Crime writer Vachss fights for the little guy

The bestselling author has founded his own press to treat neglected writers right.

By Craig Offman
September 1, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Bestselling novelist Andrew Vachss believes that justice requires a firm hand. The lawyer and author used to run a maximum security prison and was a probation officer, too. Now the author of "False Allegations" and "Everybody Pays: Stories" (both published by Knopf) has launched a crusade against the dark side of publishing by founding his own house, Red 71 Press.

"It's something I've been threatening to do for decades," says the 55-year-old, who started the house with a consortium of publishing friends. "I've spoken about the problems in publishing, and people ask if I should be putting my money where my mouth is. Now I can answer that question."


Vachss claims that authors are paid huge advances by houses that in the end can't financially justify their expensive purchases, so their books are deemed failures. "The most talented aren't necessarily the most successful," Vachss says. He also points out the plight of mid-list novelists, such as Chet Williamson and James Colbert, whose writing he respects, but who, in his opinion, don't receive the support they deserve from their publishers.

Vachss says he won't publish his own books with Red 71 Press, despite the potential income that the house would enjoy from putting out one of his crime thrillers. "I have an established relationship with Knopf," he says, citing the fact that the publisher recently purchased many of his back-titles and republished them in paperback with a uniform design.

Instead, Red 71 Press, which takes its name from a pulp fiction story by Paul Cain, has made its debut with "The Beggars' Shore," a first novel by Chicago writer and furniture mover Zak Mucha. Like Vachss (a former furniture mover himself), Mucha is a chronicler of the underclass. The book describes the fall from grace of a religious man who wallows deep into Chicago's netherworld of pushers and hustlers. "I'm not sure we want to make it too big," says Vachss, referring to Red 71, which has no salaried employees -- yet. "We don't plan to make a tender on Bertelsmann."

Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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