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Pain Management: Andrew Vachss
Chat Transcript

Online chat at USATODAY.com, October 4, 2001


Pain Management, a Burke Novel by Andrew VachssFans of modern noir need wait no longer for the latest installment of Andrew Vachss' series featuring protagonist Burke, the sociopath ex-con who hunts down "freaks" with excess fondness for children. Vachss will be online to talk about his newest work, Pain Management; his work with juvenile justice and child abuse issues; and the world of writing.


El Paso Texas: Will Burke deal with the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in the future if we have any?

Andrew Vachss: Probably with a New York City that's dealing with it, but not Burke, directly.


Toronto, Ontario, Canada: From the very early years when you first started to bring the awareness of child abuse to the public's attention, to-date, would you say that the law/courts are actively doing all that they can to permanently incarcerate pedophiles? Thank you for your writings and for your novels. Esmerelda

Andrew Vachss: The day the "system" does all it can do to interdict and incapacitate child molesters is the day I retire.


Oslo, Norway: Hi, Andrew. Looking forward to your new book, although it will take a while up here in the north. You've always referred to NRA, how they keep a narrow focus to get what they want. And you've always told "us" to do the same. In your new book (haven't read it) it seems that you're tight focus is broadening, or is the issue from the short-story "Dope Fiend", just a second theme in the background of this book. Pardon my english. Profound respect. Jens Bugge.

Andrew Vachss: All I want to say in response to your very accurate question is that Pain Management refers to many different kinds of pain, and may different kinds of ways to manage it.


Aurora, CO: How comfortable are you with Hollywood's portrayal of Juvenile storylines and child issues in such shows as Law & Order, Law & Order:SVU, Family Law, and The Guardian?

Andrew Vachss: I'm not a TV critic, and I think these shows are not intended to be journalism. If one views them as entertainment, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and mine's no more important than anyone else's. But if you view them as portraying realism, then I think it's obvious that they fall very, very short.


Superior Montana: Is there a real "Burke" somewhere out there?

Andrew Vachss: Those that know don't say; those that say don't know.


Seattle WA: Andrew, Pain Management is tremendous!! What's the latest on your work in graphic fiction, and movie versions of your books?

Andrew Vachss: There is going to be a new graphic novel project, but it's too early for me to say anything about it. As for the movies, I suspect things will continue on their standard pattern, which is: Hollywood buys the books ... and doesn't make the movies.


Chicago, IL: Are more people willing to accept what you know as the truth in your legal work as opposed to responses you got when you first began your practice?

Andrew Vachss: That's a superb question, and I'm gratified to say that the answer is yes. For example, when I first wrote about modem-trafficking in kiddie porn 15 years ago, people stood around with their jaws dropped and whined about what a disgusting "imagination" I had. Today, reality has impinged on the American consciousness far more deeply than could have been imagined even a decade ago.


Larchmont, New York: You've written book reviews, and you've read plenty about your own books, both by professional reviewers and by amateurs on Internet sites like Amazon. What's your take on the state of the art? Do you learn anything from reviews of your book? Are there changes you'd like to see in the way the system works?

Andrew Vachss: I can't honestly say that I learn anything about my own work from book reviews, because they don't appear to have any criteria to them. Instead, each book review is founded on the premise that the reviewer's personal likes or dislikes are so critically important to the rest of the world. Just as writing itself is not a meritocracy, the same goes for reviewing. I've been in the position where one reviewer says I'm the new Dickens, and the other reviewer says I make Mickey Spillane read like Plato, for the exact same book. What could anyone gain from such disparity? As for the so-called amateur reviews on Amazon, I think anyone can tell which ones are for real and which ones are obvious plants.


Chicago: Is there a bias in the courts and media towards being lenient on women while punishing men (when it comes to child abuse)? The reason I ask is there was a case here in Chicago of a husband who was arrested for using a cattle prod on his children. The mother not only knew about it, but tried to hide it from the police. Her punishment was no punishment at all. He's (rightfully) in jail, while she is set free. Paula Poundstone gets to keep her kids EVEN AFTER she admits to endangerment. Are these cases isolated? If they are not, then exactly how bad is this problem? (Please understand - I am not putting one type of abuse over another. It is ALL bad.)

Andrew Vachss: Law enforcement has a long history of making deals. I don't believe there's necessarily a bias in favor of women, but I will say that I've been involved in many cases where the female partner's complicity was, if anything, worse than the males, but because she did not actually commit the acts, her punishment was less. In my view, failure to protect one's own child is the crime. Whether one does that actively or passively makes no difference in terms of the result, and should make no difference in terms of the response. I will say this - I've seen cases where the societal outrage was greater against the female because of a deep-seated cultural belief that mothers have a higher protective duty toward their children than do fathers. That's not a belief I subscribe to, either.


Memphis, TN: Do you already have plans for the next Burke novel or another collection of short stories?

Andrew Vachss: Yes, and yes. I have a new short story in the December issue of Playboy, so now all you guys have a good excuse, and I've got a new novel in the works. I'm still wrestling with it, but I've got it very nearly on the mat.


Changchun, China: I was wondering if you would ever consider including a glossary in your books. Some of the slang is unique to my vocabulary (and perhaps quite a few people). I am looking forward to reading your new book!

Andrew Vachss: Your most politely phrased complaint has been echoed by the translators of my books in a couple of dozen countries over the years, and, in truth, a sort of "vocabulary" has been requested many times. However, if I'm going to keep the books real, I can't use footnotes.


Kansas City, Kansas: Mr.Vachss will you be a guest on any of the talk shows in upcoming weeks,and if so when?! and Where?!

