Online chat at barnesandnoble.com, May 3, 1999.
On Monday, May 3rd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Andrew Vachss to discuss CHOICE OF EVIL.
Moderator: Welcome back, Andrew Vachss. We can't wait to talk to you about your latest thriller, CHOICE OF EVIL. How are you this evening?
Andrew Vachss: I am in better spirits than I have been.
Eloise from Arlington, VA: Ever since the shootings happened in Denver, I've been hearing so much placed on everything from video games to too much gun control. I can't help but think about the parents. Personally, I think their lack of awareness about their sons is atrocious, but maybe I'm not being fair. What are your thoughts on this disturbing event?
AV: There aren't enough facts as far as I am concerned to do anything but express sound-bite-type opinions, but it is clear to me that there was an interaction between these two young people that metastasized over time in what had to have been observable in some way.
Esmerelda from Montreal, Canada: Andrew, I am glad you exist even if it's in this cesspool we call our world. Your work for the children and your books are greatly appreciated. The blues CD is rapidly being worn. Regarding Burke: He has earned a little respite in my eyes. How about bringing Flood back even if she has to leave again? And I am waiting for Ghost to reappear. What men!
AV: The real question for me is whether Ghost can reappear, and it has been something I have been wrestling with for years now, and thank you.
Sam from Reno, TX: CHOICE OF EVIL is somewhat of a departure for you in that it is straight horror. Why this move?
AV: As far as I am concerned, pal, I have always been writing straight horror, emphasis on straight, as opposed to fantasy. This book is different only because it has "supernatural" elements, but I don't know any more horrible things than what I have been writing about for my whole career.
Cressida from Texas: Could you tell us a little bit about what your Parade piece was about? I couldn't access it off of vachss.com. Is there any way I can get a copy?
AV: You will be able to get a copy off of vachss.com as soon as Parade's own copyright runs out, which is very generously—one week.
Patrick from Richmond: Anything behind your choice of Homo Erectus as the name of the serial killer?
AV: Well, it was consistent with the character of the individual. It has a multilayered meaning complete with a sense of deliberate mockery, which is consistent with the character, but it was meant to be taken as homosexuals standing up, and if you have read the book, you will understand that this standing up was homicidal.
Lawrence Cirelli from Basking Ridge, NJ: I was recently fortunate enough to be offered a contract on my first novel. While ecstatic, I was concerned about a clause in the contract that gives the publisher 50 percent of all movie and television rights. Is this standard? Is it generally negotiable?
AV: Negotiation is not about justice. It is about power.
Eric Webb from Kapolei, HI: Mr. Vachss, what motivated your change from "straight" detective/crime fiction to adding a more supernatural tint to your writing? Also, do have any more plans to develop comics through Dark Horse comics or with Tim Bradstreet?
AV: I try and allow each book to be dictated by the issue that drives it, so just as a certain type of activity would be present in one book and not in another, the same could be said about supernatural. I am planning to return to comics. I do have a specific project, but I can't talk about it because the contracts are not signed.
Tracy from Virginia: Does you writing support your practice of law, i.e., what are basically pro bono clients?
AV: To a large extent it does.
Brady from Alexandria: Matthew Shepard's senseless death turned the nation's attention to gay hate crimes, and now you are rightfully bringing their injustice into focus with CHOICE OF EVIL. Do you think we are closer as a nation to passing legislation on hate crimes? What can be done? Why did you choose to focus on that issue now?
AV: Remember—if you understand the publishing process—that I actually wrote this book before Matthew Shepard, and although this is not the appropriate forum because the explanation would take so long, let me just say that the problem is not with laws but with law enforcement.
Kate from San Diego: Would you say that you get more satisfaction from writing novels or being a lawyer? If you had to give up one, which would it be?
AV: I get more satisfaction from my work. Writing is an extension of that work. So it is the flower, not the root.
Patrick from Cleveland: Where did the myth of reaching back originate?
