After 25 years of working to get published, Laura Warrell’s (’95) debut novel, Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm, quickly garnered attention.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful … This was a hard, hard, hard thing. Decades of my life, my entire adult life, but it happened. The dream came true,” said Warrell.
For Warrell, having her first novel published was a long time coming. She has wanted to be a novelist since she was 5 years old, putting together book covers with construction paper. Growing up in Ohio, she also enjoyed acting — both pursuits allowed her to escape to a more exciting life, she said.
Warrell originally pursued a Theatre degree at Emerson, but by the end of her first year, she changed her major to an interdisciplinary degree focused on creative writing, print journalism, and the humanities.
“[Acting] wasn’t what nourished my soul. I didn’t even think about writing as a career, because it was just what I did, and so I think it was more just recognizing that I’m a writer,” said Warrell.
Warrell said longtime Writing, Literature & Publishing Professor Sam Cornish, Boston’s first poet laureate, had a great impact on her when she took a class with him during her senior year.
“I was working on a manuscript that was not good, in retrospect, but he really gave me the space to do what I wanted. But what was good about him allowing me to do that… is that I learned through making mistakes. I learned through discovery,” said Warrell.
After graduation, Warrell married and moved to France, where she wrote an unpublished book. She and her husband moved back to New York while she worked “day jobs.” A few years later, Warrell got divorced and moved back to Europe, living in Spain and Germany, where she wrote another book, and kept trying to get published.
“I think I was living in a fantasy of, ‘Oh, you just write books, and you send then back to New York, and you’re published,’” said Warrell.
Warrell moved back to the United States and spent the following years rebuilding her life and getting an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Warrell finished Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm in 2013, while she was finishing her MFA, and began the familiar process of shopping it out to publishers. She sent more than 50 query letters to agents, and sent the manuscript to editors and book doctors to edit and polish her work.
“It wasn’t just, ‘Oh gee, my dream isn’t going to come true,’ it was, ‘This is who I think I am, I was put on the earth to write. This is what gives me joy and meaning. This is where I create meaning in my own life and without it, I don’t feel like my life has meaning,’” said Warrell.
After two years of pitching to agents, Warrell finally connected with Chad Luibl. She got a book deal with Pantheon and Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm was released in September.
In the book, several jilted women narrate the story of Boston jazz musician and womanizer Circus Palmer. Calling herself “unlucky in love,” Warrell uses her writing to explore romantic relationships.
“Joan Didion has said this, Alice Walker has said it: We write to understand ourselves, our lives, the situations that we’re in … So, I think my area of focus, just because it’s the area of my life that’s been most complicated and difficult, has been romantic relationships,” said Warrell.
Warrell made Circus Palmer a talented jazz player, drawing from the notion that although musicians have reputations for not being loyal partners, it is “very sexy” to watch them play.
“To me, he epitomizes and really fleshes out that person that most of us have had or will have in our lives, who is just so compelling that we can’t stop ourselves from engaging with them, but they’re also not going to give us what we want,” said Warrell.
The book features Circus, but gives voice to the women impacted by his behavior.
“Stories often focus on the man. Why can’t he commit? Or why does he treat women this way? And we’re supposed to sympathize with him and often do… I just kind of felt like, ‘What about the women? What about how this relationship feels to them?’” said Warrell.
Part of Warrell’s goal in writing Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm was to encourage readers who are in unsatisfying relationships to think about why they are in that relationship and to do something about it. “It’s worth examining so that you can be happy and not be hurting,” Warrell said.
Currently residing in Los Angeles, Warrell is on sabbatical as an adjunct professor of English at California State University – Dominguez Hills and Loyola Marymount University to promote Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm and to work on her next book.
“I’m very grateful because this is who I am, and this is making my life meaningful, and any success means I get to keep doing it and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.” said Warrell.