Lindsey Crittenden earned her master's degree in creative writing at UC Davis in 1995 and will return to Davis from her home in San Francisco to give a reading at The Avid Reader on Friday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m.
She will read from her recently published book of short stories, "The View from Below" (Mid-List Press, 1999).
Crittenden, 37, and grew up in Marin County. In 1983, after graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in English and French, she headed to New York City where she worked as an editorial assistant for St. Martin's Press. In 1986, she helped found Turnstile, a non-profit literary magazine.
But Crittenden wanted to find more time for her own writing and thought that going back to graduate school would be the answer.
"I'd been working with some pleasure and some frustration at various publishing jobs ... and decided to go to grad school, not so much out of a desire to learn how to write as out of a need for time, structure, and permission to take some chances and make some false starts," she said.
The answer was UC Davis. Most of the nine stories in "The View from Below" were written at UCD.
"Then I entered a contest sponsored by Mid-List Press in Minnesota. It's a small non-profit company that publishes novels, poetry, short stories and memoirs. I won and as the prize I got published," said Crittenden in a recent phone interview.
"I describe my work as realistic fiction about people you might meet. No particular category or genre," she added. Some of the stories are set in New York City, some in the country. "Away from Trees" is a short story set in a California ghost town, Bodie.
"Bodie is a good topic because it's illustrative of how stories come together," she said. "I went there to visit friends and it just captivated my imagination. I took lots of photos of the old houses and the things in the windows. I thought I would write about a state park ranger but I never did it. A year later, I went river-rafting and met someone who worked for an archeology firm. That gave me a way to use the material."
"Away from Trees" is a romance, sort of, about a young woman from the East Coast, an archeologist, who is sent to Bodie. I love her descriptions of the decayed town preserved in time:
"Earl tells me it is a Bodie tradition on Monday nights to gather outside the general store, open the doors, and have a party. No one's there yet, but the doors to the general store are open, the generator propped against the wall under the front window, its cord neatly coiled like a snake with the plug for a head. The floor boards give slightly under my steps. Faded foodstuff boxes and grain bags line the tops of shelves. Colored glass jars with stoppers decorate the wooden countertops. Rounded-glass display cases show old spectacles with wire rims, binoculars, tortoise-shell combs and lace handkerchiefs and elaborately painted Japanese fans displayed on pale pink satin. Most of these items, the typed index card reads, along with the tufted sofas and chairs in the back of the room, were salvaged from a bordello in the 1892 fire."
When she graduated from Davis, Crittenden decided to go back to New York City.
"I went back for about six months, filling in at Crown Publishers. It was a weird time warp and I decided that I really wanted to move back to California."
She settled in San Francisco where she has an apartment near the Haight. "It's pretty different from New York but I try not to make comparisons," she said. Except maybe in terms of housing. "San Francisco is much worse than Manhattan," she said. "It's out of control."
But things are working out.
"I looked for teaching and editing work to support myself while I write and I found a good fit."
Crittenden teaches English to juniors and seniors at a nearby private high school.
"Writing is really solitary and after a morning of being in my own head it's nice to get out and be with people," she said. "I never had any particular fondness for teen-agers before but I found I like teaching."
Now Crittenden is working on a novel. She doesn't have an agent and finds that the technical work she did for many years in the publishing world hasn't really led to insights into how to get her fiction published. But she's off to a good start with her first award-winning collection and will be back in Davis in March not only to give a reading downtown but to talk to students in the creative writing program on campus and share her insights.
To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
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