Dead and Gone: Andrew Vachss
Online chat at USATODAY.com, October 27, 2000.
Burke is back.
In his twelfth novel, Dead and Gone, author Andrew Vachss brings back his ex-con/career criminal/man for hire detective to serve as a middle man in an exchage of cash for a kidnapped child. Instead, Burke ends up wounded during a shootout—and finds himself trapped out of his element, in a place where pedophiles, abortion clinic bombers, neo-Nazis, and kiddie porn producers have found safe harbor. Intrigued? Join in on our chat with an author of the darkest noir imaginable.
Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases; a social case worker; a director of a maximum-security prison for youthful offenders. He is currently a lawyer in private practice who defends children and youths exclusively.
Oslo, Norway: Greetings Mr. Vachss. I've finally been able to get a copy of "Dead and Gone" in Norway. I'm full of respect for your work. In Norway we have recently captured two young "men" (19 and 21) who raped and killed two girls (8 and 10), yesterday a "man" won custody over his two younger daughter after confessing that he has molested the older daughter more than 15 times. (The child Protection Authorities supports this and claims he's a good father) and the largest opposing political party is trying to pass a bill on chemical castration. My questions are: Are you coming to Norway sometime? (I'll show you the sites;-) ) and what's your reaction to the two young "men" that killed and raped the two young girls? (I mean, even the FBI has asked for info, because the act and crime is very unusual.)
Andrew Vachss: I plan to return to Norway and enjoyed everything about my last visit except for the reindeer steak.
As far as chemical castration is concerned, that is, no pun intended, an impotent remedy. I have written about its uselessness in detail on our website. As far as the two predators you described, I think it critical to look into the possibility of this being a "folly a deux" event, because that would have the most profound implications for the "treatment" of the offenders.
Finally, as to the human who violated his own daughter, to give him custody, which in this case amounts to "ownership," is the equivalent of the government validating his evil acts.
arlington, virginia: have you considered the burke series as audio books? a good reader could recreate your characters effectively. also, what is your assessment of offering "a bomb built in hell" as a free serialization on amazon?
Andrew Vachss: Every book I've ever written has received audio book offers, but I rejected each offer because they all contained a specific clause that was personally offensive to me. When I receive an appropriate offer, I'll accept it.
The amazon experiment is still being evaluated, and the votes are still coming in. When they're tabulated, we'll make a decision as to future such offerings.
Lebach/Germany: Andrew: I just wanted to use this way to give you heads up from Germany. Again: I hope your books will be as sucessful over here as they are in the US. Stay strong, Michael (German Zero)
Andrew Vachss: Michael: Greetings, my comrade. Your German language of "The Zero" continues to be a source of great strength in Germany engaged in the same war.
Columbia, MO: Is Burke moving to the Pacific Northwest permanently? Did Kent Anderson's treatment of Portland in NIGHT DOGS influence your choice of setting in DEAD AND GONE?
Andrew Vachss: Burke isn't moving to Portland permanently, period, end of sentence, no possibility otherwise. I'm not familiar with the book you mentioned.
Boise, ID: I'm a big fan and my favorite book so far is still Shella, any chance we may see the Ghost come back?
Andrew Vachss: I've been asked that question many times, and I'm still searching for the most honest answer. If I can think of a reason for Ghost to continue, then it will happen. But I'm just not sure right now.
Detroit, Michigan: What is Alice Vachss doing now? I assume she is somehow still involved in the Holy War. Her sex crimes work was total stand up.
Andrew Vachss: I deeply appreciate the respect that you've shown her, and I'm happy to tell you that true to her word, Alice did find another ring to fight in. She now represents domestic violence victims.
Denver, CO: Andrew, Does it seem to be more Abuse of children or Neglect in their care that determines their lack of empathy towards other living beings? Because I know that the cycle of abuse can also lead to animal cruelty ...
Andrew Vachss: The single greatest contributor to the profound lack of empathy that characterizes the ambulatory sociopath is pervasive anti-bonding neglect.
Chicago IL.: What do you think of the ever present and untrue belief that is imposed on many children in this country that the most common danger is in the form of a strange man lurking behind a bush when in reality child abuse is most often purpotrated by someone that a child can know and trust?
Andrew Vachss: There's no question but that when you begin an investigation of child abuse, it's like dropping a stone into the center of the pool of the child's life, and then pursuing the concentric circles until you find a perpetrator. The myth that the greatest danger to our children is from strangers is not only ignorant, but pernicious, because it results in woefully inadequate funding for front line child protective services.
Alexandria VA: I enjoyed your comic series, Hard Looks from Dark Horse. Any plans for graphic novels in the future?
Andrew Vachss: Yes. I'm now working on a project with my brother Geoff Darrow of "Matrix" fame.
New York, NY: Hello Mr. Vachss, I was stunned when Burke's partner died in Dead and Gone. What made you decide to have that happen? It made sense in context, but it was a point of no return.
Andrew Vachss: I had been signaling Pansy's end for a couple of books now, and I let her go at about the same age that my own Neopolitan left me.
el paso tx: will burke ever appear in motion pictures? if so, who would you like to portray him. thank you for a thouht-provoking and serious series of books.
Andrew Vachss: Every book I've ever written has been purchased by Hollywood; however, as you know, a movie has yet to result. I cannot predict what those folks will do; however, you pushed one of my major buttons when you asked me about my choice for an actor. I hate the elitist, narrow-minded system now in place. There are better actors than you've ever seen on the screen not working. There are better writers than you've ever read not being published, better artists not hanging in galleries, better musicians not being recorded. If I were going to cast Burke, I would make some sample lines available to all comers, have open auditions, and take the last man standing.
