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Friday, 25 August 2006

William T. Vollmann is interviewed by Matt Thorne for The Independent. The novelist, who Thorne describes as "known mainly as a cult novelist, revered more than read" divulges details of the books he's currently working on.

He's currently working on a number of new projects. One is a non-fiction book about his experiences hopping freight trains across America. "It's really fun to think about the connections with the Beats, rereading Jack Kerouac, but also Jack London and Mark Twain, travelling fast through the country, that solitary, wild American experience."

Another forthcoming book is about Imperial Valley. "I've been working on it for ten years," he told me. "I'm trying to tell the history of the US-Mexican border from earliest times to the present. I'm looking at how a line on paper can change things. When you first look at Imperial Valley it seems hot, flat and dull, but the more you look into it the more secrets you can find. There's a labyrinth of illegal Chinese tunnels, which was considered to be a myth. But I finally got to go into these tunnels and they're fascinating. There's parquet ceilings and I found this velvet nude painting, and some old Cantonese letters I had translated. Some tunnels became brothels and gambling dens and valuables were hidden down there."

Then there's the long-awaited volume five of the Seven Dreams series, his septet of novels dealing with "the repeated collisions between Native Americans and their European colonisers and oppressors", which concerns Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe. Vollmann and his father are going to trace the route Chief Joseph followed when he attempted to escape to Canada.

He also talks about his working methods, which are said to be extraordinary, with massive injections of time from the moment he rises until he decides to go to bed. He says:

"It depends on the book. I read and write for most of the day, but I do let myself be interrupted by real life. I enjoy going out with friends and try not to take myself too seriously."

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