List of all columns

Archives of Seattle writing prompts

Seattle Writing Prompts: the State Fair

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

What's your favorite fair? Everybody thinks of the Washington State Fair ("the Puyallup"), around our parts, but that one is so big and crowded. Just north, in Monroe, is the smaller, but no less exciting, Evergreen State Fair, right at the Speedway, so you can watch drag races while eating your cotton candy. My personal favorite, since I spent a lot of time in Bellingham, is the Northwest Washington Fair, up in Lynden, Washington.

What makes the fair so great? It's surely not the junk food, the queasy-making rides, or the big concerts (in Lynden, you can see Night Ranger, in Monroe, Joan Jett — she puts on a mean show — but at the Puyallup, you can see Modest Mouse, the Beach Boys, Earth, Wind, and Fire, just to name a few of the major headliners). It's a kind of homespun insanity of 4H farm kids, mixed with cowboys and functional western fetish-wear, mashed into a rock 'n roll carny factory, that always has a tinge of a Stephen King story. Like, something could go terribly wrong at any minute.

It's the barnfuls of ribboned swine, next door to hucksters selling the latest gadget in a small booth, their microphones broadcasting their prattle to the walkers-by. It's the dress horses, and at least in Lynden, the Clydesdales, all hitched in a train to an open-back wagon that they high-walk around the ring. It's the John Deere tractors out for sale, and the little area where the RV dealer sets up so you can walk through your mobile dream.

Sure, it's the rides. It's getting whipped around on a ride where half the seats are closed, and the whole thing is shored up on the grass by some old boards. It's wondering what must have happened for that handwritten sign that says "no open toed shoes" to be made and stuck up. It's the weird math trying to figure out how many ride tickets you'll need to do everything you want. Then, it's those blissful few moments being tossed around and given a thrill, before coming back down to your own two feet and a desire to eat more.

Every bit of food is big at the fair, and not as expensive as you might find at a year-round amusement park. If it's not deep fried, it could be, and if it couldn't be, somebody has surely tried. Ice cream sandwiches the size your head, and so many hamburgers you have to wonder if they have a butcher tent out back of the beef barn to keep them supplied.

It's the change in the air as the sun goes down, and the little kids go home to bed. The teenagers rule the midway, as the parents go off to watch some country music. It's the pubescent explosion of promise, that oversized stuffed animal roped high above the games that could be won but for trying, and that first stolen kiss, sweet with sno cone syrup still on the lip.

The state fairs are many things to many people, and maybe that's why I love them so much. I never feel like I belong, in truth, but I always feel like I'm wandering through a thousand other stories, and getting to see so many parts of it. Makes it fun to think about what kind of things are happening there.

Today's prompts
  1. They stuck her on the kiddie roller coaster again. Taking tickets. Getting the little shits in the cars, every other seat broken and unsafe. But as the kids went around the boring little track, she was watching across the way, at the Thrill-O-Wheel, where her connection was running the show. She was starting to get a bit antsy. The delivery was supposed to happen an hour ago, and the little shits might just drive her to madness before the fix came in. That's when the princess stepped up with her tickets and demanded entrance to the car in front, one of the broken ones.

  2. It was a dare. When the person you have a crush on is going on a stomach-turning ride, and your friends volunteer you to go with, you can't say no. And maybe you can hold in the milkshake and fries you just ate and not throw up on your crush, and maybe they will reach out to grab your hand, like in your most feverish dream. But neither of you look at each other as the bars come down. Only after it's too late and they say "I really, really don't want to do this" and you say "oh god me neither" do you notice how both sets of your friends are laughing out loud. You both were set up.

  3. They got a shipment of three thousand units before the fair. Balance boards, of all the goddamn things. "We'll do the health angle. Good for aging, agility, strength, that kind of bullshit. I'll get banners printed up tonight," Mark said. Desi thought it was better than last year, hawking those stupid juicers, but how good are they gonna do next to the fidget spinner booth? Maybe Desi was getting to old for the game. Maybe

  4. Nobody pays attention to the meet-cute of best friends. Unless it's a romantic thing, nobody talks about anniversaries, or years together. Friendships outlast the marriages, sometimes, go through the illnesses and children and everything together. But nobody talks about how special they are, not really. But one started that day, all because of two coincidences. First, being next to each other on the giant slide, and chatting on the way up. Then, second, finding out they were working in the same ice cream booth. The story has yet to unfold, but one thing is worth saying up front: this friendship will span their whole lives, and they will never be closer to another than they are to each other.

  5. "It's gonna be you," she said, leaning down and petting the side of her soon-to-be prize pig. "It's gonna be you. I know it. You're gonna take blue." The pig, dappled with black and pink, leaned into the hand and snorted, turning its head, its wet snout glistening in the morning light. "You're the prettiest pig, the smartest pig, the best all around pig, and I know you're gonna win." The pig looked up at her, seemed to cock an eyebrow, as if waiting for the but ... Then it came: "just so long, that is, as you don't let them know you can talk."

Only a few days left in the Seattle Writing Prompts short story contest, judged by Matt Ruff

Normally, in this space, you'd find a Seattle Writing Prompt. Today we're pre-empting to bring you this reminder to enter our short story contest.

So, writers, take note: August 15 is the deadline for our short story contest. Tidy up your commas, tighten up your characters, and hit “send” by midnight Tuesday. We can’t wait to see what you’ve made.

We’ll pay $100 to publish the winning story — and run an interview with the author by co-founder Paul Constant the same week. Get your story in front of our readers, and get to tell your story to our readers. It's great exposure, and we're paying you to get it!

Really, a writing contest, on a book review site?

Yes. Seattle is home to fantastic writers, established and emerging, and we want to see your name on the site.

