By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In Steve and Ivonne's partnership, he was always the writer in the family and she was always the aspiring writer. That distinction began to dissolve when Ivonne realized she had been toiling in the wrong literary vineyard. "I had started to read Steve's poems by the time we were married," she explains, "and realized what the lady said was true: He's the real thing. But I just didn't have it."
In 1992 she signed up for "The Writer's Voice," a workshop taught by South Florida author John Dufresne (Love Warps the Mind a Little) at the Jose Marti branch of the YMCA. "And there," Lamazares says, "I began to learn the basics, like what is a scene. John would tell me, 'Take us there and write the scene. Don't report it, but have it happen, in a certain time frame, moment to moment.'
"I didn't understand this at all. One of the things wrong with my fiction was that I wasn't in scene. I was telling, not showing. There was no sensory information, just talking heads."
Pursuing fiction writing with characteristic resoluteness, Lamazares next enrolled in a course in narrative technique with Florida International University professor and writer James W. Hall (Bones of Coral), in which she began work on a short story.
"For the first time in my life I started writing something with no outline, and it was terrifying," she remembers. "I am someone who plots out life; I hate being in the dark. But I realized in Jim Hall's class that my writing was so much better without an outline, and I knew I would have to work this way if I wanted to write something worthwhile.
"I had insomnia. I wanted to have something in mind, to force the story to go in a certain direction. I started with the image of a building in Havana crumbling during the night, where you would wake up and find part of it missing. So I had an idea, of the people in the building, and I was writing about that, but I also had this voice that would come out, and I was trying to follow that voice. I was going from one word to the next, and it was terrifying."
In 1994 Kronen was invited to the Sewanee Writers' Conference as a scholar, meaning that in exchange for partial tuition he gave a reading and helped less accomplished writers. And that year he suggested that Ivonne go with him.
That also terrified her. "He had to talk me into this," she recalls. "I thought I was a very bad writer and that everybody was going to laugh at me. Nobody would like my Cuban stuff. I was very insecure."
Nonetheless Lamazares submitted the short story she had begun in Hall's class, and she was accepted. Paired at Sewanee with Banks, Lamazares says it didn't take the white-haired writer long to get his pencil out. "He said it had some problems," recalls Lamazares. "He said I need to tighten the language. So he took one paragraph and crossed out half the words, and he read it back and it sounded great. I was amazed that he could do that."
Neither Ivonne nor Steve went to Sewanee in 1995, staying home instead for the birth of Sophie. But they were back the following summer with the baby in tow, and Ivonne had a new manuscript to work on. Mary Morris remembers when she first saw it. "There was an authority of voice that seemed so unusual," she says. "I have been teaching for 25 years and I almost never find this."
Morris introduced Lamazares to Gail Hochman, an agent with the New York firm Brandt & Brandt. "I go to these conferences looking for new talent, but every time I go I assume I won't find people to represent," says Hochman, who speaks in a rapid-fire, run-on way that suggests the hurried pace of big-league commerce. "So I do some educating, just to tell people who we are, how we think, how the publishing world works. You meet some wacky types, strange folks at weekend conferences, but Sewanee is by manuscript submission, and I've been back for four years."
Hochman, a veteran literary agent who also represents Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent) and Dennis McFarland (The Music Room), among others, says she found Lamazares "a very thoughtful, humble, nonarrogant person, unassuming, gracious, a lovely, unspoiled person, and I thought, 'If she has talent, wonderful.'"
Right from the top of the 40-page draft she read, Hochman recalls, she did find talent, shining through "a musical prose that I just fell for immediately. You get a lot of information in paragraphs without being told you are being fed information. There is a huge life force, a positive spirit in the characters.
"I remember that Sophie, who I guess was one year old then, was climbing all over her, this tiny little baby, and I thought here is this incredibly talented person who probably has four minutes a week to write, and if this stuff is so good, what can I do to help get her some more time? So I thought, 'Buy her a year of baby-sitting!'"