Interview for The Bird
Andrew Vachss is one of today's most powerful and hard–edged novelists. He is recognized as the "Lord of the Asphalt Jungle" by the Washington Post, and his best–selling novels tell the shocking truths of abuse in today's world.
Mr. Vachss is a lawyer in private practice in New York City. He works exclusively representing children and youth. It is his work in juvenile justice, that has earned him honours from many other contemporary writers. Vachss is the author of a dozen, best selling novels, and surprisingly, he has never had any formal writing training, but spent his time in a wide variety of occupations.
The Bird: Mr. Vachss, how long have you been writing?
Andrew Vachss: I didn't really do any writing in school at all, I began in the late 60s, early 70s.
B: Was there something that started you in writing? Many of the people I have spoken to believe that, your writing is an outlet for the horrors you deal with, in your day–to–day life.
AV: I'm sorry that the people you spoke to are so ignorant and uninformed. I don't know where they get that sort of adolescent speculation, but my outlet is to directly intervene in the horrors. Not to write little books about them. The books are an organic extension of what I do, not a catharsis for not being able to do it.
B: In what genre would you classify your books?
AV: I write about child abuse and violence, and the connection between them. In America, in 1995, I figure that makes me a main stream writer.
B: Are there plans to re–release any of the earlier "Burke" novels in hard cover once again?
AV: No, why would I do that? I don't know how working class people get to pay $25 for a damn book, as it is. My real interest now is the trade paperback. All of my books are being reissued in that format. These are permanent books, they won't fall apart like a cheap–assed market paperback. But they'll cost 10 bucks instead of 25. New hardcovers, except for a collector's market, wouldn't make any sense.
B: A lot of the characters in your novels seem to be very well rounded and fleshed out. Do they come from any experiences in real life or are they strictly from your imagination?
AV: I was a Federal Investigator in sexually transmitted diseases. I was a case worker in the infamous New York City Department of Welfare. I was in that insane tribalistic war in Biafra, now called Nigeria. I ran a center for urban migrants in Chicago, and a maximum security prison for aggressive violent youth in Massachusetts, and I did a half a dozen other things before I went to law school. Since I've been a lawyer I've only represented children and only dealt with issues of violence. So the answer to your question is, everything that's in those books comes out of what I've seen, or touched, or felt, or smelt, and if I had one wish it would be that the books were fiction.
B: Your forthcoming novel Footsteps of the Hawk is due for release in September. What does that story revolve around?
AV: (Laugh) That story is the first mystery I ever wrote. The first sort of—I hesitate to use the phrase but—whodunit that I've ever written. With that exception, it revolves around the same characters, and the same themes. But the essence of the plot is that there's a serial killer who committed some horrible mayhem, and the person who has been convicted of that is in prison. Burke (the main character of the bulk of Mr. Vachss' works) finds out that person is innocent, but the person who actually was the killer, therefore has to be one of two, very separate police officers. One male and one female, both out of his past. And so the book resolves itself only when that mystery is revealed, and that, if I did my job correctly, won't be until the very end.
B: Are you planning a signing tour with the release of this novel?
AV: I don't actually do those. But what I do, on occasion, and I'm going to do for this book is, I'll hit, you know 12 cities in 12 days and combine it with other activities that I have, and other meetings that I have. It actually works out pretty well.
B: I guess there are no meetings in Canada?
AV: No (laugh). I guess these are economic decisions, not literary ones. My best guess is that they simply do this on a cost effectiveness issue. I don't know any people that have gone to Canada except for Canadian authors. Actually one of my favourite authors is a Canadian, Charles de Lint. I think he's done tours of Canada, but he's the only one that I know of.
B: Who else do you enjoy reading?
AV: Well Charles is one of them, Eugene Izzi, James Colbert, Chet Williamson, Joe Lansdale, Ardath Mayhar, Alice Hoffman, Martha Grimes, Walter Mosley, Rod Thorp, I mean there's a very long list. I'm not one of those miserable bitches, you know, who reads only his or her own work, and those of dead people. I haven't mentioned any of the dead people, many of whom are among my favourites as well, but I think they are irrelevant to this.
