Write Now with Lindsey Salatka

“For me, ‘writing schedule‘ is an oxymoron. I procrastinate like crazy, so I often write late at night.”

Justin Cox

4 min read

Do you have a writing schedule? I, like Lindsey, do not. Granted, I freelance full-time, so I try to adhere to a typical workday. Though staring at a screen all day is not good for the body, it also doesn’t magically make the words flow. So, I write in spurts and around breaks. Enjoy Lindsey’s interview.

Who are you?

My name is Lindsey Salatka, and I’m an author, editor, and ghostwriter. I’m based in San Diego, CA.

What do you write?

I mostly write fiction, and my debut novel, Fish Heads and Duck Skin, will be released on July 20th by She Writes Press. I also dabble in personal essays which can be found on my blog, Fishheadology, and in the anthology, Shaking the Tree. Bold. Brazen Memoir.

I started writing as a latchkey kid with time on my hands and no siblings to poke (I am the youngest of three but my sibs are much older than me and weren’t home after school. Not really that much older, but I hope they read this and think that was rude. Poke poke.).

In my writing, I avoid gore and overt sadness in the interest of sanity and keeping levity as a crucial component in how I operate. However, because my characters are human, they have heavy moments. I don’t write science fiction or romance yet, but who knows? Maybe someday I will give those genres a go.

I absolutely love writing. For me writing brings peace, sanity, and clarity to an otherwise crazy, confusing, and chaotic world.

Where do you write?

I have three kids, so I do a fair amount of writing in the Google Drive app on my phone while waiting for them in my car in various parking lots. I use Scrivener when I can, but I really wish it were cloud-based. (Scrivener, are you hearing me? Help a gal out!) I often use noise cancellation headphones when I write at home because my “office” is in the corner of the living room.

When do you write?

For me, “writing schedule” is an oxymoron. I procrastinate like crazy, so I often write late at night. My ideas come when I sleep, walk, or drive, so I write those down in the notes section of my phone and then, when I have time to sit, I flesh them out. I don’t have a typical writing session, and I definitely don’t have a word count goal. I’m just happy if I can string a few words together that make sense and feel right. Maybe someday I will have a typical writing session? Hard to imagine. I write when I feel inspired or have a deadline.

Why do you write?

I don’t know if I have much of a choice in the matter — my body has to write. I’m not saying I’m divinely inspired, but it was clear to me from early on that words-on-page is how I like to communicate, and the response I get is mostly positive and attracts the kind of people I like to surround myself with. I write when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m mad — pretty much every emotion gets me in the headspace to write. Fatigue and stress do not help, but I’m human, so those times come, and when they do, I try to remind myself that this too shall pass.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I take a break and know that inspiration will strike again, hopefully sooner than later.

Sometimes when I’m stuck, I will plant a problem in my mind before I go to bed. For example, I may feel a chapter in the new book falls flat or doesn’t fit in the sequence of events well. Then I will ask myself to work it out in my sleep. I don’t always wake with the answer, but ideas for a fix will usually trickle in over the next few days when I do this; I just have to ask the question and be receptive.

Other times I’ll ask friends for ideas. I don’t often go with their suggestions, but the resulting conversation may trigger the solution I need. My writing group has always been an amazing source of inspiration and support. I’m so lucky for the brilliant women I have met there who I turn to time and time again. They are good at getting me unstuck because they have so much faith in me, and often the reason I am stuck is I’m swirling in self-doubt.

Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?

When I’m not writing, I enjoy long walks, hikes, and bike rides, also yoga and pilates. If I can trick the kids and husband into joining me, even better! I love to bake and then snarf all the delicious things when they’re just out of the oven. And reading, I love reading. And wine, I love wine. And sleeping, I love sleeping.

