Spring is absolutely here finally! It seems like we can say goodbye to the cold weather for a while now. So, we decided to treat you this month. In April the subject of HaarlemTalks is a very special someone! Meet Buan Boonaca, an American author whose book, Accumulation has been launched just recently on Amazon. His reasons to move to the Netherlands was love and even though his relationship didn’t last, he found true love eventually, and a happily ever after in Haarlem! Please welcome him and our first special edition interview with Buan Boonaca, a Haarlem expat, and a writer.
1. Where are you from?
I’m from Orange County in Southern California.
2. Why did you leave your home country?
Due to some naïve decisions, I made in my youth and because of someone’s misguided sense of vengeance, I went bankrupt and lost everything. I was familiar with Buddhism’s idea of letting go of attachments to the material world as the first step towards enlightenment and since I had nothing left, I figured I was already part way there and decided to become a Buddhist. I moved into a Buddhist centre in San Francisco where I worked 6 days a week making traditional books for the Tibetans in exile in Northern India and did a lot of meditating. While I was there I met a Dutch woman and we became romantically involved. Her visa was running out and she asked me to come stay with her in the Netherlands, so I agreed and I’ve been here ever since. On a side note, that relationship didn’t work out. I then met a beautiful Italian and we lived happily ever after.
3. Why did you choose to live in Haarlem?
When I met my Italian partner, she was living in Amsterdam and I was living in Leiden. When we decided to live together, we split the difference and chose Haarlem. Neither of us knew much about Haarlem at the time, but we quickly learned it was a great decision.
4. How do you cope with being away from home?
Since my adolescence, I’ve been constantly moving from place to place, never living anywhere for very long. I’ve lived all over the U.S., in South Korea, Eastern Europe… I think I’ve lived in Haarlem longer than anywhere else since my childhood and I really consider it home.
5. What do you do for a living?
I’m a writer. When I’m not writing, I do contract management for a software company.
6. Do you have a hobby or any other activity you enjoy doing?
I love trying out new restaurants. Whenever a new restaurant or café opens in Haarlem, my partner and I add it to our ever-growing list of places to eat. It seems there’s always someplace new opening in Haarlem, so that list is getting very long.
7. In your opinion what is the hardest thing being an expat?
I think the hardest thing is being an eternal outsider. You can learn the language and everything about the country, the culture, etc., but you’ll never truly be a part of it; you can’t become Dutch. That’s why most expats hang out with other expats. Over time we’ve kind of created our own culture within a culture.
8. In your opinion what is the best thing about being an expat?
What I just mentioned as the hardest thing about being an expat, is also the best thing. Being an outsider, you can really observe and learn about the culture in a way you couldn’t if you are a part of it. For me, to be a good writer, you have to be a spectator of life and being an outsider really helps with that. I mostly write about my home country of America and not living there allows me to see it very clearly.
9. Do you have a story about Haarlem and the locals? What is it?
Not too long after my partner and I moved to Haarlem, we heard someone banging on our door in the middle of the night. It was the fire department and they told us we had to evacuate immediately, a nearby house was on fire. We quickly put some shoes on and grabbed our coats and rushed outside. We joined our neighbours in the street (who were also all still in their pyjamas) and we stood there together in the rain and cold watching the fire, hoping it didn’t spread to our homes. One of the neighbours worked at a nearby school and told us she had a key. She invited us to the school so we’d have somewhere dry and warm to wait out the fire. While we waited, she made us some tea. Over tea, we were all able to meet each and bond over our shared experience. Luckily none of our homes was damaged, the fire had started in an unoccupied house. It was a very unusual way to meet the neighbours.
10. What are the things you love most about living in the Netherlands, Dutch people and the culture in general?
I love how well-organized everything is here. The Dutch are very pragmatic and have created a society where logical thinking (usually) rules and not morality, emotion or bureaucracy.
11. Do you have a favourite Dutch dish you would recommend?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a dish, but you need to try haring at least once. It’s like Dutch sushi. My favourite though is kibbeling with garlic sauce.
12. What are the things you like most about Haarlem?
For a relatively small city, it really has everything. Haarlem has an amazing choice of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and there are new ones opening all the time. And if you’re still craving something more, Amsterdam is only a short train ride away.
13. What is your favourite Haarlem moment?
Because of the logical rules in this country, my partner and I were able to purchase our own house here in Haarlem. It was a first for both of us and afterwards, we felt like real Haarlemmers.
14. What are the favourite places you like to go out to eat and/or drink in Haarlem?
Sugar and Spice Bites has the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. Each dish is truly authentic and prepared to order by a very friendly Indian family. If you like Indian food, you’ll love the food here.
