By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
The Montana native will be reading from his book on Friday, Nov. 14 in Lewiston. We caught up with him via email to find out more about him, his book and his work:
360: National book reviews describe “The Ploughmen” as both “beautiful” and “dark.” What would you say gives the story, and the telling of it, these qualities?
Zupan: Essentially, the book is a love story, albeit a strange one — a relationship between an unrepentant killer and a troubled young deputy.
I wanted, too, to convey a sense of the novel’s setting, central Montana, as a sort of additional lethal character, breathtakingly lovely but at the same time very much capable of killing you should you wander too far afield without your wits about you.
360: You were a pro rodeo bareback rider for a number of years before your focus shifted to writing. What was that like? And what brought you to pursue writing instead?
Zupan: I loved riding bareback horses; it was about all I cared about for a long time, a decade or so. I broke my neck at a rodeo in Great Falls and came back and rode for another couple of years after that, but I realized that my focus had somehow shifted. I was writing during those rodeo years but after that, I knew it was time to start embracing writing completely, in the way it deserved — and demanded.
360: You currently teach carpentry at the University of Missoula. How do you balance your teaching career and your writing?
Zupan: I don’t, in fact, balance it very well. It’s always driven me sort of nuts to hear stories of the guy who writes his novel on the subway on the way to work. I wish I had that kind of brain, but I’ve long since made peace with the fact that I don’t. When I’m teaching, that’s what I’m doing.
If I have an extended break, at Christmas or spring break, I’ll hole up with the current writing project, but otherwise, the teaching takes my full attention.
360: Who are some of your favorite writers? Have any of them influenced your writing?
Zupan: All writers — I mean every single one — borrow and learn from those who’ve gone before. So the writers I read and admired — Edgar Rice Burroughs and Poe (early on), Hemingway, Faulkner, Walker Percy, Graham Greene, Robert Stone, James Wright, Jim Welch, Cormac McCarthy — shaped me as a writer in some sense, the bits and fibers of their work collecting in the folds of my brain to some alchemical effect I’m not even necessarily aware of.
360: You grew up in Great Falls and now live in Missoula. How has that shaped your work?
Zupan: I’m so much more at home in the country around Great Falls — east of the divide — with its openness and unimpeded sky, though I don’t much miss the wind. I think of it as having harder edges than west of the divide, and that suits me. But Missoula is a great town, a cultural oasis, where you can’t throw a rock in any direction without plunking a writer or an artist.
Consequently, there’s a great support system there, many people enduring the same misery you are.
360: What do you love about writing? What do you hate about it?
Zupan: Though I think ‘hate’ is too strong a word, what I love about writing is what I also hate about it. It’s crazy difficult work and can drive you to gnash your teeth and tear your clothing and pull your hair. Drive you to drink, certainly. But if and when you get it right, there’s no better feeling.
Years ago when he was living in Missoula, Richard Ford said to a mutual friend that writing is the hardest work there is. At the time I was doing carpentry and (in the interest of full disclosure) I thought he was full of crap. I thought he might want to spend a day framing walls or shingling a roof. But now I realize — it’s time for me to man up here — that he was right. Absolutely.
If you go:
WHAT: Book reading by novelist Kim Zupan
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, 2014
WHERE: Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St. in Lewiston