Andrew Vachss: I'm going to be on Bryant Gumbel's Early Show Tuesday the 9th, but if you mean conventional "talk" shows, I haven't done any for a while, and I don't much think I'm going to be in the foreseeable future. My bias for doing all sorts of media appearances, including this one, is to do it live.


Nutley, NJ: How effective do you feel CASA programs are and why would its existence be unwelcome in any particular County. I'm interested in helping to establish this program in Passaic County. Your comments are welcome!

Andrew Vachss: CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, evokes two separate feelings in me. When CASA volunteers are used as ADJUNCTS in the representation of a child, I couldn't be more supportive. However, in jurisdictions where CASAs are used INSTEAD OF legal representation for a child, I think this is a pernicious denial of due process for children. The idea that a warm, caring volunteer could "represent" a child who has putatively been abused by adults, who are themselves going to be represented by actual attorneys is, to me, a replication of the child's situation in his or her own home. That is, not a fair fight.


Soquel, CA: I very much enjoy your work. You speak of your books being trojan horses and just another means to get your message out. The stories themselves have to be some of the most nonfiction fiction out on the market. Is writing a creative process for you? Do you feel anything when you finish a book other than "mission accomplished"?

Andrew Vachss: Those are questions that go right to the heart of what I do, and if there's any creativity in my work, it's presenting what you so correctly call "non-fiction fiction" in such a way that I can engage readers who might not otherwise be interested in the topics that form the foundation to everything I do. Two people read my book. One has life experience, one does not. One sees the books as non-fiction fiction, another as some sort of bizarre fantasy. The task is to try and motivate those people without life experience to take a closer, harder look.


Boston, Massachusetts: Do you (or your publishers) have any plans to release "A Bomb Built in Hell" as a conventional book, or is the free e-book (thank you, btw) the only release we'll see?

Andrew Vachss: We've been taking a poll on the Web site for about a year. We were hoping we'd get some sort of clear decision by the public between releasing the book as a limited edition, a conventional hardcover, a paperback original, or an e-book. Unfortunately, no majority vote has emerged, and so neither has a decision. If I had a choice, and I believed the market was there, I guess I see that book now as a paperback original.


Columbia, MO: When one hears talk about how we should 'understand' the terrorists Burke's likely response immediately comes to mind. Has this been going through your mind as often as it has gone through the minds of your readers?

Andrew Vachss: I suspect it's been going through my mind even more constantly. I was born and raised in New York City. It's my native home, and my old office was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Terrorism is nothing but the enforcement arm of fascism, whether it's inside a family or inside a nation. So I've been focused on it my entire working life.


Los Angeles, CA: Any update on the Cross material? Love this character want to see more

Andrew Vachss: Here's the truth on the Cross material: There are actually three full-length Cross novels that I've done in partnership with James Colbert. Because we had a movie contract we chose to gamble and hold up on the novels until the movie came out. Unfortunately, after hiring a director and commissioning a screenplay and putting a producer in place, the studio changed hands. The race is run. I can't get my money back. So we'll start from scratch. I hope we have some news about the Cross novels by springtime.


Montreal, Quebec: Would you consider bringing Flood back for an appearance and also Ghost? Dead and Gone was a little hard on my heart with what Burke went through watching Pansy leave. How did it affect you while writing the scene? Thanks so much. Lily

Andrew Vachss: Writing that scene affected me very very deeply, as you will see when you read Pain Management. As far as Flood coming back, that's still an open door. But as far as Ghost is concerned, that's a much tougher question. I've had lots of requests for a follow-up to Shella, but I can't write that book until I've got a reason for Ghost to go on. And as yet, I don't have one.


Clark, New Jersey: I bought your wife's book Sex Crimes from half.com a few days ago. I am now on page 208. I think your wife is a great woman! Tell me, how is she? Is she still a lawyer working with rape victims?

Andrew Vachss: My wife continues to represent victims of sexual assault and victims of domestic violence. She's a warrior, and with her it's only a question of finding a ring to fight in, as you'll see when you get to the end of the book.


Boca Raton, FL: There are many women who look to you as knowing the truth about childhood sexual abuse and view you as a champion of the victims of exploitation. Do you feel that publishing articles in Playboy magazine diminishes the sincerity of your message?

Andrew Vachss: Absolutely not. I think that if you're really about message, then you hope to find as many forums as you can. I don't think doing comic books, as I have, trivializes my work. I think it brings it to the attention of those who might not otherwise ever see it. That's what Trojan Horse is all about. There are magazines which I won't name that I would not write for, but I don't put Playboy in that class.


Alameda, CA: I finished "Pain Management" yesterday. More than enjoyed it! You had me guessing until the end. A new 'Doc' was introduced in this book (Jennifer's Dad the forensic psychologist). Is he going to be our next Dr Bruce Perry? I really didn't get a full sense of what the effects of "incarceration on mental health" are. (What I image and what are the actual effects may be two different things.)

Andrew Vachss: You're a very sharp reader! The character of Dr. Dryslan is taken directly from an old comrade of mine with whom I still work regularly. I promise you you'll hear more about and from him in coming books.


Reseda, CA: Have you ever worked any cases of abuse that involved deaf children? If so, did you find the gap in communication/language development to be complex?

Andrew Vachss: Yes, I've worked on cases and represented deaf children, indeed some very complicated cases with deaf children who lacked signing skills. I found the only way to do this is to have on your team someone who combines not just mechanical interpretation skills, but a profound sense of empathy and advocacy. My book Strega is dedicated to one such comrade of mine who's no longer with us. Deaf children are a sub-minority to whom not enough attention has been paid. Everybody talks about the "silent child." There's no more poignant example of this than a deaf child who is also an abused child.



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