First Draft

Her name is Ivonne Lamazares. You've probably never heard of her. Cuban immigrant, good student, dedicated teacher, devoted wife and mother. Oh, and something else. She just might be the world's next big thing in literary fiction.

Weeks ago Lamazares sent her editor almost 100 pages of manuscript, and Janet Silver telephoned to voice serious concerns about the direction the story was taking. That threw the author into another minicrisis. "Every time I wrote something, I'd think, 'How is Janet going to like this?'" she remembers.

Those who know Ivonne Lamazares have the confidence she sometimes lacks. "I have no doubt the book will be good, and that she will be famous," declares Elena Perez. "Although anyone who writes wants recognition, she is not writing for fame. She is very achievement-conscious. She's always got a goal."

Banks says he expects Lamazares's work to be "as successful as a serious book can be, which ought to bring her enough income to write a second book. That's all a writer can hope for."

Morris predicts that although Lamazares will initially be grouped with other writers who mine the immigrant experience -- Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Dandicat, Sandra Cisneros, for example -- "Ivonne could transcend category."

At the same time, Morris recognizes the changing reality of publishing today. "It would be nice if writing were about getting up in the morning and moving words around," she says. "But there is a powerful business aspect of writing, too, in this market-driven age of publishing and bookstore chains. There is pressure on any writer, and a lot of people to please. But at end of day, or in the morning, the novelist has to work like a poet -- slowly, through every line and every sentence. So much of writing is a certain determination to keep doing it, keep revising. And Ivonne knows that."

Of course, Gail Hochman, the agent, has an obligation to look beyond the process to the finished product. "When we get a final manuscript," she says, "I'll send it to ten or fifteen agents who handle foreign rights. I'll find a Hollywood agent to handle it out there, to take it to producers or directors.

"Right now I know the main character is vibrant, but until I see the rest of the plot, I can't tell how viable it is for the movies. Movies need a plot.

"But I don't worry about anything. If she writes a wonderful book, things will fall into place. The publisher will sell it to a book club, and sell the paperback rights. And the lack of a track record in the marketplace is great. She's a new discovery, and we get to launch her."

Talk like that makes Lamazares even more anxious. When the book contract was first offered, she and Kronen considered turning it down, simply to avoid upping the pressure. And even though they went for the money, to buy time to write, Ivonne admits, "I do freak out at times, and talk about giving the money back. If I didn't have Steve here to talk me out of it, I would."

The contract, the money, the pressure, the attention -- all can take a toll on a marriage, too. For months now a new collection of Kronen's poems has been bouncing from one university press to another. The rejection slips are piling up. But even if Kronen does succeed in bringing out a second book, a poet's reward comes only in prestige from a very small circle of readers.

"When all this happened to Ivonne, I said, 'Geez, I'm being eclipsed here,'" Kronen says one recent Sunday morning. He and Ivonne are sitting next to each other on the couch in the living room while Sophie is nearby in front of the television, eating peanut butter and bread and laughing out loud at a Barney video. "But that feeling only lasted 24 hours."

"I warned you that you would feel eclipsed," says Ivonne. "It's the money issue. But you're so involved. You keep me from going crazy with this, this -- mystery, this impulsive mother, and how is the narrator going to deal with her and find her way, her fate? Am I right?"

"Yeah," Steve responds. "And find some sort of resolution in her heart, the narrator with her mother."

"And the politics of Cuba," Ivonne continues. "The mother wants to leave, but that gets her a terrible job because she's outside the system. The mother acts out and the daughter tries to deal with that."

Steve: "And the mother is sort of narcissistic."
Ivonne: "She hates the revolution, but the daughter wants her to get her act together and the mother just won't do it."

With her eyes fixed on the middle distance, Ivonne brings her hand to her mouth and, distracted, nibbles on a fingernail. "I think it's going to come to a head," she muses.

There is lingering silence, and then Ivonne blurts, "Aaaah, it's just so slow. It's so slow!"

"She knocked off her dissertation in two months," Steve says.
"I thought working on a novel would be about the same," says Lamazares. "I didn't know."

From the Florida room, Sophie scampers in to report on the cartoon. "Barney ya!" she burbles, a bilingual exclamation that the video has ended.

"One of the things I've learned, and the hardest thing," says Ivonne, watching her daughter return to the television, "is to give up some of the conscious control over my work. Some of the process goes on subconsciously. So this morning I sit here and work on this scene, and I don't know when I look at it tomorrow if any of it will be any good. I need to have faith in the process."

"She plots everything out," says Steve. "That's why writing the novel terrifies her. It is not fully plotted."

"That's it," Ivonne agrees. And then she adds, in a declaration that could be about her novel or her life: "I just don't know how it's going to turn out.

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