David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, has published three books: an award-winning memoir entitled Nazis & Nudists, a short-story collection called Jenny on the Street, and, his latest, an Amazon bestselling compilation of essays exploring life on a tropical island. He has also written and produced radio features, for which he was awarded a Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.
Haldane, along with his wife and two young children, currently divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where he writes a weekly column for the Mindanao Gold Star Daily called “Expat Eye.” A compendium of those pieces was published earlier this year under the title A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino, a book expressing the joys, triumphs, tribulations, exigencies, and hilarities of expatriate life. You can get it on Amazon.
What brought you to writing? Many years ago, living in a barren unheated apartment in Berlin, Germany, during the coldest winter months, I hit rock bottom. Specifically, I felt lonely, hopeless, abandoned, and extremely depressed at having to wear my fur coat inside and constantly seeing my breath as white wisps of steam. In utter desperation, I started writing letters to friends back home, especially an old girlfriend who’d given me the boot. It became a daily ritual that saved my life. I’ve been writing ever since.
Do you write in more than one genre? Having spent most of my life working as a journalist, I am naturally drawn to nonfiction. After getting laid off in what came to be known as the Mother of All Recessions, however, I later expanded my notion of nonfiction to include, well, things that weren’t entirely true. As in short stories. Mostly, though, I work somewhere between those two extremes in the realms of narrative nonfiction—i.e., stuff that reads like fiction but isn’t—and personal (often also narrative) essay, which pretty much describes my columns. These days, that’s where I really live.
Where do you write? I write wherever I have to, which can range from hotel rooms on my laptop to in bed on my cell phone. Where I prefer to write, though, is in the spacious office on the top floor of the dream house my wife and I built overlooking Surigao Strait at the northernmost tip of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. It has a 180-degree view of the ocean dotted with distant islands and, frankly, is the place wherein I was born to contemplate the blank page. The only distraction I allow is my two-year-daughter and her three-year-old cousin coming in to visit bearing cookies. They are especially fond of jumping on the couch to see whether they can reach the ceiling, a habit I find quite annoying but also hopelessly enchanting. And definitely uninterruptible.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Because most of my writing happens in short bursts, I am, by instinct, a pantser. The idea of plotting something long and complicated is terribly intimidating to me and, frankly, something I can’t even imagine ever doing. What has become an inevitable part of my process, however, is sometimes jotting quick notes after getting an idea, probably in case I forget what it is. Which, I must admit, has happened more than once. After more years of doing this, than I care to admit, I am finally beginning to feel confident in knowing the difference between a mere idea and a genuine story. Still, I don’t always know exactly where it’s going until I sit down to write, which is why the notes help.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to give up writing and become a dog catcher. Just kidding. Actually, I’m planning a sequel, another essay collection starting where this one left off on the theme of surviving a major typhoon that blows the roof of your house and empties all its contents. I’m thinking of calling it Aching Testicles. Also, I just had one of the most amazing experiences of my life; discovering a whole new family in Germany I never knew I had. My mother was a Holocaust survivor who always told us that most of her family got wiped out. It turns out that her brother survived and, not only that, became a prominent journalist, politician, and the father of two children. Not to mention, several other of my grandfather’s descendants of whom we were completely unaware. So now, 90 years later and long after the principles are dead, we’ve all reconnected in a reunion that’s been incredibly emotional for everyone. I think there’s definitely a future book in that: the story of a family tragically torn asunder and then miraculously reunited almost a century later. I’m open to any suggestions for a title.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Sure. First, don’t do it for the money because you probably won’t make much. Pray that writing by actual living human beings rather than AI bots will continue to be a thing, at least until you die. And hope that the next generation retains the ability to read. Finally, don’t become a writer unless you absolutely have to. If it’s not an obsession, don’t even bother.
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