NetCafeLive Presents Andrew Vachss
Online chat at Borders.com's NetCafeLive, June 22, 1999.
Practicing attorney and crusader for social justice, Andrew Vachss returns with Choice of Evil, the new installment in his series of 'investigative novels' featuring the character Burke. After a gay rally incites a drive-by-shooting that kills two—one of them Burke's girlfriend—the police call on Burke's help in finding the mysterious serial killer, a madman with a political agenda to some, to others, a hero.
TCCdefiant: Welcome to NetCafeLive Where we host authors and celebrities throughout the month. Thanks for joining us! Borders NetCafeLive is a joint production of Borders.com & Talk City, a Talk City, Inc. Production.
Tonight's guest is Andrew Vachss, an attorney working exclusively with children, and the author of more than a dozen novels. Here to talk about "Choice of Evil", his latest and biggest book yet, a supernatural suspense, Borders.com and Talk City, Inc. are pleased to welcome tonight's guest *~Andrew Vachss~*
Welcome to Talk City! Can you describe how this book "Choice of Evil" differs from your previous investigative novels?
AndrewVachss: I believe the major point of departure is that, unlike previous books, the "monster" gets to speak...at length.
TCCdefiant: What inspired you to add the supernatural twist to "Choice of Evil"?
AndrewVachss: It added itself, just as in some books, there's what some folks would call an excessive amount of sex, and in others there is relatively little. The plot drives the contents.
TCCdefiant: Andrew, I've read the excerpts from the book that are available on the internet. Why was the rescue of Pansy so important?
AndrewVachss: I think because Pansy herself was so important to me before she left this junkyard to be with Dog.
TCCdefiant: You seem to have a sense of humor in your choice of the serial killer's identity/description . . did you try to bring something 'lighter' to this rather gruesome subject?
AndrewVachss: I think the lightness was so laced with bitterness that perceptions of it would vary with the individual reader.
TCCdefiant: Burke seems to be a somewhat "desperate" character in this novel . . is that how you see him and why?
AndrewVachss: I think he WAS a desperate person in this book. He'd lost something so precious to him, and his usual antidote—rage—wasn't available to him. So, for perhaps the first time, he was virtually infinite with violence.
MysteryGirl: Do you base your characters on people you know? Have they ever recognized themselves?
AndrewVachss: Yes. Yes.
TCCdefiant: Will there be more novels featuring Burke?
AndrewVachss: That's a damn good question! I'll tell you a fundamental truth about the publishing business. You are only as good as your last fight. Nobody is going to publish a book because of literary merit. Bottom line: If this one sells enough, I'll get another shot. I've already lasted about 15 years longer than I thought I would.
Sandman: Who is your audience?
AndrewVachss: Apparently, from the fan mail that I receive, it ranges from convicts to cops, and from people actively engaged in the child protection struggle to people who simply like the narrative force of the books. Since they are in so many languages and I've been at it for so long, the one thing I can tell you for sure, is that I have no "typical" reader.
MysteryGirl: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you began writing?
AndrewVachss: I was a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, and a social case worker. I was in Biafra during that genocidal war. I ran a maximum security prison for violent youth and a couple of dozen other things before I went to law school. As a lawyer, I represent children exclusively. So, as you can see, the one thing I have not had to do for my books is "research."
TCCdefiant: In your legal practice, you focus on the issues of children. Can you tell us more about The Zero ( http://www.vachss.com ) and the work you are doing there?
AndrewVachss: I couldn't answer that question with a sound byte. The best thing to do is take a look at the material on www.vachss.com. There are literally thousands of files on child protective issues and it is accessed heavily from all over the world. It includes accounts of many of my own cases.
TCCdefiant: What circumstances, or people, led you to social activism?
AndrewVachss: Rage. I cannot describe in this form the specific flashpoint, but trust me, it would make any human being want to be a soldier in the only "holy war" worthy of the name.
TCCdefiant: In "Choice of Evil", you have placed your 'social subject' focus on gay-bashing. How do you choose what that focus is going to be when writing a book?
AndrewVachss: That's a real good question. The answer is that I don't consciously make a choice. I try and address each book toward a specific evil, and wrap a plot around THAT. When I wrote the book (because, you understand, a book is written way before it is published), I didn't think anywhere near enough attention was being paid to gay bashing and more importantly, what to do about it. So, I saw homosexuals in some of the same ways that I see children..... as an undefended marginalized "at risk" group.
TCCdefiant: Ok.... back to your work with children ..... I'm sure in your career, you have seen many cases of injustice to children in the law and the courts. How did you feel when your March'98 article from Parade Magazine was quoted by a New York Supreme Court justice in issuing a maximum sentence against a father who sexually molested his daughters?
AndrewVachss: I felt like I always feel when I get feedback. The direct combat work I do has obvious results, but writing is a form of "fighting blind," and the only way to measure effectiveness is not by book reviews or sales, but by impact, so I felt just great!
