Author and CSUDH Department of English faculty member Laura Warrell has found that much of her writing revolves around a similar theme. “Everyone is interested in certain aspects of living, which keep showing up in their work,” she says. “I’m noticing that my patterns are about a desire to connect, a desire to have intimacy, and the blockages and challenges around that, whether they’re societal or internal.”
That striving for connection is one of the major themes of Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm, Warrell’s debut novel, which was published Sept. 27 by Pantheon Press. “These are characters who are trying to connect. I think that we all are like that. Every woman I know has been in a relationship with a person that she wanted more from. I wanted to talk about and explore that.”
Warrell’s novel focuses on the women in a philandering jazz musician’s life. “He’s a sort of stereotypical musician who prioritizes his music and himself. He has a lot of women in his life, but doesn’t really give them what they want,” she explains.
“We typically hear these stories told from that Don Juan’s perspective. There’s not as much acknowledgment of what it’s like on the other side of that relationship, when you’re the woman who wants something more. Maybe not love and marriage, but some acknowledgment of their humanity. So I decided to write a book about those women.”
Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective—from the women, from the musician’s 14-year-old daughter, and even from the musician himself. Warrell says that writing from so many points of view was challenging, fun…and exhausting.
“There were definitely times when I was surprised by who it was easier to get into,” says Warrell. “There are characters who I think are nothing like me and they were really hard to write. But I think for writers, part of what makes us want to do this work is a genuine interest in and openness to people. So I feel like even someone who I detest, I am able to kind of understand where they’re coming from. I think that that’s how you grow as a writer.”
A native of Ohio, Warrell graduated from Boston’s Emerson College with a BA in creative writing and journalism. She lived abroad for several years after graduating, teaching English as a second language in Paris, Madrid, and Berlin. When she returned to the States, Warrell completed her MFA in creative writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
She went on to take teaching positions at a few schools in the Boston area, including Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts College of Art, and University of Massachusetts Boston. “It was amazing teaching there. Eventually, though, I decided I wanted to be in a warmer place—in terms of both the weather and the people,” she laughs. When a friend and colleague recommended she join the English department at CSUDH, it was a great fit. Warrell has been with CSUDH since 2018.
Under normal circumstances, Warrell would be teaching composition to first-year students this semester. But Pantheon has her on a busy book tour that will take her across the country, with stops in literary hotspots like New York, Boston, Washington DC, and San Francisco. “This is my first time with any of this,” she says. “It will be exciting and different to spend six months talking about my own work. It will be fun, but also a bit nerve-wracking—I’m on the other side of it now. Rather than doing the writing, I’m the subject of the piece.”
Warrell and her book have been the subject of quite a few pieces as the book’s release gets closer. Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm has been highlighted in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Vanity Fair magazine, and was named a “Best Fall Book” by People. The author has also been featured in articles in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
For the time being, Warrell is enjoying what may be her last moments of being under the radar. “After you have a book out in the world, people have expectations and views of your talents that might find their way into your head as you try to do your work.
“It’s not as pure and organic when there are other voices in your head. I don’t know what that’s going to feel like. One of my goals is to try to get as much done on my next book as I can before I start getting bad reviews—or good ones,” she laughs. “But it’s been great so far. For the next several months of my life, I get to just be a writer. It’s really nice.”