THE SHORT OF IT
Keith Skinner writes fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, and travel stories. He is also a photographer. His story “Inside the Tower” about Robinson Jeffers was a 2014 Travelers’ Tales Grand Prize Bronze Solas Award winner. He published the hyper-local blog Berkeley Afoot and his work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Berkeleyside, Tales to Go, and The Woven Tale. He is currently at work on a historical novel set in 19th century Mendocino County. He lives in Berkeley, CA.
AND THE LONG
It started with the hand-me-down typewriter, the writing that is, an ancient Olivetti that demanded strong fingers, dexterity and a lot of correction tape. I would have been about 15, sitting at our kitchen table pounding out poetry, there in the heart of Ohio farm country. I can’t say what about Ohio inspired me to write; my native Arizona offered better material. A few years later, with a Walt Whitman burr under my saddle, I took to the open road, hitchhiking down to Florida, across to L.A., up through Big Sur to San Francisco and, penniless by that time, all the way back to Ohio. The stories I accumulated during that journey have remained with me to this day. Later that same year, I began performing marionette shows for schools and churches with my girlfriend’s mother. After seeing a performance by Martin Stevens, who popularized puppetry in the U.S., I wrote a tribute poem called “The Toymaker” that was published in several magazines.
Neither college or Ohio possessed the allure to hold my attention beyond my early twenties. I was full of Jack Kerouac, and Gregory Corso — and probably a few other questionable substances. My memoir piece “Falling Into Place” tells the story of how I landed in San Francisco. I worked low paying jobs in the day and prowled North Beach at night. The Beats and their ilk were still very much around and San Francisco State was just spawning an exciting new wave of Language poets. John Lion was turning the Magic Theater into legend with the early masterpieces of a young Sam Shepard. The punk scene was reaching a climax. It was an incredible time to be in San Francisco. What wasn’t incredible was living paycheck to paycheck in a Tenderloin dive.
At a time when computers were just finding their way into smaller businesses and MS-DOS had yet to make an appearance, I stumbled into a series of jobs that allowed me to learn programming. I worked for KRON-TV when they were still in SF and a family business, albeit the de Youngs. Then I was a consultant. Then I went into government. As my career developed, my writing life gradually went into hibernation. Of course I wrote — technical documentation, business communications, council reports — but creative writing came only in fits and starts. In 2005, I launched the hyperlocal blog Berkeley Afoot and published numerous essays about walking, history, and Berkeley culture. Some of that material was great and some of it, quite horrible. But it made me realize how much I missed writing and blogging provided the opportunity to rehabilitate those creative writing muscles that had gone soft.
Now I write travel stories, short stories, memoir, and, most recently, historical fiction. My work-in-progress is a novel about the 19th century Mendocino coast. Check back for updates about that project and material related to the story. My travel pieces have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. An essay about Robinson Jeffers, entitled “Inside the Tower,” received an honorable mention in the 2013 New Millennium Writings nonfiction contest and the 2014 Solas Best Travel Story Bronze Award. I belong to Left Coast Writers and the Historical Novel Society. I’m also a photographer: travel, street, fine art, abstract and landscape photography.
Editors & Publishers: Clips are available here. Other writing samples available on request.
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