December 3, 2020

Thailand inspires alumnus to write books

When the University of Maryland University College decided to close its international campus in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany in 2001, Thomas Rhoden had to find a new school to attend. Rhoden liked the international campus location options of Webster University, and settled at the Thailand campus. This is where he got his inspiration for his four books, including his novel, “The Village.”

“What I wanted to do with the book was capture what life was really like in the village in modern day Southeast Asia,” Rhoden said.

Rhoden, also known as T.F. Rhoden, his pen name, is originally from Dallas. After graduating from Webster University-Thailand in 2003, he moved to China before moving before moving back to Thailand when he joined the Peace Corps. Rhoden left Thailand again, but returned after he went to Arizona to earn his MBA.

Rhoden spent seven years off and on living in Thailan, so he knew the state of small communities in Southeast Asia, and wanted to clear up any misconceptions people might have.

“A lot of what you might read from other books will be something from the past like 20 to 50 years ago where you have a conception of a village being something incredibly rural, incredibly undeveloped,” Rhoden said. “There’s actually quite a bit of urbanization that has reached out into those rural areas now. I wanted to capture and get a picture of that.”

“The Village” has been given mixed reviews, and Rhoden credits that to his writing style.

“The way I write is pretty dense,” Rhoden said. “It’s not like Hemingway. Think of it more like Thomas Mann or Faulkner or something like that. I guess you could say I indulge. That’s the main criticism most people give me.”

Rhoden became interested in writing while in the Peace Corps, which he joined in January of 2005 after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. He would read a lot in his free time, and it motivated him to starting writing books of his own.

“I really got into literature there for awhile,” Rhoden said. “I realized at some point, if I’m going to keep on reading it, then it seems kind of silly not to give it a go myself.”

Since then, Rhoden has published four books all having a Southeast Asian theme: “Outrageous Thai: Slang, Curses, and Epithets,” “The Village,” “Making out in Burmese” and “Burmese Refugees: Letters from the Thai-Burma Border.”

Rhoden has a travel book of northern Thailand currently being published, which will be coming out later this year. He also plans to release his first book that isn’t about Southeast Asia late next year.

“My next work of fiction is going to be a short story collection,” Rhoden said. “This will be my first book that will have anything to do with America. It’ll be a short story collection about everything having to do with Texas and where I’m originally from.”

Rhoden is currently back from Thailand and going to school at Northern Illinois University to earn his Ph.D. It’s only a matter of time before he’s back in Thailand writing another book about Southeast Asia.

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