Every Saturday, we run the Seattle Writing Prompts: a column that explores a part of Seattle and offers prompts based on the city’s history, or mis-history. Rain City’s home to a million stories, and many of them are yours.

This is our first-ever story contest, and we don't publish fiction very often. Our judge is local writer Matt Ruff, author of Lovecraft Country — just listed as one of the finalists for the Washington State Book Awards.

How it works
  1. Look through our Seattle Writing Prompts archive and take inspiration from one of the prompts.

  2. Write a short story whose concept was sparked by the prompt. You don’t need to follow it exactly, but it would be nice to see where you began. Format is open — flash fiction and comics score just as high as longform. Surprise us.

  3. Submit your story, and let us know what prompt inspired it, by August 15, 2017. We’ll do an initial pass, then send them on to Matt Ruff. We’ll announce his pick here in early September.

  4. Send to submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com, with the subject line “Seattle Writing Prompts Contest Entry.”

About our judge

Matt Ruff is the author of six novels; the most, recent, Lovecraft Country is a WSBA finalist and set to become a series on HBO, produced by Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams. Matt’s novel Set This House in Order was a Washington State Book Award winner in 2004.

Fine print

You’re selling us, essentially, first serial rights to your story. You retain full copyright to your work. There is no minimum or limit on word count, but we are looking for short stories instead of prose poems. You can be the arbiter of what that means to you. We consider comics short stories. We pay on publication. Interview will require you to meet with someone from the site for about 30 minutes, but that can be on Skype if you can’t do it in person. You do not need to live in Seattle to enter this contest, but we retain the right to weight stories with strong Seattle connections more heavily.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Church Doors

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We interrupt this writing prompts to call your attention to:

We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.

Portals are important. Transition spaces from one place to another: from outside, to inside; from a public space into a private space; from the room where you clean yourself to the one where you dress yourself. Every door, of course, is a transition, and we do love doors in our culture, don't we? We love big modern glass doors, and thick wooden plank doors. We love revolving doors and automatic sliding doors.

Let's say you work in a skyscraper downtown. First, you leave your home. If you live in a condo or apartment, you may pass through two or three doors to do this. Then you, perhaps, walk to the bus stop where you pass through the front doorway onto a bus, tapping your card or paying your fare. You leave the bus, maybe through the back doorway, and enter your office building, walk across the lobby, perhaps through the open doors into the coffee shop. You walk through the elevator doors on one level, and through others on your destination level. Then, finally, through the doors into the office. Anywhere from four to eight transitions every morning, but how often do we think about any of them?

Some cities are better for doors than others. For strange and mostly modern doors, San Francisco never fails to delight. For grand doors, some that take your breath away, London delivers. New York, of course, has millions of doors, and the ones that face the street from the tall buildings are all unique.

But no buildings quite do doors like churches. They are structures that take transitions seriously, because if you are a religious person, moving from the outside world to the inside world means moving from the profane into the sacred.

My father was a minister, and I can still remember the doors on the church I grew up in. Mid-century modern, almost. Very tall and broad, made of blond lacquered wood with small round glass insets and large, straight wooden handles, separated from the bulk of the door by round dowels. Something about building a church or cathedral calls for bespoke doors of great measure. Think about the history you're up against! The Florence Bapistry, say, or when you're already inside, Holy Doors (or Royal Doors). Why, just look at this random Pinterest page of church doors.

So, it seemed to me — someone who spends very little time in churches anymore — that thinking about the kinds of life events that happen when you cross these thresholds might make for some good writing prompts. They certainly encapsulate the whole lifespan of a person.

Today's prompts
  1. They considered her a miracle. Premature by nearly a month, almost falling to a lung infection. They carried her, still less than five pounds, through the church doors where they would stand to have her baptized. Sometimes the ritual of showing up was important. Sometimes the ritual of being witnessed by a community was important. Sometimes you don't know if you will be able to make it through until tomorrow.

  2. She was twelve. What she heard from the pulpit was a message against people like her. Against the secret she held, the self she hadn't confessed to any. And she wondered, what would happen when she was confirmed. Would there be some kind of retribution? Would that God they talk about strike her down as she stood there, in her white dress, asking to become part of a group who thought her bound for hell? Would she be struck down for walking through the doors into the church holding the thoughts she had?

  3. She was thirty-five. The church doors were different, a new place. The hand she held walking through them, where lined up she saw all of their friends, and some of their family, cheering, belonged to her wife of all of ten minutes. A new beginning in a new place of acceptance.

  4. She was thirty-eight. Now she carried the newborn, a plump and healthy ten-pound boy, through the doors. She thought of her own parents carrying her, and the stories they told of how they thought she might die but that she struggled, and she held her son closer with a promise that whatever was to come, they would face it openly and with love. What else could they offer him?

  5. He was forty-four. She didn't want a service, really, but her friends refused to let her not have one. Services were for the living. So he carried her, parts of her in an urn, anyway. Back where there could be some stories shared and remembered, and where the last few painful years could be released. Tomorrow he'd fly home, after nearly four months by her side, caring for her. Now both of them were free, and that thought both weighed him down and freed him as he stepped across the portal into her church.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Battery Street Tunnel

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We interrupt this Writing Prompts to call your attention to:

We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.

It's the tire tracks on the yellow walls that always get me. How often do cars go through that tunnel at such speed that their wheels end up on the walls? How often do they scrub or paint them?

The tunnel, built in 1952 and not upgraded since, runs under Battery Street (betcha couldn't guess that), which explains those passive ventilation grates that run down Battery Street. It's set to be dismantled and filled when the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel opens in early 2019.

