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Andrew Vachss Barnes & Noble Interview

By Matt Schwartz
Originally published on the Barnes & Noble website, June 1997.

B&N: Let's talk about Hard Looks, the graphic adaptations of some of your short stories from your collection Born Bad. Whose idea was it to adapt your stories into a graphic format—was it yours, or Dark Horse's? Did you have any input as to whom was doing the adapting?

AV: The idea for Hard Looks was Dark Horse's actually, and in many cases, I simply took their suggestions, when I didn't know the artists they wanted to use. But when it came to the selection of writers such as Joe Lansdale or Charles de Lint or Chet Williamson or James Colbert, I made those selections.

B&N: Were you pleased with the results?

AV: With some of the adaptations, I thought they actually achieved the gestalt that every non-egotistical writer looks for—that is, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. With others, I think they clearly failed.

B&N: What do you think it is about your stories that lend themselves particularly well to the graphic format?

AV: I think you're bringing another dimension to the table. If you write, what you're trying to do is evoke images in people's minds. If you're linked and synched with someone who can create those images in a way that fairly and accurately replicates what you were getting at, you do have another dimension. There are people who are—and they are almost exclusively male—hyper-visually oriented, much more so than to their other senses. So if you write as I do, strictly as a Trojan Horse, the more walls you can get behind, the better.

B&N: Let's take a look at a complete opposite book—your collection of prose poems Another Chance To Get It Right. How did this come about? Did you write it specifically for Dark Horse?

AV: No, I didn't write it for Dark Horse. As a matter of fact, a portion of the original appeared on the cover of Parade Magazine, a piece called "One More Chance to Get it Right." They turned the excerpt into a photo essay so, combined with the genius of photographer Eddie Adams, it was quite powerful. The response to it is what triggered the eventual Dark Horse book.

B&N: Did you feel that there wasn't a good medium for Another Chance To Get It Right until Dark Horse suggested the graphic format?

AV: There was plenty of offers to do it, but they all wanted to accompany the text with photographs, which meant that instead of a book I could reasonably sell for $15, it would have to sell for $75, which is the exact opposite from what I wanted.

B&N: How did you feel about the final results?

AV: There are certain artists—Geof Darrow is the premiere example, with Paul Chadwick and Gary Gianni being others—who genuinely have that certain gift. And in this case, it was always designed to be illustrated from the beginning—unlike Hard Looks, which was merely an adaptation of what was not. So in this case I think the final product was remarkably enhanced. I don't think that as stand-alone text it would have had anywhere near the impact this book has had.

B&N: It's quite a remarkable collection of little vignettes. Was the book written all at once, or was it written in pieces over a period of time?

AV:This was a collection of these prose poem allegories that I had compiled over time, not with the original intent of publishing them in this format—it just worked out that way.

B&N: You feel strongly that people should not buy Thai products. Why is that? [Note: The boycott ended 12/20/00. For the complete story, click here.]

AV: Quite simply, Thailand (and it's not exclusively Thailand) is in the kiddie-sex tour business, and I don't believe the facts concerning this are in dispute. It's been pedophile paradise for many, many years. And I think there's a time-honored tradition of citizens seeking to alter the conduct of government through economics, whether it was the boycott of South Africa or the Civil Rights boycotts here in America. People boycott tuna manufacturers because they are netting dolphins, or they boycott the manufacturers of fur products, and on and on and on. In this case, we felt the only way we can make an impact on a foreign government's way of doing business, was to refuse to deal with those who traffic in their products. So as long as they traffic in children AS a product, we wouldn't deal with those who traffic with any of their products.

B&N: You have fought essentially your entire life for the rights of children in the courts and legal systems. You have said you feel there is a particular injustice by using the term "incest" since it implies that a child being molested by a relative is less damaging than molestation by a stranger. Have you seen any progress in this cause over the last twenty years or so?

