Laura Warrell on her debut novel, “Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm”

Fall Preview Books

Sweet, sweet, lots of rhythm

By Laura Warren
Hall of Fame: 368 pages, $28

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After years of being heartbroken and disappointed in musicians, Laura Warrell has finally added them, alongside bartenders and skateboarders, to her list of “Off Limits Men”.

“These are the guys who will never commit,” Warrell, 51, said. Her last long involvement with a musician ended around 2013, just as she was beginning to write her first novel, “Sweet, sweet, lots of rhythm.”

Released in late September, the big fall release tells the story of jazz musician Circus Palmer and the many women he charms and devastates, including his teenage daughter. It was the first book Lisa Lucas acquired after taking over as editor of the famous Pantheon and Schocken books.

In a recent interview in his neighborhood of Los Feliz, Warrell talked about men, women and inspiration; conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired the novel?

It was a similar situation where I wanted something from the relationship that I wasn’t going to get and I wasn’t walking away, and I knew he had other women in his life.

Writers talk about writing because they want to understand their own life experiences. I also wanted to make sure I did a good job of humanizing Circus and making it clear why it’s compelling to these women, but I also feel frustrated when someone from a marginalized community is included in a story and that his humanity has been glossed over in favor of centering a character that we have always centered.

So it came more from a desire to tell the story of women who have and will continue to be in relationships like this.

The plot unfolds through the voices of these aggrieved women. Why structure it this way?

[I wanted] women each have a moment in the spotlight, but I think that also reflects the music, especially jazz, where you have a continuous beat, which you might call the narrative thread of a novel, that’s consistent throughout , and you have each player took a solo – taking that initial harmony and doing something of their own.

That’s how I think about structure. All of the women, even Koko, her daughter, are looking for an experience and a connection that they don’t get, and so each of them takes a solo and talks about what it is and how it impacted their life.

Why did you choose jazz as the medium of the novel?

It’s a very intricate, intricate and challenging kind of music, which would make Circus, as someone who’s dedicated his life to it, more interesting and fascinating for women.

The sacrifices you have to make to be a good jazz musician suggest to me a unique kind of heart, psyche, spirit that I thought would make for a complex character to explore. I also like the idea that jazz no longer occupies the place it once did in culture. One of the things Circus faces throughout the book is people asking him, “Why do you play jazz?” Who still listens to jazz?

Even though the book is about women, I wanted the reader to understand why they gravitated towards him; it wasn’t just that he was handsome and sexy, but that he was fascinating, because that’s how I feel about jazz.

Irene B. Bowles