P.D. Workman was born and raised in Alberta, Canada. She writes riveting young adult and mystery/suspense books dealing with mental illness, addiction, abuse, and other social issues. She has won several literary awards from Library Services for Youth in Custody for her young adult fiction. She currently has over 30 published titles and can be found at pdworkman.com. She has been married for 25 years and has one son.
1. Tell us about your background as a writer. Where do you live and when do you write? Do you write every day?
I live in Alberta, Canada, and I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My mom kept some of the little construction-paper books that I scribbled in before I could actually read or write. I wrote my first novel when I was twelve and have been writing ever since. I write (or edit) six days a week and rest on Sunday. Usually, I am working on getting done a first draft for the first half or two-thirds of the month and editing after that.
2. You currently have 4 upcoming releases and 4 new releases. Can you tell us about your writing process and what makes you so prolific?
Right now, I am writing a book a month. I start a new first draft on the first of the month and write a minimum 5,000 words per day (roughly 20 pages) until the first draft is done. Then I do a quick continuity edit, let that one ‘season’ for a month, run through edits on two or three other books, outline and research my next book, and then start all over on the first of the next month. Of course, during that process, I’m also getting edits back from my editor, formatting, and publishing another book, and trying to stay on top of advertising and marketing. I also do at least two blogs each week and a newsletter every Friday.
3. Do you usually have several upcoming releases at the same time?
Yes. I have my new releases planned six to twelve months out, and I’m currently releasing one per month, plus any collections, translations, etc.
4. You wrote your first novel when you were 12 and then kept going. At what point did you turn to actually publishing for a broader audience? When did you develop an online presence, and did it feel natural and the right thing to do? Or were you nervous?
I actively avoided publishing for thirty years. Five years ago, when I knew my boss was going to be retiring in five years, it was time to decide what I was going to do when my job was gone. If I wanted to change careers, I needed to start training for it. So I considered the different directions my life might go. I had recently written a couple of books that I was really proud of and thought I might like to release into the world, and I had read a book about indie publishing that outlined the process. I had no idea what kind of money self-publishing novels might bring in and decided that it would be best to start getting books out there, so I would know whether I needed to get another full-time job, a part-time job, or whether I could write full time.
So that was when I started getting my website and social networks established and going through the steps to publish a book. At that point, I had participated in NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano several times, so I knew that if I participated in those events three times a year, I could write three new books a year. I had a stack of books that I had already written, and I figured I could edit and publish three of those a year. My goal was therefore to publish six books a year for the next five years.
It was definitely hard to put myself out there. Pretty much the only people who knew that I wrote were my immediate family. I had worked with my boss for almost twenty years, and he had no idea I was a writer until I gave him a copy of Looking Over Your Shoulder the Christmas after it was published. He’s one of my biggest cheerleaders and makes sure everyone knows I am a writer. I am now helping him to prepare and publish two books. It has definitely become easier to tell people that I am an author and to tell them about what I write. I’m still an introvert, but I’ve gotten used to the script.
It turns out that it’s easier for me to write new books than it is to whip those old novels that I wrote for my own entertainment into shape for public consumption, so I have published many more “new” books than “old” books. At the end of this year (my fifth year) I will have forty of my own titles out. I’m not making a full-time living, but I’m working on my marketing so that at some point I can!
5. Writing this much probably means you don’t do much research? Is that true? What are the topics you write about that gives you such confidence? Or have I horribly underestimated your ability to conduct research for your books, as well?
I have extensively researched all kinds of things. There are a lot of topics that I write about over more than one book, so for those topics I don’t need to do as much research from one book to the next. Looking at some of my research folders… I have as many as 160 research sources saved for individual books, and I know that for the one with the most, I also had a stack of books out of the library which of course are not saved in my folder. And I probably only save one in every five research sources I have used, so that probably represents over 500 sources.
I write extensively about mental illness, addiction, abuse, poverty and homelessness, incarceration, foster care, learning disabilities, physical illnesses and disabilities, autism, and many other topics. I participate in a number of forums on medical, legal, and police issues regularly. I have a legal background and have dealt directly with mental illness and other disabilities.