The word "battery" has always confused me. The most popular common usage, of course, refers to a device to store energy (if you have a Tesla, you can drive your battery under Battery Street, at least for a while longer), but it also means assault (or, battering), which strikes me as the opposite of containing energy.

When you sing along to " ... the Bronx is up and the Battery's down, the people ride in a hole in the ground ... " while watching Kelly, Sinatra, and Munshin high-kick their way through the naval yards in On the Town, they're referring to the park at the tip of Manhattan, named for the battery of artillery installed to defend the settlement in the early days of the island.

The OED, in fact, lists seventeen different meanings of the word, some specific to industry, such as mining or cooking. Of these, it's hard to know how Battery Street got its name. Well, hard for me to research in the time-boxing I allow myself for these columns. Do you know? Perhaps a letter to the editor is in order?

For our purposes today, let's just stay tight on the tunnel. Yes, that means I can't spend time going over Battery Street's important part in film distribution history in Seattle, but people, we're here to talk of the tunnel, not that which lies above.

So, let's do just that. I mean, what could possibly happen in a tunnel?

Today's prompts
  1. Yes, it's my fault the spell went wrong. I created this effect, that for a brief period between 6:12 and 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday night, every car entering the Battery Street Tunnel southbound, whose driver thought of someplace else in the world they wanted to be, was instantly transported to that very place. It was my boyfriend I was trying to target. What wasn't expected was that his car would materialize with him and smash the front of my house, breaking the circle that contained my spell, along with my concentration, and expanding the scope of the magical energy. Anyway, I'm sorry about that, all you people who were suddenly in your favorite, or least favorite, place. I'm sorry to those of you who were catapulted back to work when you were almost home, or sent to your aunt's smelly living room. That sucked. Now let me tell you how I tracked everybody down and returned them home, and how I'm gonna use my powers to make it right.

  2. I was few miles into tailing the Dodge Dart when we entered the Battery Street Tunnel. The deal had gone down up Aurora, and I could have pulled them over any time, but I had a hunch they were gonna lead me to the big guy, finally. I kept a few cars back as they entered the tunnel, staying in the right lane in case they took that Battery Street exit that would drop them off at Western. But then, the damnedest thing. I look down at my speed, and glance back up, and they're gone. And so is the VW I was following. And about half the other cars in the tunnel. Into thin air. I pulled off the highway myself and picked up my radio, but didn't even know what I could say to dispatch.

  3. Going through the tunnel was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was like rewinding time and going back to the night it happened. Exposure therapy, said a friend. Gotta get on that horse. I got offers to drive me through. But I can't even get in a car now with someone else behind the wheel. I need control, as much as possible. I need to feel it. Tonight is pilgrimage. I pay homage to where it happened. Tonight I mark the moment my life changed in such dramatic ways.

  4. How many animals do you think have gone through the Battery Street Tunnel? How many wolves? How many horses? How many dogs in crates, or cats in carriers, or parakeets in cages on the way to the vet? How many baby alligators or bats in boxes or or mice in the lining of a car? There's one animal I can tell you about for sure, but you're not gonna believe it until I show you the pictures. I'm gonna tell you about the sloth that went through the Battery Street Tunnel, and I'm gonna tell you about how it wasn't in the back of a car when it did it.

  5. The argument heated up right as they approached the tunnel. "Oh, he's alright," he said.
         "No, he's not," she said. "He hit her."
         "Yeah, but like, under it he's a good guy. He just made a mistake," he said.
         "Yeah, he made the mistake of assaulting another human being. Why are you giving him a pass?" she said.
         "I'm not!" he said. "He needs to deal with it, obviously. But I'm just saying he's not all bad, he's just a troubled guy who did a thing he shouldn't have."
         "Can you imagine me saying this about her if she, like, cut his dick off?" she said.
         "Whoa, whoa. He didn't cut off a part of her body," he said.
         "Yeah, but I'm exaggerating because you're not taking this seriously," she said.
         "Of course I'm taking this seriously!" he said. "I agreed, they should call the cops. She should call the cops."
         "Yeah but you didn't agree for a long time," she said.
         "But I did agree," he said. "I agreed and I helped call ... "
         She interrupted him. "I just wish we could go back and see it so that you could see how scary it is to be her in that moment. I just wish we were there right now."

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Hike In

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We interrupt this writing prompts to call your attention to:

We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.

You leave Seattle at the crack of dawn. The drive isn't far, but it's far enough, and in the high summer you need to get to the trailhead early. You were up late packing and repacking. Making sure the food is smart and balanced right, the water containers are clean and full, the first-aid kit and compass and elevation map and convertible zip pants and bulletproof bear bag and floppy brim hat and walking pole and tent and sleeping bag and gortex shell and wool socks and perfectly-broken-in-boots and technical fabric shirts and everything is perfectly rolled into your pack and ready to go.

You drive for a few hours. It doesn't take long before you're off the freeway and on a highway that becomes a windy mountain road. You have a high-clearance vehicle, so you can get up where some people can't. You park, making sure your pass is visible so you don't get a ticket, then you double check everything, put your phone in airplane mode (you'll use it as a camera, still, otherwise you'd power down), and take your first step on the gravel of the trailhead.

Seattle is one the best bases in the world for back-country hiking. You could go to Alaska, of course, but here in Washington you're just hours away from scenic accessible low-traffic worlds to explore. There's a reason REI is based here, after all.

It's something to do with the culture of this city, it's in our bones the way that the rain is on our skin. We love to get away. Be it a quick trip up to the Big Four Ice Caves with some out-of-towners, a beach trail on one of the San Juans, a jaunt up to Paradise when the wildflowers are exploding, or a multi-day pack-in where you'll be clearing huge vertical miles on the way to that elusive off-trail spot you love to visit every few years.