AV: I don't know, my friend. It is one that I heard as a child told to me by people that were elderly who were themselves told it as children, and there are people who would swear it is no myth. I tried to explain the myth in this book.
Greta from Greenburg, PA: Great shot of you and the dog on the back cover! What kind of dog is it? Did you just adopt him?
AV: First of all, that is a bitch, and second of all, she is a pit bull bitch, very sensitive about her appearance. What you have is a puppy, and we don't mutilate our animals and thus didn't have her ears cropped. That's why you might have trouble guessing the breed. There are lots of pictures of her on my web site.
Vernon J from Blue Island: Is it true that you are going into the publishing business? If so, how—and why?
AV: Oh Vernon, I am going into the publishing business because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is and because there are wonderful authors not getting published. Like everything else in life, you can be an observer or a participant, and I decided to be a player. The book is called THE BEGGAR'S SHORE by a brilliant young writer, Zak Mucha. It will be out this fall.
Saul Rivera from Los Angeles: Andrew, I've enjoyed your work since the first book I read—FLOOD—and I'm also a big motorhead Mopar fan, so my question is about the Plymouth Burke drives: What model is it, and are the modifications done to it that you write about based on a real-life vehicle? Thanks for your wonderful work, and keep it coming.
AV: I am a Mopar fan myself and yes, the modifications (this is no damn Batmobile) are all real-world based. In fact, if you want to see the ultimate Mopar, check out the shark car in the Cross series.
Jeff from Arlington, VA: How much artistic control do you have over the upcoming movies that will be made from your work? Are you concerned that your message will be lost or corrupted when it goes through the Hollywood machine? Thanks.
AV: I have control to the extent that I can exclude certain elements, but as far as concern that the message will be lost, it is a roll of the dice, and the potential rewards justify the risks.
Doug from New York, NY: Tell us what's going on with the productions of FLOOD and Cross. How far are they along?
AV: Cross is allegedly very far along because they have a director on board and, at least according to them, expect to have this movie in production this year. As to FLOOD, I suggest you dial 1-900 who knows!
Xendra from D.C.: What understanding do you want your readers to have about gay bashing as they finish CHOICE OF EVIL?
AV: Good question. I want them to understand that it is simply another form of evilly motivated oppression of human beings. It is indefensible bullying and says far more about the perpetrators than it does about the victims. It is an act of extreme cowardice that is based on the perception that there will be no reprisals. This book, among its other elements, attempts to put in perspective how things might change if there were reprisals.
Andrew from Seattle: You been a New Yorker your whole life. Why the recent move out west?
AV: It was time to get out of town!
Janet from Utah: What do you think of the way our nation's police departments handle crime solving today? After all of your extensive experience as a lawyer and crime writer, do you constantly see ways that crimes could be solved faster?
AV: Not constantly but certainly on occasion. In fairness, I have often been consulted by many law enforcement agents, and they have shown an absolute desire to solve the crime that was much bigger than their egos.
Bill from California: What's your theory as to why the media keep harping on the Littleton tragedy but neglect to even mention that every day in America six juveniles are murdered by their own parents? Are the media trying to demonize teenagers, or will they eventually get around to analyzing the music that murderous "parents" listen to and demanding legal action to protect more parents from the harmful influences of Garth Brooks?
AV: My friend, you should be writing editorials. I don't believe you asked me a question. I believe you made a statement, and it was a damn good one.
Larry Wraight from Baldwinsville, NY: You and your wife seem such a perfect match for the depth of pain that you both have worked so successfully against. Can you describe her influence on your writings?
AV: No, but I am glad to hear from you, Larry, and I hope you are still organizing.
Rose Dawn from San Diego: Any chance you'll be adding a tour stop in San Diego this time? We buy books down here, too, y'know!
AV: Hi, Rose Dawn! I miss you, too!
Pam from Hannah: What was your break into publishing? How did you come to a career in writing after being an attorney?
AV: It is too long a story to tell, but I can sum it up in three words: blind dumb luck.
Hannah from San Fran, CA: What is the "choice of evil" in this novel?
