little voices that I'd first heard singing in the grass. It consisted of three novellas about three different people in Cottonwood, a small Montana town. Their different stories were linked by a common time and place, namely the town's 100th anniversary celebration.
Last Centennial got excellent reviews, but didn't go much of anywhere.
By 1973, with the gay-rights movement happening, I had decided to come out and divorced Yuriy. The following year, with John Hawkins' help, I published my first gay-themed novel, The Front Runner, with William Morrow. My editor at Morrow was Jim Landis. It became the first such novel to get on the New York Times and Time Magazine bestseller lists. Though set in the world of Olympic sports, TFR managed to have a Western thread, which would continue — whether thicker or thinner — through most everything gay-themed that I wrote.
Publishing The Front Runner meant coming out personally. This I did in an interview with the New York Post sometime in mid-1974. I had wondered if my conservative employers would have issues with this. To my surprise, the Digest seemed pleased that one of their editors had a book on the bestseller list, and they ran an article about me in the company magazine.
In 1976, I returned to the fictional Cottonwood locale with another national bestseller, The Fancy Dancer, also published with Morrow. TFD was about a small Montana town and its struggling Catholic parish. The young priest there was struggling with his closet attractions to men, and his changing relationship with cow-country parishioners as he became more self-honest.
Meanwhile, my family's ranch had been following its own course. Since my brother Conrad and I had gone into other professions (he to the Air Force and later to engineering and inventing), my parents pondered what to do. My mother's suggestion: get the attention of the National Park Service, which was beginning to add small parks of historical interest to its system. My dad agreed that this was a good idea. In the early 1970s, the National Park Foundation acquired a quarter section that comprised the original Grant-Kohrs area of the ranch, complete with 19th-century documents, structures and artifacts, making it a time-capsule of ranch history.
In 1977 the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site had its grand opening for the public, with my dad cutting the ribbon.
Later on, after my mother died in 1979, the Park Service acquired another 2000 acres of the home ranch that adjoined the town of Deer Lodge. My dad retained a lifetime estate in the house and adjacent horse barns, and lived there till he passed on in 1993.
In 1980 I left the Digest and moved to California to become a full-time writer. I had just signed a contract from Random House/Ballantine to write One Is the Sun, a historical novel set in Montana Territory of the mid-1800s. It was to be based on the story of a mixed-blood woman who was a powerful Medicine Chief. My agent on this book was Morton Janklow.
Meanwhile, I did freelancing on the side, with a focus on historical and contemporary Western material. Articles on this subject were published in The Reader's Digest, Persimmon Hill, American West, The Californians, Montana Magazine, Denver Post, Modern Maturity, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Métis Courier and others.
For the Digest, I did a piece about the ranch, titled "Saga of an American Ranch," that won the 1982 Western Heritage Award for magazine writing given by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame that year. This was the same year that my father was inducted into the Hall of Fame (greatgrandfather Kohrs was already a Hall of Famer.)
In 1991 One Is the Sun was published by Ballantine as a paperback original. The publisher didn't promote it, so the book didn't go much of anywhere at first. Only later, by word of mouth, did OITS find its readership.
By then I was unhappy with trade publishing over various contract issues, notably creative control and accountability on royalty bookkeeping.
Starting in 1994, I got most of my book rights reverted, then licensed any that I couldn't retrieve, and went into business as a small independent publisher, Wildcat Press, with a business partner, Los Angeles media specialist Tyler St. Mark. Fittingly, Tyler is from an old Arizona ranch family himself — namely the Mannings, who once owned the Canoa, one of the biggest cattle outfits in the Southwest. We capitalized our new company partly with funds from my mother's trust. This was fitting, since Mom had always supported my writing career so strongly.
Wildcat Press published two gay-bestselling sequels to The Front Runner, namely Harlan's Race and Billy's Boy. We got almost all my previous titles back in print. These were followed by a new gay-themed novel in 2001, The Wild Man. This story was set mostly in a 1960s Spain awakening to change, but had its thread of Western interest.
Next came my first nonfiction book, The Lavender Locker Room, with profiles of LGBT greats in sports. It won an Independent Publishers Gold Medal, and was a finalist in the Benjamin Franklin awards. As always, the Western thread continued with a piece on gay cowboys that was widely reprinted. This article reflected my connection with gay rodeo, where I had been grand marshal or special guest at several IGRA rodeos up and down California.
Now in its 16th year, Wildcat Press has gotten some recognition, including an ACLU award as a "champion of free speech." This was for our involvement as a plaintiff in the 1996 lawsuit against the Justice Department over the Communications Decency Act, which resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the CDA.
Several of my titles have been translated into foreign languages — notably The Front Runner, which has appeared in a total of 12, including Complex Chinese and Ukrainian.
Today I live in the San Fernando Valley, and continue my work with diverse types of writing — including political blogging and new books in the works.
My Montana ties are still strong. Though my parents have crossed the Great Divide, I still have cousins and friends around the state. I enjoy a warm relationship with the Park Service staff at the GKRO, and serve on the board of directors of the ranch's Grand-Kohrs Ranch Foundation, a nonprofit that does fundraising for the park. I've been grand marshal of Montana Pride, and lectured around the state on various subjects — books, literature, free speech, LGBT people, mixed-blood people and human rights.
Organizations and institutions that invited me have included the Montana ACLU, Montana Authors Coalition, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana State College in Butte, Montana State University in Missoula, and the Myrna Loy Cultural Center in Helena. I've done events at public libraries, including the William Kohrs Memorial Library in my home town.
Today I'm moving into film development, hopefully to produce some feature films and documentaries that focus on lifetime interests of mine — including documentaries about my West.
I'm also active in the biomedical sector of the West — working with BioClonetics Immunotherapeutics, Inc., a Texas-based biotechnology company. BioClonetics is engaged in the development of new technologies for use in both vaccines and treatments for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases caused by retroviruses. The BioClonetics approach also has potential applications in veterinary medicine. My dad would be pleased to know about it.
Last but not least, I'm working on my autobiography, to be titled Girl Grassroots.