But stepping outside leads to so many situations, so many unknowns. We like to think our lives are contained and predictable in the city — of course they're not — but we give up that illusion when we go into the mountains. We know we're on geologic scale, now, and we talk about the things that fall off of mountains by the appliance that matches their size most closely: "Did you see that refrigerator that nearly took out Gina?"

So with that surrender to the natural wonder, we find one thing that we carry with us always, even into the most remote of locations: our stories.

Now then, most stories coming from the woods are of people enjoying themselves. But writers need drama in our imaginary lives. So, just for now, things are going to have to go very, very wrong....

Today's prompts
  1. It started with a bad omen before they even left the city: hitting the bumper on the car behind them outside of the coffee shop. This uptight dude confronted them, made them stop and wait while he inspected it ("that's what they're made for, dude," Shelley said. "That's why they call them 'bumpers', right?"). Then traffic and construction over the pass, then that near wipeout backing down the logging road to let the jeep pass. "You think the crows circling above mean anything?" Hugo joked, pulling his pack on. "Those are ravens," said Shelley. "So, yeah, they mean something." Jorge laughed. "You guys are too damn superstitious," he said, hearing the crack of his sunglasses under his boot, which he didn't notice had fallen onto the gravel.

  2. Geocaches were always a fun distraction, and a good reason to get out of the house and hike a nice trail. You'd find the weirdest little things — pins, plastic figures, buttons, patches, toys. But finding the cache on the peak of the trail, it looked like it hadn't been opened in years. The latch was caught, and it took some working to get it open. Inside, some very old packets of crackers, and a note: "I'm being held a half-mile due southeast. Call the police." It was dated three years ago.

  3. "Hey, you guys better be careful," she told the college boys. "Get your food secured, you're gonna get bears coming through here." Their campsite, messy — and all the beer they packed in! — had food everywhere, and they didn't have a bear cannister. They assured her they would, and off she went. But coming back through the next day, she saw they left a mess. They also left their tents, and all their gear. Was that blood over there? Calling out, there was no response, but she knew that if they were nearby and needed help, she was all the help they were gonna get.

  4. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry!" she said, coming across the naked man sitting by the lake. "Oh crap!" he said, reaching for his shorts and pulling them on, obviously embarrassed. "I've been here an hour and hadn't seen anybody, so I figured I was safe." Putting a bit of room between them, she dropped some iodine tablets in her bottle and filled them from the stream that fed the lake. The man was packing up when she walked past. "You hiking through?" he asked. "No," she said. "I am. Doing the whole trail. Started at the Mexican border. Getting close, now. How about you?" She gestured back the way the trail led in. "No, just on a day hike." Then she added. "I just came up to get some water. My boyfriend's waiting for me just over the ridge." She waved, and walked off through the small pass, to the switchbacks down. But about half way down, looking up, she saw a glint of light off of metal, and some movement at the top.

  5. How fast things change. The day was hot, dry, blue sky. They were in shorts, and then inside of thirty minutes they were in a cloud. The trail, once as clear as a contrail in the sky, was now occluded and hard to find. How could they get so cold so fast? The cotton socks and light jackets they packed weren't enough. The compass on their phones wasn't registering at all. And when one of them put their foot through crusty ice into a water hole, they found out fast why people suggested wearing wool. "I think we're lost," one of them finally confessed. And in that, they both knew, it was going to be really hard to get found again.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Dystopian Emotionalist Future of Our Ruined Commie-Red City

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We interrupt this writing prompts to call your attention to:

We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.

My god. It's true. We're ruined.

I first heard the news on the Fox Business Network. I know, comrades, I know I'm not allowed to watch such agitprop without proper dispensation from the thought-police station in my government-issued apartment block, but I hope none of you will report me. For I have heard the news, and the news must be shared!

Kennedy — no, not that one. Or that one. No, not that one either — remember Kennedy from MTV? Where mass media co-opted the idea of "alternative" to sell flannel, shampoo, and carefully packaged toothless "dissent"? Yes, that Kennedy — she has a show on Fox where apparently they let her speak freely of anything her heart desires, and this time her heart desired to return, at least in spirit, to her once-home, Seattle.

And hearing her sneering patter, her fist-clenching truth via the megaphone of her pure, uninfected, uninfluenced, and completely neutral broadcasting partner, brought me around to seeing just how fucked we are.

FACT: Kennedy has found out we increased the minimum wage to $15, and she is pissed. She sees right through our ruse of pretending to help poor people just to punish important business leaders. She has quoted an "ideologically diverse" study from the University of Washington (Hah! You and I both know we purged our city of ideological diversity on the same ballot we voted for the monorail!) that shows that low-wage workers are getting fewer hours under the new business-killing regime. And we're not even at $15 an hour yet! I'm sure there is no article that anyone has written that can dismantle the conservative framing of a higher wage for workers being actually negative for them.

FACT: The pinko-commie-redists on the city counsel enacted an income tax for Seattle richie-riches, and, as Kennedy wisely points out, Bill Gates doesn't live in Seattle, therefore this is a terrible idea! I'm confused how I'm supposed to feel about his support of a state income tax a few years ago. Does that mean he has to move to a tax-haven state? Is a state tax okay but a city one bad? And, since she's a constitutional scholar, she pointed out it's not even legal, so nobody should ever try to do such a thing to her. Who doesn't live in Seattle. And will never pay the tax. But oh my god how much she wants the rich people of Seattle to not move to Bellevue. She is so worried about us losing our tax base that she thinks we shouldn't tax it.

