Dave Vizard is the former editor of True North Magazine. Vizard has been a journalist for more than 35 years, winning more than 100 professional awards as a newspaper editor, columnist, editorial writer and reporter. He is now a free-lance editor and magazine writer. He is also working on two murder mysteries involving the health-care industry.
Could you give us some background on what an editor does and if there are differences in editing for newspapers versus magazines?
For both newspapers and magazines, editors work with reporters or writers to craft articles for publication. The story can be assigned by the editor or result from a suggestion by the writer. Often times, the idea for the story is brainstormed by the reporter and the editor together. But that’s pretty much where the similarities between newspaper and magazine writing end. Traditonal American newspaper writing, even when considering larger, more expansive examples of feature writing, is usually much tighter and more heavily structured than magazine writing. Magazine editors and writers typically have much more flexibility when it come to deciding the best way to tell a story. They also can do more in terms of weaving color, descriptive detail and background into the story. I had a lot more fun editing a magazine than I did editing for newspapers.
As a magazine editor, what did you look for in writers?
Three things: Creativity. Creativity. And more creativity. I always encouraged writers to come up with new and interesting ways to engage readers. I wanted reading my magazine to be a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying experience, not a challenge to get through it. I wanted reading it to be thought-provoking, friendly, funny, and, most of all, interesting.
We first met at Love is Murder a few years ago. (Has it been that long?) You had decided to take the plunge into mystery writing. What lead you to write fiction?
Several things, really. First off, I grew up reading great fiction, but never had the chance to practice it as a journalist (making shit up for newspaper articles is generally frowned upon). As I got older, I developed an affinity for mysteries, so I started reading everything I could get my hands on. Some of it was not very good, and, as I walked away from bad books, I started telling myself that I could write better than what I’d just put down. Soon, it became a personal challenge: Craft a good novel and make the story work and flow from beginning to end. I soon found out that it was not nearly as easy as I had envisioned. Then it became even more of a challenge.
Did the writing conference help you in your transition, and if so, how?
The LIM conferences, and other writing workshops I have attended, have been great for two reasons. Learning and encouragement. If you attend as many conference sessions as you can fit into the day’s schedule, you can’t help but learn from experienced, dedicated writers. The ideas and tips and trial-and-error stories about writing are terrific. Novices are encouraged at every turn. In some ways, conferences are kind of like pep rallies. You walk away ready to tackle the world. You also find that writers are willing to share everything, including their bar bills.
I read an early draft of your book, and it’s got the key elements of a fantastic read—deliciously sinister plot, flawed hero, a touch of romance, and a wonderful sense of humor. Is it too early to share what your first book is about?
No. Maybe talking about it will be the spark I need to finish it. My story is about an aging, drunken newspaper reporter being kicked to the curb by 20-somethings in the office. But his experience and instincts help him discover and solve the health-care mystery surrounding a plot to kill three prominent educators in a mid-sized Midwest city. In the end, he saves a life, pulls his career and reputation out of the gutter, and gets the girl while thumbing his nose at the 20-somethings. I had a blast writing the first two drafts of the story, but the final re-write – trying to make it just right – has been painstaking, with lots of stops and starts. Did I tell too much? Gosh, I hope not.
Why start a second novel before your first one is finished?
I knew you were going to ask that. Good question, and the best way I can answer it is this way. The idea for it just came to me and I had to start writing it while it was percolating. That’s also thrown me off track a bit with finishing the first novel, but I did not want to suppress the new story idea.. I think it’s going to be really good, maybe better than my first attempt. We’ll see.
I noticed that you put together a writing critique group. What did you look for from members and how did you reach out to them?
What did I look for in members? I wanted people who could sit up straight in their chairs without drooling while they snored through the readings and critique sessions. Just kidding.
An author friend of mine, Dennis Collins (who is also an LIM alum and has published two novels), kept bringing up the idea of starting a writers group. The more we talked about it, the more interest we found among others in our rural, small-town area of Michigan. Finally, I suggested that we see if the folks running the local district library would host our group. They embraced us enthusiastically. I wrote news releases about Dennis and I forming the group. The releases were published by local newspapers and aired on local radio. About 15 people showed up for our first meeting, and the group continues to grow.
We recently wrote 1,000-word pieces of fiction from a prompt similar to the ones used in Writers Digest. The stories turned out to be much better than we’d ever envisioned. Now, we’re talking about creating a blog or Web site to publish the best of our offerings online. We’re also talking about traveling together across the Bluewater Bridge to a writers conference in Canada. We bring in authors to talk about writing and getting published. Plenty of other ideas in the works. I had no idea forming a writers group would turn out this well, but it’s been a lot of fun.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with your fellow scribes?
The same thing I used to tell my journalism students. If you want to become a better writer, then practice your craft as often as you possibly can. Read and write something every day that you breathe. And don’t give up. If you’ve got a story to tell, find a way write it, re-write it, and then re-write it again.