San Francisco, CA: What is the best tactic for convincing the people around me to vote as a block regarding the safety of children?
Andrew Vachss: It depends on the kind of people who are around you. If they're the type to be motivated by self-interest, you can explain to them that the only true crime prevention is child protection. If they're motivated on a more humanitarian basis, you can explain that failure to concentrate votes on a narrow-focus single issue has cost the children of America any voice in Washington.
Minneapolis, MN: Mr. Vachss: In your legal practice, do you or your office mentor other attorneys and/or paralegals to work with children?
Andrew Vachss: We used to have a variety of internships; however, the learning curve is so steep, and the office is so highly pressured, that it didn't prove to be the training opportunity we hoped for. What we are trying to work through now on paper is the idea of some sort of "institute" which would be specifically devoted to training in the kind of work that we do.
Ashevile, North Carolina: If serious child advocates like you had their own single-issue powerful NRA-type PAC, where would you want to see its efforts focused? National? States? Sentencing Commissions? D.A.'s?
Andrew Vachss: All of the above and more, but if you asked me for one issue above all else, it would be the adequate training, staffing, supervision, support, funding, and compensation for the front line investigators known as Child Protective Services.
Canton, Ohio: My son is a victim of abuse and is writing his first novel about the subject at the age of 20. What advice would you give a caring victim who wants to help others thru writing? God bless you for helping children.
Andrew Vachss: I'm not sure I'm qualified to give that sort of advice; however, I would certainly investigate the newly emerging opportunities in the "print on demand" field.
Moscow, Russia: As a long time fan of the Burke series, I'm curious if there are plans to bring the characters to film. And if so, do you feel it's possible for Hollywood to address the themes of abuse/explotation of minors with committing explotation in the process?
Andrew Vachss: That's a very insightful question, and I don't know the answer, although based on its track record to date I'd be somewhat sceptical. However, if I didn't believe it COULD be done, I would not have finally agreed to Hollywood purchasing my work.
Memphis, TN: Do you think crime against children has gotten worse in the last few years?
Andrew Vachss: No, I actually don't. I think we have better case finding techniques. Once journalism acknowledged the existence of intrafamilial crimes against children, the numbers went up in American consciousness. But that evil has always been with us.
Huntington WV: Is Burke afraid of anything? He's my hero—he's the toughest character in fiction today. Luanne
Andrew Vachss: Actually Burke is a person with numerous fears, who's learned to make those fears work for him. The only person without fears is Wesley, and as he himself said once, "I'm not afraid of anything, and it's not worth it".
Lubbbock TX: Your web site rocks. How do you have the time to manage that as well as write all those books? (And how can I get the phone number of that gal in the Dead and Gone T-shirt?)
Andrew Vachss: That entire elaborate web site was designed, coded, maintained, managed, and updated by an amazing team of volunteers. I myself am a cyber dunce and contribute nothing toward the web site itself. As for Angelique's phone number, if you send us an e-mail to the web site, we'll pass it along, but I'm not promising anything.
lawrence, kansas: Mr. Vachss- My English teacher got me to go to your lecture in Kansas City and what I learned really upset me. How can one eighteen year old college student make any difference? I am still mad and want to do something, but don't know would be good to do.
Andrew Vachss: First of all, please thank your English teacher for me, because without people feeding the whisper stream, our work would never be as successful as it is. The most important thing you can do depends on your own personal choice of path: If you intend to be a direct combatant in what I believe to be the only "Holy War" worthy of the name, now's the time to begin preparation, whether it be law enforcement, social work, psychology, criminology, you name it. But if your path is to organize others, you can start now by signing up as many people as you can to a sacred pledge that they are going to be as obsessive about the protection of children (and make sure the Congress knows) it as the NRA is about gun possession.
san diego, ca: Dead & Gone was excellent. What will the next book be about, and will Gem be moving to NYC with Burke?
Andrew Vachss: You're way ahead of me in already deducing that Burke is going to go back home to New York. I can tell you exactly what the next book will be about by telling you its title, which is "Pain Management."
arlington, va: In the past two books, Burke has lost most of the little security he could count on - his home, Pansy, even his appearance. Did you wish to explore his reactions to such upheaval?
Andrew Vachss: That's prescient of you to say, because that is exactly my intent. You're obviously someone who knows how to read well beneath the surface.
E. Npt., NY: Mr. Vachss, Any plans for another compilation CD? Maybe some of the "Brooklyn Blues - Doo-Wop" Burke spoke of in "Dead and Gone"? Thanks, DL
Andrew Vachss: AMEN! I'm not sure if you're reading my mind or what, but that's exactly what the next soundtrack is going to be: The Brooklyn Blues.
Asheville, North Carolina: If I may ask a follow-up question regarding political activity... my background is campaigns and politics, including political fundraising. I'd like to see people like me make a contribution by playing hardball with politicians. I'm not and never will be an expert in the social work world, but I do know how to buy, sell, and pressure elected officials. What type of political PAC could you envision, and where would it focus its energies vis-a-vis campaign contributions and lobbying? So much happens at the state and local level, I'm at a loss on how to design such an effort. But damn motivated. Thanks for the inspiration.
Andrew Vachss: I hope you'll drop us a line directly at the web site, because your question deserves a far more complete answer than I can give you in this forum.
Comment from USATODAY.com Host: We're out of time. Many thanks to Andrew Vachss and to all of you for joining in.