FACT: Gun violence is up in the city. Police say that increased gang violence is to blame, but don't listen to local "experts," listen to Kennedy, who clearly lays out her unimpeachable chain of factual events that made this happen: a $25 fee on guns sold in the city. Yes, that fee went into effect in 2016, which is the year that this one is so bad compared to, but, you know, some of these things take a while to really show their effects. It's good that Kennedy doesn't want us to have people who use guns pay for the damage they do with those guns, because she's for personal responsibility and also unintended consequences that never happen to point out that she's an ideologically driven fool.

No! She's a deep mind. A satirist of such high order that the problem is you can't understand her. Your grandpa understands her — just ask him. You can trust her because she donates her entire paycheck from her television show on Fox Business to the Cato Institute (I need to fact check that, so don't quote me). But anyway, I'm sure she's not another convenient conservative mouthpiece whose paycheck just happens to reinforce their narrow world view.

It got to me thinking about what a terrible place we live in, and how we need to come to grips with it. What better way than by some writing prompts.

Today's prompts
  1. They were at the door, clawing. She didn't know how long the lock would hold. She was doing what they wanted, those monsters. She was writing their paychecks. But didn't they understand? No business could afford $5,000 an hour as a wage. The checks were going to bounce. She was going to have to close the business her father built with his immigrant fingers, after coming here with nothing. The business that had put two hundred orphans through college thanks to their charitable program. Now she would have nothing to pass along to her own children. The wood gave, and there they were, coming through the door, pushing each other aside, chanting: "pay us what you owe us!" And in the front — no! it couldn't be! — was her son. Right next to her city council member.

  2. "We call it gun sanity," said the police chief. "Police won't carry guns anymore since they're outlawed by unconstitutional, but heavily enforced, local ordinances." The reporters were stunned. "But what if criminals try to shoot at your police officers?" one spat. "How can they enforce the law?" The police chief leaned into the microphone. "We have also done away with the laws."

  3. "Seattle Freeze! Come out to play!" the voice echoed down the block. Their rival gang, the Montlake Nirvanas, walked past the deserted guard stations of Broadmoor. Dressed in flannel and ripped jeans, with Ace Frehly face makeup, the Montlake Nirvanas were the fastest-growing gang in Seattle. All the Seattle Freeze wanted was to hold their ground. It wasn't their fault their millionaire parents moved away, abandoning them to the streets. All they had was Broadmoor, and they were gonna hold it. The massive speakers they lined the roads with amplified the needle drop by 300 watts. It was Bobby Sherman: The bluest skies you've ever seen are in Seattle, he sang as the Seattle Freeze appeared on the roofs of the houses surrounding the Montlake Nirvanas. Each one of them holding a bat.

  4. I was at the council meeting where it all happened. They voted, 9-0, to suspend all city government activity, and hand power over to the communist party. Immediately, I was held at illegally obtained gunpoint and asked to show my hands. And because I had a soft job — covering the city council for a local blog funded by a multi-national corporation with ties to coal interests — I was cast as educated class and put to work in the strawberry fields outside the city. Forced into manual labor to support the revolution.

  5. The billboard was a riff on the classic Seattle "Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?" Given that there was no electricity in the city anymore, they had to replace the "turn out the lights" part with "blow out the candles." But great industries had risen here in the city. Industries of craft. Sometimes, if you had a good enough song, you could sing for a scarf. A night of entertainment for a meal and a place to sleep. And this young musician named Kurt might have, in another age, made millions of dollars and influenced culture. But today, all he cared about was finding someone who would trade him something good to eat for a few tunes. And his grumbling belly insisted that he find them right quick.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Thomas Street Overpass

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We interrupt this writing prompts to call your attention to:

We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.

So, I have a thing for pedestrian bridges. I've written about them before, here, in the form of skybridges. But there is one pedestrian bridge in Seattle that is so well placed, so elegantly executed, and so fun to cross, that it deserves special attention. It's the Thomas Street Overpass.

The overpass crosses Elliott Ave W, and the train tracks that run the length of Myrtle Edwards park. If you entered further south — let's say before the overpass was built — down by the sculpture park, then you would have to go all the way past the grain terminal to the Helix pedestrian bridge at W Prospect Street. Before that was built in 2004, you'd have to hike it further north to the Galer Street Flyover to cross those tracks. They cleaved the waterfront from this former industrial area for years, until the bridges were built.

The Helix pedestrian bridge — built for Amgen when they built headquarters, and where, after expansion, Expedia is slated to move — is also a lovely piece of work, and includes elevators for getting your bike up and down, but its use is limited by its isolation. It's primarily built to move commuters to the bus lines on Elliott.

And, before we get back to the actual topic of this piece, did you know that when you travel that far north in Myrtle Edwards park that you're not actually in Myrtle Edwards Park anymore? At a certain point, it turns into Centennial Park, operated by the Port of Seattle, as opposed to the Seattle Parks Department that oversees Myrtle Edwards.

So here, in this beautiful isolated strip of land, we needed an easier way to get there. A bike bridge, that would connect Queen Anne to Downtown and the waterfront in a heavy trail-use way. The bridge, which was originally designed in 2004, was built in 2011 and 2012, opening many months late due to delays from a railing contractor. At the time, the waiting was torture, but now, it's worth it. The design of the railings, that fly away from the bridge like wings, evocative and active.

If you join the bridge on the east side of Elliott, you pass through Robert Fernandes' amazing Snoqual/Moon the Transformer gateway. Heading south, a gentle slope brings you to the height of the overpass, and when you turn due west, you see a framed view of the bay, West Seattle, and the Olympic Mountains, on a clear day.

It's breathtaking to cross, on bike or foot. At the westernmost end, after you've crossed the tracks, the bridge turns to the left to slope down into Myrtle Edwards, but if you are so inclined, you can grab a rail and stand on a balcony overlooking one of Seattle's most stunning view.

