OMAR LUQMAAN-HARRIS is a lucky man. Ever since he was a young boy, Omar’s parents prepared him to do ‘something’ great with his life. And he’s had his share of great moments. Winning a mock election vs. George H.W. Bush back in 1988 for his fifth grade portrayal of Jessie Jackson. Becoming the first black prom king at Alfred M. Barbe High School in Lake Charles, LA. Receiving a full academic scholarship to Florida A&M University.Once he got to college, things really started looking up. He earned a paid internship with Pfizer Inc. as a sales rep in Detroit, MI. A year and a half later he beat out 80 or so students for a coveted international marketing internship to live and work in Sao Paulo Brazil for 16 months. While in school, he created two companies with the help of talented friends. The first was Force 5 International, a campus organization with the mission of increasing the marketability of FAMU’s students through international exposure. In his last year of college he joined forces with two other friends to launch Verde, a natural skin care company. Upon graduating with his MBA at 25, he joined Schering-Plough corporation as a management associate (their fast-track leadership program). Four years later he became the youngest marketing director in the company, and two years later at the age of 31 became the company’s youngest Senior Marketing Director ever.But there was a flipside to Omar’s life, few people ever imagined. He returned to Tallahassee after 8 months in Detroit a changed man. Something had gotten into him and was lying in wait. Strange thoughts were filling his head in the quiet moments after midnight. Ideas were starting to take shape that scared the crap out of him. These ideas needed an outlet or they threatened to crack through his exterior veneer and shock the world. Omar needed to give these ideas a voice. One night it came to him. I’ll call him Qwantu Amaru – the lightbringer. A new persona was born.
Qwantu Amaru is now 12 years old. An avid reader, he aspires to write suspenseful page turners and socially significant literature like those of his writing influences Richard Wright, Harper Lee, Walter Mosley, Tananarive Due and Stephen King. Qwantu draws his inspiration from his modest upbringing in small towns and cities across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Florida. In addition to his first novel, ONE BLOOD, Qwantu has published five volumes of poetry: Awakening, Lightbringer, Lovelost, After the Storm, Midnight’s Shadow, and Awakening. Qwantu is an active member of the outstanding socially active poetry collective Black on Black Rhyme out of Tallahassee, FL. He has performed spoken word in poetry venues from New York to Los Angeles. For more information visit his website or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and as I completed the novel and turned off my Kindle, I went to my computer and saw that my very own novel, One Blood had completed processing in the Kindle Direct Publishing machine and was available for sale. I sat, dumbfounded that the book was actually (finally) out. I didn’t know what to do with myself to be honest.The reason for this reaction has a lot to do with the story behind the book itself.
I started One Blood in January 2000 (back then I was calling it Simmons Park) in my final year as an MBA student at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL. The world was a different place back then but already changing. George Bush had just stolen the 2000 Presidential election from Al Gore and there was this feeling that something bad was going to happen. It only took 18 months.
During that time, I moved from Tallahassee to Sao Paulo, Brazil where I lived and worked from May 2000 until August 2001. I didn’t get too much writing done, I must admit while living in Brazil but the poverty and inequality I saw there definitely resonated and would manifest in my writing years later. I returned to the states a month before 9/11 – a watershed event that got me focused and writing again. I started making real progress on my first draft. Then, 6 months later I realized I’d written myself into a corner and put the manuscript down for some time.I graduated with my MBA in May 2002 and started working in Philadelphia.
I was very inspired to be living in the city that birthed DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, The Roots, Jill Scott, and many others. I was performing spoken word at spots all over town and writing quite a bit when I wasn’t working or performing. I had to start all over, but I was okay with that. I had a new direction. The novel morphed from Simmons Park (a story of trying to make up for past actions) into Bad Blood (a story of two warring families).O
Over the next 4 years (and 8 months after Hurricane Katrina), I poured my heart and soul into the manuscript and in May 2006, I reached THE END for the first time. I felt sure I had a masterpiece on my hands (an unedited 600 page, 180,000 masterpiece – but masterpiece no less). I immediately began investigating literary agents I could pitch to get the book sold and decided to attend the Black Writer’s Reunion and Conference in Dallas, TX – a decision that would prove to be one of the most fortuitous of my life. While there I got a brief taste of success when the literary agent I pitched (badly) requested my whole manuscript! I was sure I was on my way.
I also met two people who would greatly help me on my publishing journey – Stephanie Casher and Michelle Chester. Michelle agreed to copy-edit my manuscript in a completely unreasonable 2 week time frame. After receiving her edits and making the changes, I submitted the manuscript to the literary agent. I also sent it out to 8 or so advance readers to get their feedback. And they all loved it!In August of 2006, I moved back to Sao Paulo and while waiting to hear back from the literary agent starting writing my second novel, The Uneasy Sleep of Giants. One day in October I got the notice that the agent was passing on my manuscript. So I took the feedback from my advance readers and went back in to Bad Blood to make some tweaks.
It took me another 7 months or so to get through the manuscript again as my day job was kicking my ass! In May 2007, I flew back to the US for work and linked up with Stephanie and her beau James W. Lewis (an author as well) in NYC and we had a fateful dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp in Times Square, where we made a pact that if the three of us hadn’t been published by the end of 2009, we’d publish ourselves. None of us believed that was even a remote possibility…there was no way we wouldn’t be published in 2 and a half years…
So, 2 and a half year’s later, LOL, I was sitting in Barnes And Noble in Hoboken, NJ (I’d moved back to the states in October 2008), working my way through the novel that had evolved from Bad Blood to One Blood after Bad Blood received 17 rejections from literary agents (too long, too confusing, too different) and some very hard to swallow feedback from Stephanie and professional manuscript consultant, Anita Diggs (poor characterization, poor pacing).
Barack Obama was celebrating the one year anniversary of his amazing election and I was feeling very yes you can-ish, when I picked up my cell and text Stephanie that she, James and I should start our own publishing company. But that’s another story…
Nearly 12 years had passed and I needed every single one of them to deliver a book of which I couldn’t be more proud. A dream was fulfilled.