ANDREW VACHSS: Swimming at the Horizon
Interview by Pete Humes
Okay, I'm scared of Andrew Vachss. Not actually frightened that he's going to do me harm, maybe just a bit overwhelmed. It's not very often in life that I come across someone as dedicated and serious about his work. Surprisingly, even though he is a highly regarded author of gritty crime fiction, he doesn't consider writing his work. Instead his mission is protecting children.
Vachss is the only lawyer in the country to exclusively represent children. He's become an avenger for the prey of adult abusers, exploiters, and the general scum of the Earth. He works tirelessly on their behalf to bring justice to criminals who take advantage and desecrate our nation's young people. It seemed the mere suggestion that anything else took priority over his cause was absurd. When I asked how he balanced his work with the crafting of novels, he replied simply and sternly. "I write about what I do. What I have been doing my whole life. But I don't attempt to balance it. They don't need to be balanced. My work is what counts. When and if there's time available, I use it for writing. I don't accept advances, I don't sign contracts for books. I'm under no obligation to produce one, so there's no need for this balance that you're talking about."
I'm impressed and curious about how a man can be so focused. There are plenty of ways I could try to explain, but I'm no expert in human psychology and Vachss is certainly not opening up on a personal level. He's got a job to do, and he's here to do it. To hell with anything that isn't relevant to moving forward, and pity the poor fool who asks a silly question.
In the late sixties Andrew Vachss worked for the United States Department of Health collecting information on sexually-transmitted diseases. When he discovered the shocking number of parents who had infected their own children through abuse and incest—something happened. I can almost hear the giant power switch being thrown, and the shower of sparks that sent Vachss propelling toward his destiny. Not so much the story of a shining knight on a white horse, but a self-proclaimed cog in the machine working for a larger cause.
He still speaks with anger when he remembers discovering those cases. "I just hated them and I still do. I wanted to incapacitate them. And I still do. I wanted to protect the victims and I still do. Nothing changed from that moment except my ability to affect it. As a man that young, all I had was the rage. I had to learn skills."
So he became a lawyer, and he became smarter where he needed to be smarter and he worked harder than anyone else because these were cases that had to be won. He changed the system from it's foundation, and he trained others in his army. To a lot of criminals, he was the bad guy, and Vachss realized that his lifestyle would have to change. The stories surrounding his fortified apartment and loyal pack of dogs varies, but it's safe to say that, if you're not supposed to be in his home, it's not a place you're going to enjoy.
As part of his national book tour for the latest Burke novel, SAFE HOUSE, he is scheduled to stop by Carytown Books on April 8. I had heard that he was tough. To lessen the intensity of a face-to-face meeting which might leave me feeling like I just dropped my pants in front of a crowd. I wanted to ask him some questions before he came to Richmond.
The funny thing is, even though he's several states away, and it's only his voice on the telephone, Andrew Vachss has the power to intimidate. Certainly nobody you want on the opposing team. I began to sweat after reading six different articles that portrayed him as the bad-ass of good guys. He's a hyper-intelligent professional with an addiction to the truth. Quite simply, he doesn't have the time nor the patience for anything short of the best. If you're in the road, you're going to be run over.
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