TCCdefiant: Do you get much feedback from adults regarding the interviews you've done, for example, your interview with Oprah in her "hero" series?
AndrewVachss: The amount of feedback has actually been huge. I still get letters from shows I've done years ago and the high count so far is one article produced over 6,500 letters alone. In fact, if I could figure out how to sell as many books as I get letters, I'd be rich!
MysteryGirl: Andrew, what has been your biggest obstacle so far?
AndrewVachss: My biggest obstacle? As to what?
MysteryGirl: Was it difficult to get the book published...any obstacles that way?
AndrewVachss: If you mean my first book, it was beyond difficult. For many years, I kept getting the same rejection letters which all said "you are a wonderful writer....if you write about any other subject, we'd be thrilled to publish you." It took literally a decade before I was able to pound a crack in that particular wall!
TCCdefiant: Andrew, how has your legal practice influenced your writing?
AndrewVachss: I'm not sure that it has, any more than any of the other work that I have done has influenced my writing except in the most obvious way and that is giving the material insight and anger.
shawksie: What would you like to do for future writing Projects? Any other causes you would like to champion?
AndrewVachss: No, I don't have but one tune to play. I've spent my life trying to play it as perfectly as I can, and I intend to spend the rest of my life engaged in that same pursuit. I am a soldier and I enlisted for the duration.
guest-Bigwally: When it comes time for Burke to retire, will another member of his family carry on the work, or will the series die with Burke?
AndrewVachss: That's a really good question, and you may have given me a way to kill Burke without killing the series. Thank you!
^Saphyre^: Have you written any children's' books?
AndrewVachss: I wrote a "children's book for adults" entitled Another Chance to Get it Right.
GregoryP-W: Andrew, tell us about the people you refer to as "collaborators" in the war you fight.
AndrewVachss: The term "collaborator" as WE use it, refers to those people who give aid and comfort to the enemy without doing so overtly. So, for example, all the apologists for pedophilia are collaborators. Those who would return an incest victim to the predator under the guise of "family reunification" are too. There are many, many such examples.
guest-randi: I read your short story in "Esquire" and it wasn't like your other writing. I'm not sure I got it. Was it like a slice of life on stage for a blues musician? What was your intention?
AndrewVachss: The intention was to portray how a deep commitment to anything—in this case, performing on stage as a blues musician—can be more compelling than even one's own survival. But, if you didn't get it, there is always the possibility that the fault was mine because I do my best to be clear.
guest-Bigwally: Burke has had a lot of women in his life. Are there any that may return in future works?
AndrewVachss: Well, Strega returns in Choice of Evil, but if you will notice, Burke is kind of a doomed man when it comes to women that he loves, and the possibility of any of THEM returning is remote.
guest-Bigwally: Will we be seeing anymore of Ghost from the book Shella?
AndrewVachss: I don't know! I've been wrestling with that question for years because so many people have asked it. Shella is my beloved orphan of a book....the only one not in the series, and the one probably closest to my heart. If I thought I could do it right, I probably would do it again, but I'm not, as yet, convinced of that.
guest-vicki: Veil's Visit is excellent—any chance of Veil appearing in a Hap/Leonard novel?
AndrewVachss: An excellent chance! My brother, Joe Lansdale, is a brilliant writer, and the Hap/Leonard series is going to break out BIG TIME one of these days!
TCCdefiant: What is the most difficult issue you have taken on?
AndrewVachss: They are all about equal in difficulty because they are essentially all the same issue, which is the nature of evil, our duty to combat it, and the ways in which the enemy is being supported by significant elements of society. It is like looking at different facets of the same ugly diamond.
TheLastStarfighter: Any movie deals for the book? Who would you like to see playing the lead roles?
AndrewVachss: Choice of Evil was grabbed by Hollywood right away for a ton of money. We all know that doesn't mean there is going to be a movie. As far as actors, I feel the same way about actors as I do about singers or artists or any sort of performer, and that is that there are people with more talent not getting any sort of showcase and they should. When you consider that Vanilla Ice sold more records in 6 months than Muddy Waters did in his whole life, that tells you all you need to know about "merit" in the performing arts. So bottom line is that I'd like to have a fair fight, an open casting call, and let the best actors win!
sandit423: Of your books, which would you recommend to read first?
AndrewVachss: The conventional answer is Flood since it was the first, but the truth is, if I did what I meant to do, you could pick up any one of them, and go forward to backward from there smoothly. It also apparently depends on whether you are male or female, since women seem to like some of the books much more and men like other titles much more. PLEASE don't ask me to explain that.
guest-Bigwally: Your Batman story seemed to bring a lot of comment from the Thai government. Has anything changed there?
AndrewVachss: Yes. In fact, if you read the new book, you will see that the focus has actually shifted. Kiddy sex tourism remains a blight on this planet, but Thailand no longer appears to be a major player in that evil game.
