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Andrew Vachss Interview - Part 2
Further words with the renowned mystery/suspense author and child rights lawyer.

By Spence D., IGN for Men Senior Editor.
Originally posted at IGN for Men, November 17, 2000.

Andrew Vachss, for those unfamiliar with his name, is a best selling mystery/suspense novelist and child protection lawyer. He's highly regarded in both of his chosen career fields, universally respected (and perhaps even feared) by fellow lawyers and a literary force to be reckoned with, especially in terms of the crime/mystery/suspense genre.

Vachss' latest literary endeavor, Dead and Gone pits his longtime anti-hero Burke against a mastermind pedophile hell-bent on creating an empire where deviant earthly desires can be achieved without legal or moral ramifications. It's a whirlwind ride through a murkily unnerving underground where children are used, abused, kidnapped, brainwashed and, thanks to the vengeful Burke, ultimately avenged. If you've never read a Vachss book, it's as good a place as any to start.

In Part 1 of our interview with Mr. Vachss, IGN For Men Senior Editor Spence D. engaged in an inner eye opening dialogue with the man. Here in Part 2 Spence and Andrew continue their discussion, delving more into the mind of the man behind Burke.

(Be sure to peep Andrew Vachss' official website, The Zero, too).

IGN4M: A word that comes up in regards to your writing is the word 'propaganda.' Do you truly see your fiction, such as the Burke novels, as being propaganda?

AV: If propaganda means to try and change people's perspective, give them information they didn't have, and hope to influence the way they access material from then on, then that's what I am, a propagandist.

IGN4M: How come you haven't made any inroads into Hollywood? I mean I haven't really heard any buzz about any of your material being given the screenwriting treatment.

AV: Everything I've ever written has been optioned by Hollywood or purchased outright. I've never not had something under contract to Hollywood, including right now. They've hired directors, they've commissioned screenplays, they've done all that stuff, but they've never produced a shooting script that all parties could say "Yeah that's it."

IGN4M: So nothing's ever reached the production phase?

AV: Absolutely not.

IGN4M: That sounds rather like the situation that James Crumley went through. I know he moved to LA and worked on a lot of screenplays, which ended up never getting made ...

AV: Well I never went down to LA, nor do I ever intend to. And I'm not sure why it would sound like Crumley because lots and lots of people have had stuff optioned and an adequate screenplay wasn't produced. I don't think this is a unique story. I think I've been treated really well by Hollywood. Hollywood gave me, specifically New Line Cinema gave me a Victor Salva Clause in my contract before anybody knew there was a Victor Salva.

IGN4M: I must admit that I'm not familiar with what a Victor Salva Clause is.

AV: Well, you wouldn't be. How about the movie Powder? You know who directed that?

IGN4M: Yeah.

AV: Do you know what he was?

IGN4M: Yeah, he was a convicted child molester.

AV: Okay. Well, his name is Victor Salva. I had a clause in my contract prior to that. It said 'Nobody ever convicted of a crime against a child could work on the movie in any capacity.' So New Line was good enough and in-sync enough with what I'm doing to give me that contractual language, you see? They've been fine. I am grateful that several scripts that I've seen, they were listening to me and not going forward with. So if I just wanted a movie made, I believe that I could have had that done already. I'm really happy they haven't done that. I'd rather wait and attempt to get it right.

IGN4M: Have you yourself ever written a script treatment of one of you books or short stories?

AV: I wrote a screenplay and the reaction to it was ... the Hollywood people got the screenplay and said 'Oh my God! Andrew, this is just like the book.' As if that was the worst thing that one could do. I think very often Hollywood buys stuff because of its impact on others, not because of its impact on themselves.

IGN4M: Well the other game is to buy up stuff that is hot, that other production companies are interested in and therefore prevent anyone else from making the movie themselves.

AV: That certainly happens because I've had books bought outright, not optioned, where they pay the full purchase price.

IGN4M: Wow.

AV: Yeah, I was surprised myself. And yet they still didn't make the movie.

IGN4M: Well, you've cleared up my Hollywood connection questions. I wrongfully figured that perhaps your relationship in Hollywood was similar to when you first tried to get your inaugural novel Flood published and most of the major houses turned it down, nobody was willing to take the risk because they thought it was so on the edge.

AV: No, it was the opposite, it really was. I had movie offers for the very first book within, I mean, you know, a few hours after it was out and I've had them ever since. It was never a problem getting movie offers. The problem is, when you got a lot of horses in the race, you really have to pick the winner. And I have not done that [laughs] to date.

IGN4M: You've also said on more than one occasion that roughly 10% of your time is devoted to your writing ...