It's a great destination bridge if you don't spend time in the area, but if you do live nearby, it's an experience that is hard to take for granted, and one that is sure to be the highlight of any daily commute.

And with all those people crossing each day, surely there have to be places where people collide and stories emerge.

Today's prompts
  1. All he wanted to see was the train from the bridge. They brought him over, unstable on his little legs, one hand holding each parent, his zipped up puffy suit tight against the rain and cold. They walked out across the bridge until they were above the tracks. They could see a train coming — a Sounder commuter rail going north. He pressed his little face against the railing, the train coming directly under him, and then, when the train passed and the sound of the engine hit full on, the little guy started to scream at the top of his lungs.

  2. The Poodle entered the bridge from the park, the Shar Pei from the east side. They would meet half way across, and there would be three distinct outcomes: 1. A concussion for one of the walkers. 2. A coordinated break for freedom. 3. Puppies.

  3. The agent sat, crouching off to the side of the stairs that led up to the bridge on the west side of Elliott Way. He crouched, and fingered the long wooden drumstick in his hand. The target approached, on his bike, as he did every morning. He would have one throw. He had to stick it between the spokes exactly right to flip the rider out of his saddle. During practice, he nailed it 60% of the time, but here in the field, there was no room for failure.

  4. They did their best talking in the park. At least once a week they spent an hour together walking down the hill and around the waterfront. You couldn't maintain friendships this close without effort, and they were both dedicated to being there for each other like nobody else could be. So it had been since college, since first jobs, since marriages, since kids. So it was now. Until, on the bridge, standing at the rail looking out on a choppy bay, one of them said to the other, "I have something I need to tell you."

  5. Nobody approached her in front of the supermarket. Nobody paid her any attention when she was waiting by the on-ramp. Sitting with her hand out gave her a sore arm, but no money. So crossing the bridge, what was it that made her look up and see the young man looking sideways, as if curious, at her? She took a step back, but he took one forward. "It's okay," he said. "I didn't mean to startle you, but I think you need help. Do you need help?"

Announcing our Seattle Writing Prompts short story contest, judged by Matt Ruff!

We're throwing a short story writing contest based on our column Seattle Writing Prompts. Better yet, it's being judged by Matt Ruff, author of six novels. His most recent, last year's Lovecraft Country, is being turned into a series on HBO, produced by Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams. The grand prize is $100 and publication here in the Seattle Review of Books, and an interview to appear the same week as your story.

More details
Every Saturday, for the past six months, we've been running a column by site co-founder Martin McClellan that explores a part of the city, and offers writing prompts based on the history, or mis-history, of that place. So now that we've got six months under our belt, we thought it might be fun to have a short story writing contest based on the Seattle Writing Prompts.
How it will work
  1. Look through our Seattle Writing Prompts archive, and (if you haven't already) take inspiration from one of the prompts.
  2. Write (if you haven't already) a short story whose concept was sparked by the prompt. You don't need to follow it exactly, but it would be nice to see where you began.
  3. Submit your story, and let us know what prompt inspired it, by August 15, 2017. We'll do an initial pass, then send them on to Matt Ruff. We'll announce his pick here in early September.
  4. Send to submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com, with the subject line "Seattle Writing Prompts Contest Entry".

Fine print
You're selling us, essentially, first serial rights to your story. You retain full copyright to your work. There is no word limit here, but we are looking for short stories instead of prose poems. You can be the arbiter of what that means to you. We consider comics short stories. We pay on publication. Interview will require you to meet with someone from the site for about 30 minutes, but that can be on Skype if you can't do it in person. You do not need to live in Seattle to enter this contest, but we retain the right to weight stories with strong Seattle connections more heavily.

Seattle Writing Prompts: King Street Station

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

The first time I stepped inside King Street Station was in the 1980s. My family had moved from Southern California to Bellingham, and my mom and I decided to ride the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles, as an adventure.

The inside of the station was depressing, in a way that's hard to describe if you hadn't been there before the twenty-first century restoration. Remodeled, in the worst sense of the word, in 1965, there was a drop acoustic tile ceiling some ten feet below the molded plaster above, probably made of asbestos. Heat was provided by open electric coils, hung like fluorescent lamps in aluminum half-round fixtures, as if travelers were chickens to be broiled. They removed marble tile from columns (I mean, who wants nice materials?), and it was an environment made inexpensive and functional over beautiful. Or even slightly pleasant.

To add insult to injury, the architects of the station, Charles A. Reed and Allen H. Stern, were designers who worked on Grand Central Terminal in New York City. They knew a thing or two about making a train station a nice place to be. But after years of disrepair, it was easier to hide than fix, I suppose.

But in November 2006, then-mayor Greg Nickels announced that the city would buy the station from the BNSF Railway for $1. It turned out that the price rose, steeply, to $10 before the city council signed off on it. But doing so managed to gain $19 million from the state and federal governments to restore the station.

They started with the clock tower, and worked through the building, uncovering and fixing the ornate plaster tiling, and making the station a place somebody might enjoy sitting while waiting for a train.

It's a busy station, with twenty-three daily departures, counting the Sounder commuter rails, and three Amtrak lines: the newer Cascades run, the Empire Builder to Chicago, and the Coast Starlight to LA.

With all of those departures and arrivals, you might not be surprised that almost 650,000 passed through the station in 2016. That's like nearly the entire population of Seattle taking at least one train ride last year. Surely, with that, we can find something interesting to write about:

Today's prompts
  1. The first worker to look above the acoustic tiling in forty years nearly fell off his ladder. "I'm okay!" he shouted, some twenty feet above the terrazzo floors. He secured his footing on the aluminum stair, and took another look around. His flashlight beam was highlighted in the dusty air like a movie projector in a smoky theater. In the corner, in the dark, a shadow sat waiting. It'd been trapped there nearly a half-century, but as soon as the grid containing it — a grid put in place by the most powerful necromancer of the modern era — was removed, once again it could wreak havoc on the world.

