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Keith Skinner, 2014THE 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.

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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2 Replies to “About”

  1. I stumbled in from the HNS Facebook page. I just want to acknowledge concordance. I would be a writer of historical fiction focused on the Gold Rush era, as you are … would be because I have yet to figure out how to kick enough of my life out of the way and do any significant writing. This is the complaint common to dreamers and other makers of excuses. But I do enjoy the research, and have done a fair amount of it, focused on specific projects. Meanwhile I am supporting more family than I can afford, helping my partner with her arts career, and generally taking a very slow path towards the actual writing.

    We have a mutual friend in Peter Apfelbaum. I would be interested to know how you know him. We played in jazz band together at Berkeley High School in 1975-76. A native of Berkeley, I grew up walking the same paths you no doubt know very well. I always loved the staircases linking those curving avenues originally carved into the hillsides for interurban trains, and often wished those trains were still in operation.

    I intend to look more through your site as time allows. Meanwhile, kindest regards,

    Don Teeter

    • Thanks for touching base, Don. If I were still enmeshed in an IT career, I wouldn’t be writing a novel either. I began blogging long before getting back to stories because I needed to reclaim a more lyrical writing style, as opposed to Council reports and technical writing. So I empathize and wish you well. I took a look at your blog and your love of research is evident. It’s a double-sided sword for a historical novelist. I spent an entire day digging up the origin and usage of “OK.”

      I only know Peter Apfelbaum as a fan, as someone who watched him play in the Hieroglyphics Ensemble and when he was visiting Berkeley once he move to Brooklyn.

      I’ll follow he blog in my RSS reader. Thanks again for the note and I hope to meet you some time.

      All the best,


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