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August 22, 2007

Character variety makes all the difference in 'Voices of the Lost and Found'

One of the things Dorene O’Brien liked about being a reporter was meeting different people and listening to their stories.

The West Bloomfield writer, teacher and

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Award-winning local author Dorene O’Brien will be reading from and signing copies of her short story collection, “Voices of the Lost and Found,” at events throughout metro Detroit in the next few weeks.

former journalist puts her ear to good use in “Voices of the Lost and Found,” her first collection of short fiction.

“I know my story,” O’Brien said. “I was (more) interested in how other people think and feel.”

O’Brien laughingly insists that her life is fairly routine and nothing like that of her characters, probably a good thing, given that those characters — a crisis line volunteer, a jaded prostitute, a young graffiti artist, a mother haunted by her childhood kidnapping — are often troubled, wounded souls.

“I tend to try to inhabit that person (while writing),” O’Brien explained. “I try to get into that person and that mindset for as long as I need to …  and then I leave them behind.”

The people who populate “Voices” are men, women, young and old, rural and urban dwellers. When she was invited to assemble a collection for Wayne State University Press’s Made in Michigan series, she worried that the disparate nature of her stories would make it impossible to give the book a unifying theme. O’Brien turned that into a positive, though, by highlighting those differences.

“That was my goal, to just speak from a variety of different perspectives and different circumstances,” she said.

The first-person narrators in “Voices” are a far cry from those O’Brien met during her self-described homogeneous childhood in Hamtramck, where she was surrounded by fellow Polish Catholics who all knew each other, and more a product of O’Brien’s experiences as a reporter and a Postal Service employee. She eventually left her job in the training department of the post office to get her master’s degree in English from WSU, but not before the melting pot environment left an indelible impression on her.

“Voices” has won high praise from O’Brien’s peers. “Queenpin” author Megan Abbott said O’Brien’s literary voice “is very much her own — blazingly original, calling to life an unforgettable gallery of desperate characters.” Writer Shirley Geok-Lin Lim declared the stories as “fierce, economical, completely persuasive and compelling.” And O’Brien has stacks of awards to her credit, including the Bridport Prize, “New Millennium Writings” Fiction Award and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The mother of an 11-year-old girl, O’Brien teaches creative writing at the College for Creative Studies and WSU. She’s currently working on her first novel, a story about fossil hunters in Ethiopia.

O’Brien will be reading her work with Linda Nemec Foster, Christopher Leland and Roslyn Schindler during Poet’s Follies from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Marick Press,  15120 Kercheval Ave. (at Maryland) in Grosse Pointe Park; call (313) 407-9236 for more details.  She will also do a reading from 2-4 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Barnes & Noble at Maple and Telegraph in Bloomfield Hills. For more about O’Brien, visit www.doreneobrien.com.