A Response To Kim Zupan's Novel 'The Ploughmen'
Hard As Nails
by Ken Von Eschen
Beaver Creek Road travels south out of Havre, Montana, and into the Bear Paw Mountains. This narrow, two-lane highway bisects a plain of wild sage brush; the soil too alkaline to raise wheat. The silver-gray sage is aromatic, herbal. Too often, leaves are stained with blood sprayed from the lacerated arteries of a dying young man or woman who drove this narrow road too fast.
I grew up in the 1950s and '60s in Havre, a railroad town in North Central Montana. In Bum’s Jungle by the main railroad yard, a transient could always be bribed to buy beer for me and my high school friends. Full of alcohol and testosterone, we’d go up to Beaver Creek Road to drag race or just drive fast. Car accidents killed one or two kids a year up there. Once, the police left a wrecked car in their parking lot with mucoid blood suspended from the fractured steering column that cut the kid’s head off.
Central Montana could be harsh; a lonely and violent place.
This is the setting Kim Zupan chose for his debut novel, The Ploughmen . Originally from Great Falls, he wrote a forceful story with settings and characters as violent and beautiful as this stark land.
Mr. Zupan discussed his novel and craft in two of my Creative Writing classes at the University of Montana. My first impression: “His arms are really strong arms. Muscular.”
Kim Zupan is a carpenter and teaches his trade at Missoula College. Physical work. But he stated “I’m not a carpenter, I’m a writer.” Carpentry pays the bills and provides for his family. Writing provides for a deeper need.
It took Mr. Zupan ten years to write and publish The Ploughmen. He spoke about this directly. It wasn’t easy. He dealt with numerous rejections. He steeled himself. He persevered. Once or twice a year he went to White Sulphur Springs to write. What kind of man leaves the comforts of home to sit and write, alone, in a dingy motel room in the middle of nowhere? A man who is passionate, addicted to his craft.
As an aspiring writer, I had difficult questions after listening to Mr. Zupan. Do I have the mental strength to be a writer? Can I put my pride aside? Will I take pleasure in simply writing even if I never publish?
Will I ever be like Kim Zupan, tough as nails?
Ken Von Eschen graduated from the University of Montana in Microbiology and Immunology. Recently retired after a thirty year career as a Medical Scientist, he is taking part-time classes in Creative Writing at the University of Montana. He likes to write fiction.
He and his wife, Julie, live in Missoula, Montana, and have three daughters and six grandchildren.