Susanne Aspley (Thailand 1989–91) published her Peace Corps novel Ladyboy and the Volunteer with Peace Corps Writers this past November. In her responses for this “Talking with . . . ” piece she chose to eschew incorporating my usual author-interview questions — and it all turned out quite well! Thanks Susanne.— Marian
I served with the Peace Corps in Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Thailand, from 1989 to 1991 as a Community Development Volunteer in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam. I taught English classes and began several duck farms. I also discovered the cure for cancer, slayed dragons and brought peace to the Middle East but no one believes me.
I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Film. My English degree was very helpful for my teaching. I feel good about accomplishing the second and third goal of the Peace Corps, but failed miserably with the first goal. Then again, two out of three ain’t bad, though. No one’s perfect.
After the Peace Corps, I rejoined the Army Reserve and also began working as a civilian in Federal service. I worked in North Yorkshire, England for a year, then worked in Ra’annana, Israel for another year. I have been stationed in Kuwait, Bosnia, Panama and Cuba. I retired from both the Army Reserve and the Federal service a few years ago because of a service connected condition.
Now with way too much time on my hands, about a year ago, I pulled out a huge storage box of nearly 40 handwritten diaries from my time in Thailand. I spent the next week banging my head on the floor and wailing, “WHAT WAS I THINKING?!”
Nonetheless, I decide to finally sit down and write my Peace Corps book. It started as a straight memoir, but that was quickly hijacked by the characters as they wanted their story to be told the way it is now.
As the back cover blurb clearly states, the character Susan is guileless, careless and drinks too much. As the writer, at times I wanted to knock some sense into her, but decided to let her figure things out on her own, just as I had to then. Thankfully, and what truly exemplifies the beauty of the Thai culture, her Thai coworkers, friends, neighbors and complete strangers love the dumb American and help her along.
She emerges at the end of the book totally changed and gloriously enlightened. Okay, fine, maybe not that, but she does realize she received more from Thailand than she could ever possibly give, just as I had.
It took me exactly one year to complete this book. It is said if you write 250 words a day, by the end of the year you will have a standard length 80K word novel. However, I finished the rough draft in about eight months, and the last three was for editing and rewrites.
I sent the rough draft to several well established author friends as well as three beta readers I met on Goodreads Beta Readers groups. Their advice was invaluable. Some RPCVs I served with also revised it so no one would get arrested or divorced.
I had an elaborate marketing plan, but never used it. The book took off through word of mouth in the LBGT community as there are not many books out there with transgender characters. I have been invited to several LBGT book readings and it has been a book choice for a number of book groups in Minneapolis. It’s up for a Lambda Literary Award as it sure the hell isn’t going to win any awards from the Peace Corps.
I sent a copy to the lovely of Ladyboy and the Volunteer to Yasmin Lee, the transgender porn star who played the ladyboy prostitute in The Hangover II, as she reminds me so much of Christine.
Some RPCVs have a preconceived notion what my experience as well as my book should or should not be. But, what other people think is none of my business. It is what it is. As long as Yasmin Lee likes it, my life is complete.
Ladyboy and the Volunteer
by Susanne Aspley (Thailand 1989–91)
A Peace Corps Writers Book
$13.99 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle)
CLICK to read Tony D’Souza’s review of Ladyboy and the Volunteer.
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