AV: The point of the novel is that evil is a choice, not a biogenetic mutation. Not some bad DNA, not some defense attorney's psychobabble, but deliberate, voluntary conduct. You make a choice to be evil. Unlike traditional "horror" books, this is a real horror story.
Jan from AOL.com: Did you base Homo Erectus on any particular serial killer, or is he more a composite character of evil?
AV: Actually, when you read the book thoroughly, he is representational far larger and deeper in scope than a mere serial killer. Unlike lots of people who write about serial killers, I have known some—and, trust me, they are not real interesting.
Bridget Carr from Albuquerque, NM: Hi, Mr Vachss. My apologies first that this is not a question about your book—rather, it is about your cause. I am an epidemiologist and public health officer in the Air Force. Currently I am stationed at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, conducting injury and accident prevention research at the Headquarters Air Force Safety Center. I am very interested in child and domestic issues. I would love to volunteer my services (prevention research, cost-benefit analyses, profiling) for this great cause. I think I could dedicate about ten or so hours per week. One potential outcome of such research is to help you and others in the courtroom. Do you have an epidemiologist on your "team"? May I help? Thank you very much for your consideration. Maj. Bridget K. Carr, DVM, MPH
AV: I was once an epidemiologist with the U.S. Public Health Service myself. I understand the importance of your work, and if you email the web site at www.vachss.com, someone will get back to you—and thank you!
Scott from Delaware: In your opinion, what horror/mystery novels have adapted well to the big screen?
AV: If it weren't for long airplane rides, I wouldn't see any movies. I am really the last guy to answer this question intelligently.
Eric Webb from Kapolei, HI: On a recent deployment to Asia I saw much of what you have been fighting against in things like the "Don't Buy Thai" movement. However, (a) how much do these movements leak outside of Thailand into other Asian countries (Indonesia, for example), and (b) is there a measurable way to gauge what these efforts produce?
AV: The first answer is that when you read the new book you will see that we are looking well past Thailand, and as to your second question, with all our efforts there is a difference between a direct action—such as a rescue—and an attempt to change a system, which is a many-decade investment, so that you measure different operations differently.
Dorothy from Jacksonville, FL: What is the myth of reaching back? I look forward to reading CHOICE OF EVIL. I just ordered it today. Thanks.
AV: I am looking forward to you reading it, too, and when you are done your question should be answered!
Roger from Tallahassee, FL: Doesn't your job get you down? How do you stay focused on the positive when the negative seems to permeate so much of society?
AV: There is no reason for me to get down. I can save more kids' lives in a year than an ER surgeon, and we collectively have made more job protective progress in the last 30 years than in the previous 30,000.
Larry from New York: Your books are impossible to put down—I read them in one sitting usually. What tips would you give to aspiring writers for creating books that hook and hold the reader's attention?
AV: Lead a life that gives you access to material that would hook and hold people's attention if you told them about it.
Lance from Daytona, FL: Do you have a favorite among your books?
AV: Yes, my beloved orphan, SHELLA.
Luas Arevir from Downey, CA: What could a fan do to help the cause of the children—where could we volunteer, where could we send donations, how could we help you and your clients? Any mail, email, contacts that you can provide that you approve or endorse?
AV: If you will send us an email to the web site, we will give you the comprehensive answer your question deserves, and thank you for being willing to stand up.
Amanda from Franklin: I am wondering if you know the endings to your books when you start writing. Are all the twists carefully planned through outlines?
AV: I don't use outlines, but I write the book completely in my head before I start typing.
Jimmer Washington from Rapid City, SD: I have written a novel and wonder if you would tell me how I can get it published. Would appreciate your help!
AV: If I knew the answer I would gladly share it with you. I am sorry; I just don't.
Eric Webb from Kapolei, HI: Is there a way to get copies of A BOMB BUILT IN HELL? No bookstore seems to have heard of it.
AV: That is because it has never been published, pal. I am still deciding. There is an offer to publish it as a limited edition. I just haven't made up my mind yet.
