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Qwerty's Interview with Rabindranath Maharaj

Rabindranath (Robin) Maharaj is the University of New Brunswick’s writer-in-residence for the 2016-2017 school year. He is available for consultation with any writer in the Fredericton community, not just students at the university! Robin’s office is located in Carleton Hall, room 243. He can be reached by email: Robin.Maharaj@unb.ca or by phone: 506 458 7400. Robin’s website can be found at https://rabindranathmaharaj.com/

As writer-in-residence for UNB and the Fredericton community, what kind of functions do you think can serve for new, emerging, and established writers here?

I believe there are two main functions of a writer-in-residence. The first is to give an appraisal of the writers’ – both from the campus and the wider community – works and offer suggestions for improvements. The second function has less to do with the mechanics of writing and is more concerned with the avenues towards publication, getting a sense of an audience and so on. The writer’s rationale for writing and his or her expectations play a part in my interactions and suggestions.

During our previous meetings, we’ve discussed writing practices, and how to be thinking about writing even when we’re not sitting directly in front of the page or computer (or typewriter if one is a hipster-wannabe). How does your own practice reflect this? Do you find yourself thinking about story structure, dialogue, or characterization when you’re doing things unrelated to writing?

It depends on the stage I am in my novel or story. There is a particular point in a novel where everything not connected with the book recedes and the story takes centre-stage. During this period, which occurs typically about two-thirds into the book, almost everything that I do, from the morning to the night, relates to the book. This is not always deliberate but it’s a necessary ‘zone’ where connections that weren’t apparent previously come into focus and all the thematic concerns are illuminated in a way they weren’t previously.

I always try to maintain a writing routine. Depending on the circumstances, it can range from between two to five hours a day. I find this routine important because once I settle before my desk or wherever, the worries of the day fall away. Little rituals such as choosing a specific time and place – tricking the mind - are important to me.

We’ve also talked about how different editors will look for different things between genres. Do you have any insight on what a literary fiction editor would look for versus a genre fiction editor?

A literary editor looks at language, or more precisely, voice. She or he is interested in originality, innovation and style. A genre fiction editor considers the commercial aspect and how well the book falls within the formula associated with that genre. These are generalizations, I know, and there are overlapping expectations.

At you reading for Odd Sundays (Fredericton’s longest-running, semi-monthly, poetry-and-more reading series,) you mentioned that once you know something too well, it becomes more difficult to write effectively. Would you care to elaborate on this?

This imperfect or incomplete sense of a place or idea or person provides the initial impetus to write and discover. So, there must also be curiosity. If I know too much about a place or a thing I tend to be either disinterested or I box myself in with all the knowledge and certainty at my disposal. The writing becomes prescriptive and clichéd and too assured. Thankfully I am ignorant of so many things. Writers, generally, are drawn towards incongruities.

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