Sewardites won’t find the world in Sean Ulman’s debut novel too much of a stretch. Among a fictitious array of characters and plotlines, a very real Seward serves as the backdrop for Seward Soundboard, out now and on local shelves soon.
At a Kenai Peninsula College Showcase virtual reading last week, Ulman, who’s lived in Seward since 2007, spoke about his creative process and read excerpts from the novel. The book covers an entire calendar year in the harbor city, starting and ending in September.
Ulman, who teaches writing at KPC, took an experimental approach to Seward Soundboard. He said he likes to write style-focused sentences that challenge readers.
“That’s been my critique, too much style, not enough story," he said. "But I got a lot of help from Jeff and others to bring in a lot of story to this book and balance things out.”
Jeff Helminiak, the Peninsula Clarion’s sports editor, edited the book. He helped Ulman keep the prose to a consistent style and weave two protagonists into the vignettes of Seward life.
“As you can hear, that’s not your standard novel, right? What’s going on there is there are a lot of bursts of what’s going on in the sky, then what’s going on with this carpenter down the street, and what’s going on here and what’s going on there," Helminiak said. "When I first read it, I was like, ‘How do you edit this?’ It’s not like editing a normal novel because it’s not something I see really done.”
Ulman’s dad, Associated Press journalist Howard Ulman, and local writer Kat Sorensen also lent their eyes to the project. Artists with roots in Seward created sketches and paintings that appear within the book’s 150 pages.
In part, Ulman wanted to make sure he had the Seward stamp of approval. He said one of his guiding principles while writing was that nothing could happen that could not really happen in the city.
“But especially for this book, it’s very important for me that this book is received by Sewardites and hopefully liked, but first being like, ‘Yeah, He got it.’ ‘Cause I’m not a local kid. I didn’t grow up here in Seward," Ulman said. "But I love Seward. And I’ve studied it. I’ve been a student of it for some years now. And it’s just gotta be in that range.”
Though residents might have the most fun recognizing Seward in the pages of Seward Soundboard, Ulman hopes people who have never visited can pick up the book and get a sense of what it’s like to live there year-round.
Seward Soundboard will be available at book stores in Seward and at River City Books in Soldotna next week. It is currently available on Amazon.
The Seward Arts Council is putting on another virtual reading of the book, featuring eight other Seward writers, this Thursday at 6 p.m. Find the Zoom link on the Seward Arts Council Facebook page.