Kate from Trenton: What's next for you, Mr. Vachss? When do you expect to publish the next Burke book?
AV: Kate, I just wrote this one. I don't have a schedule because writing isn't my primary career, but my typical rate appears to be every 12-15 months. I will have another collection of short stories out in September.
James from San Fran: Have the movie rights for CHOICE OF EVIL been bought? Have you considered writing the screenplay?
AV: The movie rights have certainly been bought. Almost a preemptive strike. Almost before the book was finished. And as for screenplays, the studio decides who the screenwriter gets to be.
Carol from L.A.: The tragedy in Colorado provides an opportunity to demand attention to the horrors we are visiting on our children. I get more angry each time another talk show decides to discuss why our kids are so angry. Some of us moms who have lost the battle to protect our children know. Yesterday during our visit my daughter told me that at school the therapist who conducts "affective ed"—whatever that is—had been talking to them about Colorado. My daughter continued that if she had a gun she would kill her father and what I should have done was adopt her—then we would not have him! The tragedy in Colorado provides an opportunity to demand attention to the horrors we are visiting on our children. Is there any way we could organize around the Zero and address Clinton's summit on angry kids so that we could explain some of this loudly and clearly? I work in the nonprofit sector, and I think this cause is ripe for the organizing. Do you? Would you ...?
AV: What you should do is post exactly what you have said here to the Zero message board, and you will get the only answer worth getting, and that is what people are actually willing to do.
Moderator: I realize it's early, but how do you think you will be celebrating New Year's Eve 1999? Any special plans to ring in the year 2000?
AV: No. One day is the same as the next to me.
Moderator: Are there any books you are looking forward to reading this summer? With all that you do, how do you find the time to read?
Dan Krull from Atlanta: I really love your work. A friend turned me on to you, and in turn I have passed your work on to others. How did you get your start in writing? Will there be any more Burke novels?
AV: People like you are a real treasure to me because without the mega advertising budgets, word of mouth is how we survive—and speaking of survival, there will be another Burke novel if enough people buy this one, and publishing being what it is, if not, not.
Tibey from Long Beach, CA: What's the status of any of your work—novels, comics, et cetera—making it onto the big screen or TV?
AV: When Hollywood buys the rights to property such as mine, TV is one of their options, but I have no ability to read their minds and if I did, I would not be cheered up at the prospect.
Jeff from Arlington, VA: Ever since it happened I have wondered about your thoughts on the Littleton shootings. I was at a book signing of yours shortly after Jonesboro, and you mentioned the relationship of those two boys. Now after Littleton you have talked briefly about Eric and Dylan's relationship, both here and on Salon.com. What sort of relationship do you think that these boys had? Do you think it had something to do with their decision to kill? Please elaborate. Thanks.
AV: There isn't the time or the space to do it, but your observation is an astute one. As in Jonesboro I do think the key was the relationship between those two young men. I intend to elaborate on it in much greater depth when more facts have been collected and when I have room to do so.
Eileen from AOL.com: What's the latest word on the new Judy Henske album?
AV: You will have to ask Judy. All I have to contribute to that is my hopes!
Moderator: Tell us about your new CD.
AV: The CD you are probably referring to is called SAFE HOUSE, available everywhere, but all I did was the compiling. One of my favorite blues artists of all time, Son Seals, will be recording two songs I wrote for his new CD, which should be out before the end of the year, and anyone who wants a sneak preview should show up at the Chicago book signing, where Son and I will be appearing together.
Tara from Connecticut: Hi, A.V. Not a question but just wanted to say thanks for the Zero, which is the only board on the Net that speaks the truth.
AV: Thank you for saying so.
Moderator: Thank you so much for taking all of our questions, Andrew Vachss. It's a pleasure to host you in our Auditorium, and we look forward to the next time. Any parting words you'd like to say to your many online fans this evening?
AV: Yes. Evil is a choice. That is the title of the book, but it is also a choice to fight back, and for all of you engaged in that struggle, I am glad to be your comrade and give you my respect.
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