^Saphyre^: Have you considered writing the screenplay yourself and having a small independent producer make it, rather than have Hollywood get hold of it?
AndrewVachss: I have not only considered that, it is what I am going to do if Hollywood doesn't follow through on the rights that they have acquired.
MysteryGirl: What types of projects are you working on now?
AndrewVachss: Specific investigations, consulting, training, litigation....like that. If you mean literary projects, I have a short story collection called Everybody Pays due out in September and a secret "vampire" comics project that I can't talk about yet.
GregoryP-W: Will there be a soundtrack to C of E? I thought the Safe House CD was first-rate.
AndrewVachss: Thank you. I intended the sound track to Safe House to be a blues sampler and it really worked, bringing attention to a lot of artists who deserve it. In fact, Son Seals played a gig with me in Chicago and he tore the place up.
MysteryGirl: Do you have a favorite character ...and why?
TheLastStarfighter: Who are your biggest influences?
AndrewVachss: If you mean literary influences, I would not stigmatize anyone with such a designation. If you mean personal influences, they are individuals whose names you would not recognize.
TCCdefiant: Are there any names we would recognize that have had a profound influence on you and your work?
AndrewVachss: No, I don't believe so. I don't consider myself a writer, first and foremost, and certainly didn't model myself after anything that I read. There are certainly many, many writers that I deeply and sincerely admire, and I talk about them at length on the website, but I would not call them influences.
sandit423: What is your fave CLASSIC?
AndrewVachss: Scottborough Boy, by Hayward Patterson, is one of my literary classic favorites.
guest-vicki: Do you have musical talent as well as literary? You mentioned the gig with Son Seals.
AndrewVachss: The question as to whether I have talent is like asking if I'm good looking. It depends on who you ask, but I do write songs using techniques that I learned from my great and good friend, Doc Pomus, and a couple of them are going to appear on Son Seal's next CD.
^Saphyre^: Would one of the reasons you don't name your personal influences be because they were clients? Children that you have represented or aided?
AndrewVachss: To some extent, that is certainly true, but they came from all walks of life, including practicing criminals.
Delilah: Do you still practice law? What's a day like for you?
AndrewVachss: Yes I still practice law. God only knows this is an emergency driven practice and most days I literally don't know what is going to happen because there are so many things in progress at one time.
guest-Bigwally: Will you be doing any book signings in the South in the future?
AndrewVachss: Yes. I missed the South on this last tour and I regretted it. I certainly plan to return to, for example, Houston and Miami, as well as Atlanta and New Orleans, and Tucson and Albuquerque.
TCCdefiant: Andrew, can you tell us a little about the most satisfying case you have worked on? (no names of course......)
AndrewVachss: It's difficult to do that because it is difficult to describe the almost electric thrill that you get from saving a child's life. I can't pick one particular case. There have been so many. I've learned that the importance of the case really means the importance of the child and they are all equal in importance to me. I could not describe my cases in any real detail without both disgusting and frightening people, as well as risking violation of confidentiality. But trust me, evil does exist and I've been in the same room with it.
TCCdefiant: What do you see in Burke's future?
AndrewVachss: Pain. I see pain in Burke's future.
guest-Bigwally: Sir, You have my deepest respect and I hope that your Holy War will one day be won!
AndrewVachss: Thank you. "Earned" respect is the realist of currency, but always remember this is a war that you or anyone else can join at any time.
guest-vicki: Is it true you're now living out west, and how does it compare to NY?
AndrewVachss: I do live out west now, and anything would be a step up from New York!
sandit423: Is writing these "stories" a catharsis for you; a way of coping with your legal career and the horrors?
AndrewVachss: No, quite the contrary. Writing is painful because it re-visits the scene of the crime, literally and emotionally. I get my catharsis in person.
^Saphyre^: Do you do tours outside of the USA? As in perhaps..your northern neighbour?
AndrewVachss: I've been everyplace BUT Canada! Australia, Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, you name it! I guess the reason I haven't toured Canada is that, unlike all the other countries where I am published, there is no separate Canadian publisher for the books. I would sure like to go. In fact, one of my favorite authors of all time, Charles De Lint, is a Canadian!
guest-Bigwally: Your concept of "Family of Choice" has in the last year become more and more real to me. Who introduced it into your life?
AndrewVachss: MY family of choice....that's who introduced me to it.
TCCdefiant: Andrew, thank you for joining us today. Are there any thoughts you would like to share with our audience before we leave for the evening?
AndrewVachss: There are lots of thoughts I'd like to share with your audience, but I can't do them in quips and sound bytes, which is why I write the books!
TCCdefiant: Our show has come to an end today. We Thank You, our Great Audience, and a very special Thank You to our Guest ~*Andrew Vachss*~
BordersNetCafe Chat is a production of Talk City, Inc. in association with Borders.com Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved.
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