AV: The progress has been cataclysmic. We wouldn't even be having this conversation thirty years ago. I don't know how you could even say the word "incest" in a courtroom thirty years ago—and you certainly could not say it in a public forum. The concept of being a lawyer who exclusively represents children as clients would have been science-fiction then. There has been radical high-speed evolution. Certainly if you stand at ground zero, you can see it. In fact, I know I and my comrades have been swimming at the horizon, and we will all drown before we reach our goal. But the next wave, and the one after that is what we're counting on. And I'm so proud of the young people who are enlisting in the only "holy war" worthy of the name in so many ways. I promise you, the next wave of lawyers for children is going to be a tsunami. On the other hand, it's equally fair to say we have an enormously long way to go. But the difference between 1967 and 1997 is almost immeasurable in terms of how far we've come. When I began to write, MY books were considered literally unpublishable. Not because of the quality of writing but strictly because of the topic. Clearly, that's not the case any more.

B&N: What about the progress in the media?

AV: It's hard to say "progress in media." The media's been pendulumistic. If you read newspapers in the fifties when Ike was in the White House, and you read them cover-to-cover, you would have concluded that there was no such thing as child abuse in America. When the media "discovered" child abuse, in many cases they behaved irresponsibly, and began to find it under every bed and abandoned some of the standard journalistic principles in looking at the phenomenon. There was a predictable backlash and now to some extent the media is running scared, so whereas the media is, in my mind, the greatest single force of social change that exists, certainly journalism is, it's not always done right, it's not always done responsibly. If you look at the way "journalism" is practiced on the internet, you'll see what I mean.

B&N: Yes, you've made it clear you feel very strongly about the dangers in how "journalism" is practiced and abused on the internet.

AV: Well, I think the greatest danger is not kiddie porn, which we've had for a long, long time before the internet. It's not lonely-hearts killers, which we've had ever since people could write letters. And it's not even cheating people out of their money. It's that skepticism seems to have died. So there's a whole generation of mostly young people for whom the concept of fact-checking or sourcing is utterly irrelevant. If it's on the net, it must be true, as if it has some biblical import. They're ignoring the fact that any human can create a persona on the internet. Interview himself, quote himself, and then become an expert, entitled to the same weight as someone who had earned those credentials in fair combat. So it's terrifying to me that young people will say "XYZ" and I'll say "That's nonsense!" and they'll say "well, but I saw it on the internet." Now if they saw it in the newspaper, they'd be very skeptical. The Generation-X kids are very blase and very cynical, but when it's on the internet, it somehow gets transformed into something holy. Of course that's scary.

B&N: What do you say to people who accuse you of exploiting children yourself in writing about them and making a career from it?

AV: Well, even though those kind of criticisms don't deserve a response, I'll give one. If writing about something is exploiting it, then there's a whole bunch of people who exploited World War II, there's a whole bunch of people who exploited racism, there's a whole bunch of people of who exploited child labor, and a whole bunch of people who exploited battered wives. I'm curious to know how you could bring about social change without acknowledging the existence of that you wish to change. It's also clear that those people who make ludicrous claims like that you just mentioned, have never read my books. I was actually interviewed by a book editor of a newspaper on the West Coast. When I went into her office, the first thing she said to me was "How can you write such graphic detailed depictions of child sexual abuse?" and I said, "I've never done that. I see a whole bunch of my books on your shelf. Just point to one that shows me where I did that." Her answer to me was, "I don't read that kind of material." So I don't understand how people who think American Psycho [by Bret Easton Ellis] is brilliant literature, can say that I'm exploiting child abuse by writing about it. And indeed, since I spend my life fighting it, I'm not really interested in criticism from networking, favor-trading, ass-kissing humans who are not real participants in any sort of struggle. I do wonder why I'm the only target of their alleged accusations of exploitation. Lots of people write about lots of things. Is Thomas Harris exploiting serial killers? I don't know how any journalism could function if it were constrained by idea that to write about something is to exploit it.

B&N: What's the best way for interested people to find out more about the causes you fight for and information on "Don't Buy Thai"?

AV: The best way is to go the website, which is It's got connections, not only to Don't Buy Thai, but also to ChildTrauma Academy, which is the child-protective program that we support and endorse and about which I wrote the last book. It also has something, believe it or not, actually called "Credentials." I've got thirty years in this business on the front line, and I'm happy to have them checked. I'd sure like these people who fancy themselves to be critics to put their own up against mine. And if they've got a better way to fight the only "holy war" worthy of the name, they can count on me to enlist. But unless and until they do, they're entitled to the same respect warriors have for non-combatants, especially those with big mouths and no performance.


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