Column: When San Diego writer Lindsey Salatka got lost in Shanghai, she found her debut novel 



Author Lindsey Salatka is shown in front of a mural at Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School in Pacific Beach. which her children attended after the family returned from Shanghai. Salatka’s debut novel, “Fish Heads and Duck Skin,” was inspired by the family’s time there.  (Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Author Lindsey Salatka will bring ‘Fish Heads and Duck Skin’ to Bay Books in Coronado on Aug. 29

During the 10 years Lindsey Salatka was working on it, her debut novel went through a few identity changes. First it was a screenplay. Then it was a memoir. Then “Fish Heads and Duck Skin” became what it is now, a work of comedic autobiographical fiction inspired by the life-changing five years Salatka and her family spent living in the crazy, colorful fish bowl of Shanghai.

But no matter what form the book took, Salatka’s reason for sticking with it remained the same. She wrote it because she had to.

“I am an extroverted introvert, and growing up, the one place I was comfortable communicating was in letters. I was a latchkey kid, and I would come home and write letters to my cousins and my friends. I probably had 12 pen pals when I was little,” said Salatka, who grew up in Phoenix and now lives in Pacific Beach with her husband and two of her three children. (The oldest is in college.)

“That got me in the habit of writing. As I got older, writing became sort of medicinal. It’s how you get your angst out.”

When she finally got a handle on what kind of book “Fish Heads and Duck Skin” was going to be, Salatka had a lot of angst to get out of her system. She also had a boatload of adventures she wanted to share.

And it turned out that the best way to get to the heart of being a stressed-out wife, mother and expatriate in China was to start making stuff up.

“After the book morphed into a memoir, I realized there were too many details that I didn’t want to put out there,” said Salatka, who decided to write the book as auto-fiction after working with San Diego writing coach Marni Freedman.

“I was pregnant or taking care of a newborn most of the time I was there, and that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. Once imagination took hold, it really dialed everything up.

The heroine of “Fish Heads and Duck Skin” is Tina Martin, a woman who is not unlike the author but who is also not the author. Like Salatka, Tina is an Arizona native who relocates to San Diego after college. Like Salatka, Tina is also medical-device salesperson who is on the verge of burning out.

So when her husband is offered a job in Shanghai, as Salatka’s husband was in 2005, Tina is all for leaving the rat race behind and starting over.

Unlike the author, however, Tina is a little on the Type A side. And as she quickly discovers, Shanghai is the kind of happily chaotic place that can push a Type A person over the edge in some plot-friendly ways.

It is also the type of place that can inspire a writer to liberate herself from reality just enough to get real.

“The way I describe it is, when I looked at things from the angle of someone else having the experience, I think it got me to a lot of truths I wouldn’t have been able to put into words otherwise,” said Salatka, who is doing an event at Bay Books in Coronado on Sunday.

As she tries to make a home for herself, her busy husband and her two young daughters, Tina struggles with everything from finding a public restroom that is not totally terrifying to ferrying two children through the congested streets on a bicycle. While wearing a very large poncho.

She hoards diapers, gets a transformative massage and has a cathartic meltdown in a bar. She meets a supportive group of opinionated expats and learns about the importance of Mandarin tutors, friendship and brunch.

Most importantly, Tina finds herself an aging tai-chi teacher named Mr. Han, who shows her people and places she would never have discovered on her own.

There was no tai-chi teacher in Salatka’s Shanghai life, but creating Mr. Han gave her a way to share what she learned from her five years in an unfamiliar place that she ended up loving so much, she had to write a book about it.

“Shanghai was a very hard place to live, but it was also an adventure. Sometimes those things were bad. A giant storm could blow out your power, and you would have to make your way up to your 26th floor walk-up without an elevator,” Salatka said.

“But there was a lot of beauty. The longer you’re there, you see what the people are doing to find meaning in their lives. You see their love of children and their love of community. When I came back, I felt like I didn’t belong here anymore because Shanghai was such its own universe.”

It took a while, but the book that became “Fish Heads and Duck Skin” ended up nourishing its author in many unexpected ways. It helped Salatka cope with her mother’s death. It introduced her to San Diego’s supportive writing community, which she now serves as a volunteer with the San Diego Writers Festival board and as the director of its KidsWrite! writing contest.

