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UD lecturer releases novel featuring Dayton, LGBTQ+ community, disability in fiction

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

University of Dayton lecturer and author Meredith Doench features the city of Dayton and tackles social issues such as sexuality and disability in her recently published novel, Whereabouts Unknown.

Released March 15, the novel is Doench's fourth since 2015. Previously, she wrote the Luce Hansen Thriller series. The first novel in the trilogy, Crossed, earned the Mary Dasher Award for fiction in 2017.

“For this book, I wanted to write one that’s a little closer to home,” said Doench, senior lecturer in the Department of English. “I’m from Dayton, I live here now, I work here, so I thought it would be really nice to just focus on home.”

Though the novel is set in multiple cities, Doench chose to highlight some of her favorite Dayton businesses, including Tanks Bar & Grill and Partial to Pie Bakery.

With familiar local destinations as the backdrop, Doench’s novel follows Theodora Madsen, a Dayton Police Department homicide detective, as she tries to solve a cold case in the midst of personal struggles. Similar to the protagonists in Doench’s other novels, Theo is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“When I first started doing this, it was because I felt like I wasn’t seeing enough representation of people from the LGBTQ community in crime fiction,” Doench said. “Being part of the LGBTQ community, that really bothered me. Now, it’s awesome because we have so much stuff that is coming out that has LGBTQ characters, particularly in young adult books.”

Along with addressing sexuality in her crime fiction work, Doench uses characters to promote a representation of disability in fiction. In Whereabouts Unknown, one has an injury and another has an autoimmune disorder.

“There’s very little representation of disability in crime fiction, so I wanted to play with that a little bit and also bring some awareness to autoimmune disorders,” Doench said.

Andrew Slade, professor and Department of English chair, said Doench’s knowledge of the writing and publishing process, coupled with her treatment of social issues in her own work, is beneficial to the learning experience of students.

“Meredith Doench has been on a tear — four novels since 2015 — and the most recent one opens new territory in her genre by centering experiences of disability,” Slade said. “We are lucky to have a group of writers at UD teaching creative writing who are teachers and writers — it makes all the difference in our classroom when our students' professors can share how they do their work and then point to books like Whereabouts Unknown.”

Though Doench previously worked through the writing and publishing process with the Luce Hansen series, she said writing Whereabouts Unknown in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic challenged her as a writer in ways similar to the challenges often faced by her students.

“One of the hardest things was that I was not really being held accountable to anybody, but me,” Doench said.

Doench said working in a community of writers provides motivation and inspiration she missed as she wrote during the initial lockdown. As a result of her experience, Doench has made an increased effort to help keep students accountable to herself and to one another during the writing process.

“Helping students find what works for them and helping them hone their craft — I kind of see that as my job in the classroom, particularly in the upper-level creative writing classes,” Doench said. “I think that my practice or my experience with it can help guide them a little bit more.”

For more information, visit the Department of English and Meredith Doench websites.

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