Lindork’s Lists – Q&A #13: Omar Mouallem

Lindork’s Lists: Q&A #13: Omar Mouallem

Originally published to newsletter subscribers on Sept 19, 2021

The thirteenth person I’m profiling in my new paid newsletter subscriber Q&A series is:

Author and filmmaker Omar Mouallem

Q&A with Omar Mouallem - Lindorks Lists
My Q&A with Omar Mouallem first went out to paid newsletter subscribers on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021.

Getting to know Omar Mouallem:

Omar Mouallem is a 36-year-old author, journalist, filmmaker, educator, and Fake Dean of a fake university (lol!) Omar tells true stories in memorable ways, and teaches others how to do the same. He’s a super respected, Edmonton-based writer and I’ve actually known Omar for a *very* long time.

I first met Omar I believe nearly 16 years ago, when I was still in high school. My drama teacher suggested I participate in a video project that had put a call out for young Asian actors and Omar was the director! Talk about a small world. I didn’t know that just a few years later (as I entered journalism and television broadcasting), our paths would continue to cross working in the media field. I also pray that the tape for that video never gets released because I’m sure it would be *very* cringey (Omar did his best to direct me but I don’t think I was very good, HA!)

Anyway, it can’t be understated how talented Omar is and that’ll be very evident as you read this Q&A, which happens to come out the same week as Omar’s new book Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas, AND new documentary film The Last Baron. Omar is also currently running a crowdfunding campaign to turn his doc into a feature length film, which you can support here.

I’m grateful for Omar’s time, and the insights he shares for subscribers here, about things like work ethic, ambition, and storytelling.

Learn more about Omar in our Q&A below and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or visit his Website.

Photo credit: Curtis Comeau

Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Omar:

  1. Can you talk about the work you do? I know you have lots of great projects you’re involved in, so maybe a bit of a breakdown on a few of them?

  2. What’s something that people might know about, that may be surprising, about A) working on a movie B) being a fake dean of a fake university, C) writing a book, D) pitching to big publications?

    • People are surprised to learn just how little time a writer spends writing. The bulk of the work that goes into any book or article is reading, interviewing, and just thinking.

    • I say jogging is my hobby, but actually it’s part of my writing process; it’s where I let my brain loose to explore whatever story I’m writing or come up with new ideas. (And, yes, I am one of those people who records voice memos.)

    • I can always tell when I’ve tried to skip the “thinking” step, because the moment I sit down to write, I feel stuck. But if I’m well prepared — I’ve interviewed and researched thoroughly, pondered them, revisited my notes, pondered some more, jotted down a skeletal outline — then the writing process is brief. In total, maybe 10 percent of the whole process.

  3. Can you share some memorable moments or ‘successes’ for one (or more) of your projects that you’ve been proud of?
    • I’m very proud of my new book, Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas. It was hard to write not in the least because it tries to condense such an expansive history, but because it stitches that history together with present-day stories and personal memoir.

    • I wanted to normalize western Muslim communities past and present, but I also never want to write anything that’s not accessible to general readers, which people look down upon, especially academics. They don’t appreciate how truly harder it is to connect general audiences with pedagogical books.

    • This book kicked my ass. And that I came out of it with a coherent story that so far has been very well received is something I’m proud of just on principle.

  4. Can you share challenging moments, obstacles or even failures, you’ve had to overcome in the projects you’ve been involved in, or in your journey as a journalist and author?

    • I never went to Journalism school, earned a degree, or got a relevant diploma, but I realized that in creative fields the most valuable piece of paper is your resume.

    • So I just hustled to build it up, freelancing freebie and meagre-paying stories until two years later I had more experience than journalism graduates auditioning for the same gigs.

    • Luckily, I had patient editors and mentors willing to take a chance on me, hold my hand a little bit in the beginning. I don’t know for sure why they were so kind to me, but I assume it was my hustle that they appreciated in return.

  5. Can you share advice for others on pursuing their dreams, or becoming a professional writer, creating a business around yourself and your interests?

    • If you’re lucky enough to be a child of immigrants, as I am, then you’ve probably bore witness to the kind of strong work ethic required to thrive in creative industries. Tap that immigrant ambition and channel it in your pursuit of stories, sources, and truth. It’s the edge you need in this climate.

    • For instance, my dad, a successful restaurateur with tenth grade education, told me something to the effect of, “Walk with your head up, work with your head down.” He immigrated alone to Canada at 16 knowing he had to carry himself confidently to overcome prejudices, but he never wasted energy comparing himself to anyone who might distract him from reaching his full potential.

  6. Could you articulate “why you do what you do?” Why are you passionate about writing? Storytelling? The specific topics that you write about?

    • I really don’t know why storytelling is my passion, but it always has been. I attempted to write my first books in elementary school, my first screenplay at Grade 10, and I started freelancing articles while I was still a film school student. Although it took many more years before I’d author books and make documentaries, it was just something I’ve always felt compelled to do. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a daydreamer with an overactive brain. My mind is always racing, and I think that storytelling is my way of catching those thoughts, boxing them up, and shipping them out so that I don’t go crazy.

  7. Can you tell me about your hobbies! What do you for fun? What do you do when you’re not busy doing all the things in the previous question?

    • Since most of my day is in a chair, I try as much as possible to be on my feet during my spare time. My favourite hobbies are jogging or riding my bike—sometimes with a one-year-old on the front seat, or a four-year-old on the back seat, or both.

    • I like to cook, too. Nothing in particular — it’s more about having time to myself (and my favourite podcasts) in the kitchen. I also love watching movies and couldn’t be happier that movie theatres have reopened. I’ve been introducing my daughter to good horror movies, which I know sounds terrible, but she’s really into it creepy stuff!

  8. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work professionally, personally, or anything that I’ve missed that you’d like mentioned as part of this profile on you?

    • The same week my book is out, my directorial debut film is out! It’s called The Last Baron, and it’s a documentary about Burger Baron restaurants, that quirky little diner that somehow still exists in small towns across Alberta. People think it’s a corporate franchise—it’s not.

    • In fact, it’s so much more interesting than that. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say it’s a meme that exists inside this legal grey area between what franchise and independent business. There’s also a family connection — my parents ran a Burger Baron in High Prairie, which my brother now runs under a different name (but kept the same recipes).
Omar Mouallem Edmonton Author Filmmaker
You can watch The Last Baron on CBC Gem!

Wrapping up our Q&A:

  • What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix (or other streaming services) and why? 

    • Ramy (on Hulu and Crave) is one of the best written and original comedies in recent memory. Think of it as Masters of None but about an Arab-American family in New Jersey.

  • Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?

  • What is one of your favourite restaurants or stores you’d recommend in Edmonton?

    • I swear by the food at Paraiso Tropical, this Latin American market with hot food to-go. Imagine if 7-Eleven served five kinds of empanadas from across Central and South America, or three types of tamales, or soups and other dishes hard to find at a typical Mexican place… that’s Paraiso.

  •  What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?

    • There’s nothing more iconic than a small-town Burger Baron. Yes, there’s four in Edmonton and you really don’t have to leave the city to enjoy their mushroom burgers, but the most unique and delightful locations are in small towns like Mayerthorpe and Redwater. The people are so nice. The food is delicious, of course. But there’s just something so charming about how terrifically old-fashioned these restaurants still feel. It’s like walking back in time.

Thank you Omar for sharing your story!

You can connect with Omar on:

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