  2. Two years before they actually met — two years before this love at first sight thing, two years before both of them independently called their best friends (who, ironically, were second cousins once removed) to talk about the moment they just had, two years before all of this, each of them sat back-to-back on the wooden bench in King Street Station, inches away from each other, perfectly aligned, both drinking the same flavor kombucha. If they had only just ran into each other that day, things would have been very different for them.

  3. The Great Northern Tunnel's south terminus opens, like a mouth, just to the north of King Street Station. A commuter, hopping off the Sounder from Tacoma, was the first to see the man stumbling our from the darkness. "Hey! Get off the tracks!" someone shouted. The man didn't stop. "It's coming," he cried. "It's right behind me," and then he collapsed, one leg splayed over the rail.

  4. Nobody knew why the boxcar train stopped under the eaves of Safeco field. A sunny day, the roof was open, and the Mariners were six innings into rousting the Dodgers. Humiliating them, even, invigorating the packed stadium. So when his contact at the BNSF finally called back, Mariners' security chief Dan Charles was shocked to hear "we have no idea where those cars came from. We have a serious situation going on here. You need to evacuate the stadium right now."

  5. It's a very particular feeling to board a train with a one-way ticket. It's another to board knowing that you'd never ride a train again. So when Juan caught the Coast Starlight south from Seattle, he knew his final ride, to San Luis Obisbo, would be his last. He sprang for the large cabin. When you're about to die, saving your money seems downright foolish.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Olympic Sculpture Park

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

In Bellingham, on the campus of Western Washington University, is a remarkable collection of public art. I spent many hours wandering and hanging out — sometimes hanging on — that art as a teenager. There was something that felt, in an ambiguous and hard-to-quantify way, truer spending time there than hanging out at, say, the mall. Guards would kick you out of either, but at least the WWU didn't care if I bought anything.

So when I moved to Seattle, I loved to visit the public art. There is quite a bit, although it wasn't collected in one convenient place. You could visit the Sound Garden at NOAA, at Magnuson Park (although, now doing so requires a photo ID), or the Black Sun in Volunteer Park. Others, that didn't include local bands using their names, are around, from Hammering Man, to Olympic Illiad on the Seattle Center grounds.

But it wasn't until the Olympic Sculpture Park opened that there was a collection of art in one place like I remembered from Western. And although I'll not comment on the quality of the art, or the collection itself (better critics than me can take that on, piece by piece, but if you read one thing about it, make it Jen Graves' invigorating investigation into Echo).

There are things I love about this park, but when it was opened I was disappointed by the heavy hand the museum brought. First, in a rule they later reversed, they prohibited personal photography — now it's just commercial photography for obvious reasons of reproduction rights. But second, they stop you from touching things. At Western, you can touch and interact with their Richard Serra. You can sit in the windows of Nancy Holt's Rock Rings. You can sit on the slope of Lloyd Hamrol's Log Ramps. Yes, it changes the work, but environmental work should be changed. That's the whole idea of it.

The Art Museum has different challenges here, in the corrosive salt air. Maintenance, without people interfering (I'm sure they do, in bad ways, people can be awful), is a huge issue. Apparently, the lawn around Calder's Eagle must be clipped by hand, lest the mowers hurt the legs of the piece.

But still, each touch that wears the surface, or erases the patina, proves that human connection. Where the bronze rubs bright shows where people touch the most, where the stones grow smooth shows where people sit. We do have the collected sculpture that I wanted for so long, and the park is an amazing resource and a great place to walk and watch the world. I just wish I felt less like I was in a mall while I did it.

But no matter, surely we can find some stories here, even if we can't detect their touch on the surface of the art.

Today's prompts
  1. For a little turd, that dog was fast. His grandmother's westie, who yanked his leash from Jules's hand when he stopped to light a cigarette (his grandmother would kill him if she knew he smoked), ran down the hill and straight into the park. But it was closed now, and surely he wasn't supposed to go in? But if he returned without that little shit, it would be his head. So calling and whistling, Jules entered, the footfall on the gravel loud in the night. But not as loud as when he heard the sound doubled from behind him.

  2. It turns out identifying the gigantic bird, the size of a Metro bus, was difficult. It was the scale, said the ornithologist, and that made it hard to see detail. Also, the proportion was all wrong, and then there was the facade of the building it perched upon crumbling, and shedding brick to the ground, that made them keep their distance. But then, the giant thing took wing, and diving down first avenue, plucked an unsuspecting man right in its claws. Running to Broad, they followed the flight of the monster, watching it alight next to Roxy Paine's Split, the giant metal tree in the sculpture park. Where the bird impaled the poor man onto one of its branches. "Well," said the ornithologist. "At least we know now that it's a shrike."

  3. The sculpture park would be safe, she thought. Her husband was at work in Bellevue, and so walking hand-in-hand with her girlfriend wouldn't be a thing. They walked up from the waterfront, past Love and Loss, the neon ampersand, and across the bridges into Serra's Wake. It was turning a corner and entering another corridor defined by the walls of the sculpture when she came face-to-face with the person she most wanted to not see: her husband. And they looked at each other in complete shock, since he was walking hand-in-hand with another man.

  4. The protester set up his camp at first light. A folding card table, with his sign, in all black capital letters: SEATTLE ART MUSEM SUPPORTS PEDERASTY. He sat, in front of the fountain Father and Son, waiting to talk to people and explain how gross it was. But then people didn't really talk to him. But they did take a lot of pictures of him with the fountain behind.