Best of all, Salatka’s work of autobiographical fiction let her share a real story with the readers who matter the most. The ones who will never want to put it down.

“Since my kids were little when we left, I wanted them to know that for all of the crazy things that happened, we did this amazing thing and we had this amazing life over there,” Salatka said. “I wanted the book to be a legacy.”

Lindsey Salatka will be signing books outside of Bay Books in Coronado from noon to 2 p.m. on Aug. 29. baybookscoronado.com

Lindsay Salatka discusses her new book, “Fish Heads and Duck Skin”

Opinion: The Asian American community needs allies to combat hate. Here’s how you can help.

Salatka is is a writer whose upcoming book, “Fish Heads and Duck Skin,” is a fictionalized account of her time living in Shanghai with her family. She lives in Pacific Beach.

The killing of eight people — six of them Asian women — on March 16 in the Atlanta area sickened me. I felt like people from my own community were attacked and brutally slaughtered, taken from this physical world for no reason. This reaction brought a few questions to my mind:

1) After all that has happened in the past year, why doesn’t outrageous, inexcusable loss anger more people?

2) I’m not even Asian. Why does this hurt so much?

My story is a little different than most. I’m a Caucasian woman born and raised in the U.S., but I had the good fortune to live in Asia with my family for seven years, first in Indonesia and then in China. When I returned from Asia, I enrolled my three kids in a Mandarin immersion school, where they studied the language and culture of China and other Asian countries and made friends with people from all over the world.
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During my time in Asia and for years after, we studied next to and celebrated with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We did Girl Scouts together, went camping, rode bikes, ate meals, played sports — you know, the stuff people do — and through this, I developed a deep admiration and respect for Asian cultures. My Asian friends are honest — they tell it like it is. They’re funny — the laughs we share are countless. They’re resourceful — I love working through problems with them, because we find solutions! But I shouldn’t have to tell anyone why they deserve respect. These traits are wonderful.

Yet their population has been targeted in thousands of senseless attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and in this we see the harm that hateful language perpetuates. We must not forget the power that words hold. Words create thoughts and thoughts create actions. None of this is happening in a vacuum.

Furthermore, I may not be Asian, but I am human, and this is why the killing of innocent people isn’t becoming less outrageous. If we stop feeling we stop caring, and if we stop caring, we won’t gather together to mourn our losses and then create change so this disgusting carnage stops once and for all. I may be Caucasian, but that doesn’t preclude me from eventually being targeted by some madman for something I’ve said, done or represented, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like a grocery store in Boulder. If we don’t come together and stop these attacks now, I might be next. Or, even worse, my children, my husband or someone in my family. Or, it could be you.

One of the victims of the Atlanta area shooter, Xiaojie Tan, was killed the day before her 50th birthday. Tan was best friends with her daughter and only child. Her sister, who has heart problems, needed to be put on oxygen when she found out about her sister’s killing. The next day, the family couldn’t bear to tell Tan’s mom that her daughter had perished. When her mother called to wish her daughter a happy birthday, they said she had lost her phone and couldn’t answer. That’s devastating. We shouldn’t have to tell stories like this to humanize our fellow citizens, but this example, along with the other stories from the Atlanta area, help us see how much, in the words of Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

We need to stop thinking about these killings and any action leveled against someone for their ethnicity as an attack on “them.” This was an attack against people just like us — parents, workers, caretakers, families, children. And it won’t stop until we stop it. Here are a few ways to make a difference in ending Anti-Asian harassment and violence:

Tell your lawmakers to support House Resolution 151, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, condemning “all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19.”

Go to sdapicoalition.org to learn about the San Diego API coalition and how you can help.

Go to pacarts.org/stopapihate to sign a support letter as an individual or business.

Go to stopaapihate.org to report any incidence of AAPI hate crimes.