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Andrew Vachss, Author of "Shella", Discusses Writing About Abused and Exploited Children

March 31, 1993, Wednesday
CBS News Transcripts

PAULA ZAHN, co-host: Twenty-three minutes before the hour. Next on CBS THIS MORNING, the amazing Andrew Vachss and his latest hard-boiled novel.


HARRY SMITH, co-host: Twenty-one minutes before the hour. New York's abused and exploited children have a friend at court, the city's children's advocate, attorney Andrew Vachss. In his spare time, Vachss writes gritty, hard-boiled, very adult thrillers that capture much of the pain and ugliness those kids go through. His latest is "Shella." And Andrew Vachss joins us this morning.

Good morning.

Mr. ANDREW VACHSS (Author, "Shella"): Morning.

SMITH: You say you write as a means of communication. What are you trying to communicate in "Shella"?

Mr. VACHSS: Essentially, that we build our own monsters. That there's no biogenetic code for a serial killer or a multiple rapist or a sexual sadist. We construct these creatures from the same protoplasm that gives us rocket scientists and violinists. It's what we do that gives us what we get.

SMITH: The people in this book do things, talk about things they have done in their life in a kind of numbness, in a way describing despicable, horrible things as if they were everyday common occurrences.

Mr. VACHSS: The numbness is necessary. It's deliberately self-induced, although not intellectually planned for, because to expose yourself to feel those feelings again—to re-experience them, you would literally go mad. You simply wouldn't be able to tolerate your own existence unless you could distance yourself from it.

SMITH: You write in this book with a—a—a far right-wing organization and its ability to—to ensnare people. Do you believe that to be true?

Mr. VACHSS: I don't think there's any question about it. What we have failed to do is treat it psychologically. We treat it ideologically. We say racism is intolerable to us. We don't understand that people will join the only club that will have them. And there are disaffected, disenfranchised human beings in this country who we've not addressed. When they turn almost organically towards groups that preach hate, we say, 'Oh, they're disturbed people.'

SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. VACHSS: It's not quite that simple. Tribalism is the issue for us, not racism.

SMITH: Is it generalizable to other kinds of things? I mean, you look at what's going on in Waco, Texas or whatnot?

Mr. VACHSS: Oh, I think it's completely generalizable because it's people who do it. And we have a lot of people in this country—I've often said and I believe it—if you could take the formerly-abused-child now-adult vote in this country, you would impact presidential politics. The numbers are literally that large. We have all kinds of people walking around with varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder that we don't address, until their behavior tells us who they are.

SMITH: Now you—the—you say an interesting thing about post-traumatic disorder which is something we associate with war or—or huge cataclysmic events that happen in an adult's life. You're talking about people who, as children...

Mr. VACHSS: Yes. I'm saying clearly that the children—for some children, the home is a greater war zone. And unlike a POW, who at least has an ideology to cling to, at least has the hope of rescue—the abused child is so encapsulated, that he believes he's seeing the world. And the world will hurt him, unless he manages to figure a way to hurt it.

SMITH: You write these novels. We call them investigative novels. You tried to publish them as nonfiction and what was the reaction?

Mr. VACHSS: The reaction was, first of all, nobody was going to publish them. My first stuff was universally rejected on the grounds that such things could not occur. When I started in this business, you couldn't say the word "incest" on television; simply couldn't do it.


Mr. VACHSS: What's happened as journalism—which is basically the only way we find out truth in this country—has made facts available to the public, what was formerly unacceptable as horrible fantasy is now almost taken for granted.

SMITH: "Shella" is the new book by Andrew Vachss. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. VACHSS: Thank you for having me.


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