My cozy mystery series has a gluten-free and special diets bakery as a backdrop. I am celiac (completely grain-free—no rice or corn either,) vegan, and have multiple allergies and intolerances to foods, medications, and everyday environmental factors, so I can discourse extensively on special diets without having to research them. But even in this series, I have still had to research particular poisons and other methods of murder, legal issues, setting, etc.
6. You write in multiple genres – cozy mystery, young adult and mystery/thriller? How and why did you come to write in so many genres? How do you organize your stories in terms of what you will write next?
I think that I fell into young adult fiction because I was twelve when I started writing, so I was writing about the world I knew. Crime, abuse, poverty, addiction, etc. were always part of those books, so when I started to branch out, it was natural for me to move into mystery, suspense, and thriller genres. Unfortunately, there is not a huge market for gritty contemporary young adult novels if you don’t have a big trad publisher marketing for you, so I found that was not a viable genre for me to keep publishing in if I wanted to make a living off of my writing.
The adult books that I had written were all stand alone books, which meant that I wasn’t converting readers from one book to the next as easily as I could with a series. When I started to research hotter markets that I might be interested in writing in, the subgenres that stood out for me were cozy mystery and PI mystery. Out of that have come the Auntie Clem’s Bakery series, the Zachary Goldman Mysteries, and a spin-off cozy series from the Auntie Clem’s Bakery series that will be coming out next year, Reg Rawlins, Psychic Detective.
These days, I generally write three books of a series in a row, then switch to another series and write three in that series. I am still writing occasionally in the young adult space as well, but with the knowledge that they are mostly passion projects rather than books that will bring in much of an income. I still care a great deal about the challenges faced by today’s youth, and even in my adult books, you’ll see a lot of these issues brought up.
7. Tell us about Tamara’s Teardrops series. There are four books in the series, correct? Who is Tamara? What binds these books together into a single series?
Tamara’s Teardrops started out with Tattooed Teardrops, which was written as a stand-alone book. It is the story of Tamara, a teen out on parole from juvenile detention, and her struggle to reintegrate with society. Spoiler — she runs into a lot of roadblocks and makes a lot of bad decisions! Tattooed Teardrops won the first place fiction award from the In The Margins Committee, and readers kept asking when the sequel was coming out. I had never planned on a sequel, but I eventually broke down and started playing with some ideas for a sequel. I decided to just start writing about what happened next, and see if it led naturally to a full story arc. That turned out to be three more books. I released those books, Two Teardrops, Tortured Teardrops, and Vanishing Teardrops this year.
8. Do you have another book coming out in this series? What are they and when will they be published?
I figured there was enough material there to satisfy my readers, but one of the first comments I got back was: “those were great, looking forward to the next one.”
So, we’ll see! Readers are also begging for another book in the Between the Cracks Series, which I had planned to finish with Ronnie.
9. What other series do you have that we might like to know about?
Breaking the Pattern – three book contemporary YA series
Between the Cracks – five book contemporary YA series, family epic from the viewpoints of five different siblings
Medical Kidnap Files – YA medical suspense – three books out, a fourth coming in December
Auntie Clem’s Bakery – contemporary cozy mysteries – six books and two short stories out, two more drafted and I’ll write one more by mid-October.
Zachary Goldman Mysteries – private investigator series – two books out, and two more coming in the next couple of months. More to come.
Reg Rawlins Psychic Investigator – paranormal cozy mystery series – spin-off from the Auntie Clem’s Bakery series. Three books coming out next year and I have ideas for the next one already gnawing at me.
10. Would you say that one group of readers reads all your books, or do you have different readers for your different genres?
I have readers who read across all genres, and others who prefer just mystery/suspense or just YA. I have some hard-core YA readers on Wattpad. But my mystery readers buy the most.
11. You have won awards from the Library Services for Youth in Custody. What kinds of awards have your books won and tell us about this organization. How did you get involved?