AV: You know, I say that when people are crazy enough to ask me to give 'em numbers. It might be 15% for all I know.

IGN4M: Don't worry, I'm not gonna ask you 'How much time to you spend on your writing.'

AV: No, no, I understand. But that's my point. A small percentage of my total time is devoted to writing, yes.

IGN4M: I also know that you write a lot of your novels in your head. But then do you transcribe them longhand or do you sit down at the computer and spew them out.

AV: That's the latter.

IGN4M: You don't take notes or anything?

AV: [laughs]

IGN4M: I mean I'm not a writer at your level in terms of penning a novel, but I do write a lot of my articles in my head, then scribble down rough ideas on napkins, scraps of paper, whatever, thus ending up with several stories strewn about the room.

AV: We're no different because my initial training was as an investigator, not as a writer. I was an investigator in sexually transmitted diseases with the Public Health Service. You understand how that works? I've gotta persuade you to tell me everybody you've had sex within a critical period. Sometimes 90 days, sometimes 6 months. I've gotta talk you into that. I can't sit here and take notes. We won't have the conversation. Then I was caseworker for the Department of Welfare, where you certainly can't be doing anything like that. Then I ran a maximum-security prison for violent youth. You can't say 'Put the knife down Jose, I want to make sure I've got you captured here [on paper].' So I have scraps of paper all over my life, too, although I prefer index cards. But as far as writing a book is concerned, that goes in here [points to his head] and it gets processed and it comes out. I don't actually need the scraps of paper to help my memory.

IGN4M: I worked for Danielle Steel one summer as her kids' lifeguard, of all things, anyway, she had an old manual typewriter sitting in a room and it's what she used to write the initial draft of all her novels. I know a lot of other novelists rely on the trusty manual typewriter, as well. I was wondering are you an old school writer in terms of using a manual typewriter or are you up-to-date with a computer?

AV: I don't understand the difference actually because the thing doesn't compute. It's a typewriter with a screen instead of a piece of paper.

IGN4M: Well, I guess the major difference would be that with a typewriter you are kind of screwed if you make a mistake, whereas on the computer you can save text and then come back and re-write it or rearrange it later on.

AV: Do you know where the term 'cut-and-paste' came from?

IGN4M: Well, let's see, Burroughs was a master of cut-n-paste literary technique and John Cage is universally heralded as the originator of cut-n-paste in terms of rearranging recorded sound, but doesn't it go back to the early printing days?

AV: It physically came because you laid out your work, take an x-acto knife and a ruler and go [makes cutting motion], take the pieces, paste it up, which is how newspapers were originally put together. So you wouldn't need a computer to do what you were describing. That's what cut-n-paste means and that's the way I learned to do it. And I certainly was writing before computers were common currency.

IGN4M: Every once in a while you see an interview with a popular author who extols the virtues of using a manual typewriter over a computer, usually stating that by saving your work on computer and then coming back to rework it later on ruins the pureness of the material.

AV: Oh please! It's just manual work, anyone could do it. You think that people who were writing 4000 years before there were computers only could write linearly?

IGN4M: They probably were writing on several different tablets, breaking them up, and rearranging them in the proper order.

AV: Sure, of course they were. And most people do—and I think this may be shocking to anybody who has been raised on computers—most people do drafts of their work.

IGN4M: I still have to print my work out and edit it with a pen, actually.

AV: That's the way writing is done.

IGN4M: The funny thing is that the people I work with laugh at me when I edit my work that way.

AV: They laugh, but they also ... Lemme tell you something. If you want to see one characteristic of the computer generation, it's people who don't check their work. It is astounding to me the crap that comes forward as writing to an editor that simply hasn't been checked. And I'm not talking about sacred spellchecker, which the computer does for you. Checked. It doesn't happen. When you typed it, when mistakes were really fatal, when it wasn't to just go like that, you paid more attention.

IGN4M: You took more time before you actually typed it in.

AV: And before you showed it to anybody. My first book was a textbook and it was written on a typewriter, not a computer. Thousands of footnotes. You know, each page, get it right. And it was all cut-n-paste. If you work with footnotes, you understand. That's what you do all the time.

IGN4M: Oh yeah, I did my share of footnotes on a typewriter in college, so I know what you're talkin' about.

AV: The computer just makes it easier.

IGN4M: And that ease contributes to what you said earlier. Now it is easier for people to toss up "writing" whenever they so choose, without regard for checking it over. [something this editor has been guilty of more than a few time since switching from print to the Internet]

AV: It's just like guns. Guns don't kill people. But they make it a lot easier.

Spence D. wouldn't trade his Apple back in for a Smith Corona no how.

This interview was originally posted at IGN for Men.


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