B: Personally, my favourite Andrew Vachss novel is Hard Candy, mainly because it was the first one that I read. Is there one that you are most proud of?
AV: In terms of writing? You have to explain to me why I would be proud of it. Proud of the writing? Proud of what?
B: Either the writing or the story, or something you have created that you're most satisfied with.
AV: I guess my most beloved book is, of course my orphan Shella.
B: Have you been effected at all by the recent changes in the comic book industry?
AV: You mean the distribution thing? No, I don't think so, because I wasn't really in the middle of that. My new stuff will be coming out after the change, so I couldn't answer that question. Maybe in a year from now, but for now I don't really know.
B: Are there any reports or ongoing works on the comic book adaptation of Blue Belle?
AV: That's a damn good question, and the answer is I don't really know (laugh). There was a great, great dissatisfaction with the product as we originally saw it. We all agreed to table it for awhile and try to come back to it with different personnel. That's as far as we got.
B: Up to this point you've worked exclusively with Dark Horse Publishing in regards to Hard Looks, Underground and Predator. Do you have any plans for new projects with them?
AV: Sure, the new series Cross is due out in late October.
B: Are you planning any work with any other publishers?
AV: Well there will be a comic adaptation of my Batman novel that will be coming out about the same time as the book. So that will be November.
B: Is Batman: The Ultimate Evil going to follow the same themes as your 'Burke' stories?
AV: I wouldn't touch work–for–hire, unless they let me use their characters for exactly my purpose. The book is about as highly specific a book as you will see and it's going to call for a boycott of goods made in Thailand as a result. It's about the kiddie sex ring in Thailand.
B: Recently, at the latest Distributor meeting, there were rumours of you writing a series of super hero stories—
AV: How did you hear about that?
B: Well we talk to people—hear things you know.
AV: I have no comment, because this is something I have actually worked on quietly, without discussing it, I thought with anybody, for sometime. At this point it's a question of finding the right artist, but more than that I couldn't say.
B: So do you want me to just avoid that question?
AV: I don't care, a rumour is a rumour. I told you everything I would say about it.
B: While working with Dark Horse, you've had the opportunity to work with some excellent artists, such as; Timothy Bradstreet, Omaha Perez, Paul Chadwick and Gary Gianni. Is there a single artist that you feel captures your work the best?
AV: Geof Darrow.
B: Jeff Darro?
AV: Yes, unequivocally. I think Geof Darrow is a genius.
AV: D..A..R..R..O..W.. You've never heard of Geof Darrow?
B: I don't recognize the name. What did he do for you?
AV: Jesus Mary Joseph. Well did you ever see Another Chance to Get it Right? You know the piece in the middle about tracking down that chain of syphilis? The guy who goes from giant panels to micro panels. That's Geof Darrow. Geof is doing all the covers for the forthcoming Cross series. Only because we couldn't get him to do the interiors because Geof's work is so... complicated, so detailed, that his production rate is very slow.
B: There are many in the industry who are slow.
AV: Right, but there is a reason for Geof needing the time is what I'm saying.
B: Is there any other illustrator or artist, you'd like to work with that you haven't yet? Or one that you'd like to work with again, other than Geof Darrow?
AV: Actually the ones that you mentioned, except for, I believe you said Perez, whose name I didn't recognize.
B: Omaha Perez. He was an artist in Underground.
AV: I didn't work with those people. Let me explain about Underground. All I did for Underground, was I created a shared world, and I wrote the four prose stories. That was it. I didn't pick another thing. I didn't pick the stories. I didn't pick the artwork. So I don't really feel that I worked with the illustrators there at all. That's not something I'd do again. In the future any work I do like that I'm going to have much more control over. It was a mistake to give up the little bit of control that I did.
B: Many of the stories were very good in Underground.
AV: I don't agree with you, the stories may have been good, bad or indifferent, but they weren't about Underground. They were simply regular stories put into Underground, and it's done. I'm going to resurrect Underground, but I'm going to do it in my own way.
B: Thank you very much for your time Mr. Vachss. I wish you all the best.
I would like to take this opportunity to again thank Mr. Vachss for the interview and for being so patient through my stammering and fumbling.