In the Margins strives to find the best books for teens living in poverty, on the streets, in custody – or a cycle of all three. Their charge is to seek out and highlight the best fiction and non-fiction titles (Pre-K through adult) of high-interest appeal to youth ages 9-21 living in poverty, on the streets, or in custody, with a preference for marginalized books (small, independent press or self-published). Youth feedback is a critical factor in both book nomination and selection.
Library Services for Youth in Custody In The Margins Committee discovered me shortly after I started publishing, but I’m not sure how they came across my books. They asked for me to send them copies of Ruby, Between the Cracks, the third book that I published. Ruby placed in the Top Ten Books for Teens 2015. That was a big boost for my author ego.
I had several other books nominated by ITM, and the next year, Tattooed Teardrops won the top fiction award. They request copies of most of my young adult books for review. This year, I had two books place on their recommended reading list, Chloe and Endless Change. Endless Change also got a Crowned Heart Review from InD’Tale Magazine and was nominated for their RONE award. Of course, ITM also wanted copies of the new Tamara’s Teardrops books.
12. How do you balance writing with your family? I understand you have a husband and a son.
Back when my son was young and needed me all the time I was not working (he was very high-needs), the only writing I got done was twenty minutes writing on my PalmPilot standing on the train on my commute home. It took a long time to get books written that way. Then we home-schooled for all twelve years. (Well, fourteen, to tell the truth.) Happily, he’s now twenty, and what he wants Mom for the most is as a taxi driver. He and my husband have become accustomed to my writing schedule and are pretty good about asking me how I’m doing on my writing before putting additional demands on my time. Hubby and I have very disparate interests and like children engaging in parallel play, often spend time sitting together but doing different things. I spend time with him as we wind down for the night, usually watching TV while I format, market, or answer blog interview questions. We visit extended family regularly and are trying to spend more time on dates. I am still working a full-time office job, but hope to have more time at home in the future.
13. You’re a “technology geek.” What devices do you use for your writing and how do they help?
Over the years, I have used everything from handwriting and manual typewriters, to PCs, pocket computers (which were actually too big for any pocket I know of,) laptops that weighed 20 lbs., PalmPilots, and my current MacBook Air. I have books that were almost entirely written standing on the train writing with a stylus on a PalmPilot. I’ve used everything from text programs to word processors to Scrivener. I’ve had other gadgets like electronic Franklins or dictionaries, Fitbit, Pebble Watch, and Apple Watch. And of course, phones. Too many to count. With apps, lots of apps. I have to be very disciplined not to get distracted by “better” programs or gadgets that will distract me from my writing as I tweak them endlessly.
Right now I use Scrivener on a MacBook Air. I’ve been using Scrivener for at least six years, which is one of the reasons I moved to a Mac. I am a Scrivener Master. My research, notes, and task list are in Evernote (where I currently have about 20,000 notes.) I have a special watch face on my Apple Watch just for writing sessions, including a quick timer and a recorder to make notes without switching away from what I’m writing. My schedules, deadlines, and promos are in electronic calendars (Exchange, Google, etc.) I’ve started using Readerlinks to track the long checklists of tasks that need to be set up for each book. You can set up one checklist that is automatically generated for each new book you add to the system.
I use Word to put those final little embellishments like drop caps and other typography in my print books, and Photoshop to design covers, advertising, bookmarks and other swag, website graphics, etc.
I also code my own website and newsletters and have picked up a number of clients who needed help setting up or maintaining theirs. Another area where I have to be careful not to waste time endlessly tweaking!
Recently, I have returned to using Write or Die, a great little program to do writing sprints with when you don’t have another writer to do word wars with. Frequently when I am focusing on writing, I turn off the wifi so that I’m not tempted to do research while writing or to check Facebook or email. I use apps on my phone to generate background nature sounds to cover up the clamor of my house. Sometimes I have to turn on ocean surf, crackling fire, and thunder just to drown out the folks yelling at sports, online games, or chat rooms even with several doors shut between us.
Questions for PD? Leave them in the comments section below.
As a reminder, the Tamara’s Teardrops series is available on Amazon. Visit PD Workman on her website.
Click here to read other contributions in Jay Lemming’s interview series with authors of literary and contemporary fiction.