The Patronaat Café (right next door to the main Patronaat theatre) is a great place to see live music. They always have an eclectic selection of bands and artists, and it’s usually free to get in.
15. What do you think are the must-see locations in Haarlem?
Besides just wandering around the historic center, which is beautiful, you need to stop by the Irrational Library. It’s the perfect gateway into the Haarlem music, art and literary scene. Stop in and have a chat with the owner and fellow expat Mr Weird Beard, he knows all the interesting goings on in Haarlem, in fact, he’s probably had a hand in organizing them.
16. If you could give only one piece of advice to fellow expats who are new to Haarlem what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to try everything.
Buan’s book, Accumulation is his debut novel. The idea of the book came to him in a dream before he even started writing. He considers writing as a spiritual act. He wants to reach wider audiences with his books and he is planning to write a lot more!
Accumulation is about Cam who notices strange tattooed symbols, vandalizing his appearance. Little he knows that this is the beginning of a transformative journey into the unknown.
1. How did you come up with the idea of Accumulation?
It came to me in a dream many years ago, during a time I wasn’t doing any writing. I tried to forget the idea, but it became lodged in my mind. Then I tried to pass the idea on to other writers, but it kept coming back to me, growing stronger each time. My only remaining option (besides a lobotomy) was to nurture the idea until it became a full-fledged book and was finally able to leave my mind and exist on its own.
2. Can you tell us more about your writing process?
When a story comes to me, I usually see it visually in my mind, so for Accumulation, I first wrote it as a screenplay. I then adapted my imagined film to novel form. I was working in an office while writing Accumulation, so I wrote it a page at a time during my lunch breaks. These days I write whenever and wherever I can find some focus and concentration.
3. Do you consider writing a spiritual process?
When you tell a story, you’re creating a separate reality for people to visit. The ability to create a world is a spiritual process we usually think is reserved for a higher power, but since man first gained the ability to speak, we’ve been emulating that power. I feel any act of creation is spiritual.
4. Do you know your characters by the time you start writing or do they develop as you write?
I casually know my characters by the time I begin writing, but as I write, I learn more and more about them. By the end, I have a very deep relationship with them.
5. What genre is Accumulation?
That’s a good question. Accumulation doesn’t fall neatly into any one genre. It’s a mystery thriller coated in dark humour, with a bit of spiritual philosophy sprinkled on top. Unfortunately, not being a specific genre is a terrible thing from a marketing standpoint. Publishers assume readers will only purchase books in the category of their interest – fantasy readers will only buy fantasy books, crime readers will only buy crime books, etc. This perpetuates divisiveness by also putting people into categories. One of the main themes of Accumulation is the idea that labels are limiting. We need to stop covering ourselves with labels if we want a more unified world.
6. What makes Cam, your main character special in your opinion?
When we’re first introduced to Cam, we learn how obsessed he is with his appearance, making him seem very shallow and not entirely likeable. But as we follow his extraordinary journey, we see more and more of ourselves in him. We begin to question how much of our identity is tied to our appearance. How would we react if we found ourselves in the same circumstances?
7. Is Accumulation your first book?
Accumulation is my debut novel.
8. What are your ambitions regarding your writing career? How and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to write and publish many more novels that will hopefully reach wider and wider audiences. I like to be surprised, so anything could happen 10 years from now. 10 years ago, I had no clue I’d be a writer living in The Netherlands.
9. Who would you recommend Accumulation to?
Accumulation is for anyone who enjoys reading entertaining novels that also make you think.
10. Where can we buy your book?
In Haarlem, you can purchase Accumulation at the aforementioned Irrational Library. In Amsterdam, you can purchase a copy at the Zwart op Wit bookstore. If you don’t like reading the old-fashioned way, you can go to Amazon and buy a copy for your Kindle.
11. Are you planning to have any book-related events in the near future in Haarlem?
I am planning on planning some events soon in Haarlem. You can occasionally check my Facebook page if you’re interested.
12. Why did you choose writing?
I never really planned to be a writer, it just ended up being the way I’m most comfortable expressing myself.
13. Can you imagine your book as a movie? Who could you imagine playing the part of your main character, Cam?
As I mentioned earlier, I imagined the story as a film before I wrote the novel. But I would be very curious to see someone else’s interpretation of my book. Maybe a side of the story I’ve never seen would be discovered. When I was first creating my Accumulation mind movie, I didn’t use known actors, but people from real life. If I had to choose an actor to play Cam, I think someone like Dave Franco could do a good job.
14. Do you already have plans for a new book?
At the moment I have plans for 6 books and counting. It’s a luxury to have so many ideas, but at the same time, it’s overwhelming to have all these books floating around in my head, waiting to be let out. My next project is quite ambitious, I am attempting to write a book that will help humanity free itself from its self-imposed misery.