  5. The painter walked into the park, up the stairs in the southwest corner; she held the rail and pulled herself until she reached the gravel path. The wind, on this hot summer day, was light but nice against the skin. The Olympic Mountains were out, on the peninsula, and a container ship was passing by downtown. The painter looked at the pieces of art dotting the landscape, and remembered what was here before — lots of nothing. Toxicified land. She took a few steps to the rail, to better look down at the water, and the people on the path below. She recalled the studio she had for a few years many decades ago, with a window that overlooked Elliott Bay. There was a guy who used to do sculpture there. In fact, she remembered well the first time she met him.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Planes on Trains

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

The logistics of shipping and distribution of goods are amazing to think about. Even an ardent anti-capitalist has to admit that the ingenuity by which we distribute things around the world, even when they take tremendous resources, is impressive. Maybe I'm clouded by my love of trains, but rail is the mechanism that always invokes the most wonder in me. Ships are great, don't get me wrong, but heavy iron rolling on rails makes me feel like a kid when I watch them pass. Planes, too, because of the magic the demonstrate: for the natural engineer in all of us, trains and boats are more-or-less understandable, and the methods of their locomotion easily demonstrable. But planes rely on hidden physics, airflow over wings, incredible amounts of forward thrust, and a little white-knuckled hurling yourself into opaque clouds.

So imagine how exciting it is to see 737 bodies, not yet fully assembled, rolling by on trains through Seattle. They come from Kansas, where Boeing has a factory (unfortunately, to my point of view, who wished full assembly was done here in Washington even if it would negate the sight of the fuselages rolling through), and they are shipped north, then west, across Montana, Idaho, and Washington before crossing the Cascades near Everett and heading south through Seattle to Renton for final assembly.

I used to work at an office on the ground floor at the old Post-Intelligencer building on the waterfront, where the P-I globe is now. When a plane on a train went by, the view of the park would be eclipsed by this massive cargo — green, from the protective plastic wrapping, as if your new plane is the same as your new iPhone (if you love peeling the protective covering from a small thing, imagine doing it for a plane. I wonder how soon you'd learn to hate it, if it were your job?). Because I was obsessed, I'd run out on the balcony and take a picture as quickly as I could. I used to maintain a Twitter account to post those pictures, and then I assembled a photo essay when our offices moved from the building.

There's something about seeing a plane on a train that makes you appreciate the scale of trains themselves. They don't seem quite that big, until you see them carrying something that, in short order, will launch itself into the sky, clad in the livery of the final client. I want to see a model in a giant warehouse, with tiny trains traveling from Kansas to Seattle across America.

In Seattle, this common sight brings to light a number of interesting topics: Boeing, and its role in our local economy ("Will the Last Person Leaving SEATTLE — Turn Out the Lights"; Execs abandoning their Seattle, ostensibly due to traffic; factories moving around the country, and around the world), how trains run right through the heart of our city, and we can't really control what those trains carry past our doorstep, or how long they block traffic along the waterfront.

Not to mention how strangely hypnotic the sight is, standing on the bridge at Carkeek Park, or walking the waterfront, getting caught by the old Old Spaghetti Factory, seeing them roll past as you're caught going eastbound on Lander, watching planes roll by, green, with such a future.

Imagine now that you're trapped watching a train with five of them roll by. Imagine that each plane is destined for a future, and each plane will encounter thousands of people. That means that every train has a nearly limitless supply of stories. Let's find one for each plane.

Today's prompts
  1. The first plane — This is the one that, after pulling into the factory, after being positioned in the assembly area, between shifts so that the riveting guns were silent — an employee inspecting the fuselage removed one of her ear protectors to scratch an itch and she heard an almost-silent mewing. And after yelling for her coworkers to shut up for a minute, discovered the kitten that had hitched a ride across America on a plane on a train.

  2. The second plane — It's on this one, on an Alaska flight from Las Vegas to Montana, where a man who went in big and came away lacking is fretting over facing his wife to explain their diminished savings. He drank before boarding. He drank when, at altitude, first service came around. Then, with a bear-like howl, he cried out. People all around him looked as his large, 250-pound body collapsed on itself, sobbing, shaking. A small elderly woman, on her way to visit her wayward daughter, who was finding herself at a yoga retreat near Glacier, moved next to him, placed her tiny hand on his shoulder, and leaned in to speak the most calming words he'd ever heard.

  3. The third plane — It's ten years into its service when this plane flies a seven-year-old who will become the President of the United States. It's the last time this child will fly with their father, who will die in the year following. It's notable because they're going to see Washington, DC, where the child's father hopes to instill a sense of purpose and pride in the child for their country, and where they will have a coincidental run-in, checking into the hotel, with a former congressperson that the child will never forget. And the flight is notable because, due to great irony, the man who runs against this child in the future (and loses, by a narrow margin), a teenager at this point, is sitting in first class, coming to spend Spring Break with his own professional lobbyist father, flying from the boarding school he hates so much.

  4. The fourth plane — It's this one that comes closest to having an accident. It's an air traffic control issue, and the plane is saved by a quick-thinking pilot — who had once been a test pilot on the 737 line — who immediately responded to an impending collision light by pulling up hard and increasing thrust to jet the airplane to a much higher altitude. And in the bathroom, a woman applying makeup and nearly poking her eye out and dropping her little zip bag full of beauty kit everywhere, devises an idea for organizing her kit that ended up becoming a multi-million dollar business.

  5. The fifth plane — This is the plane that the aliens take. It's flying to Bermuda, and then blink, it's gone. Nowhere on radar, and no wreckage ever found. It just disappears from the world. In fact, everybody aboard passed out, as if by magic, and awoke to the plane on stable ground, quiet, engines off. They woke, and looked around. A scream from the front of the plane, a man looking out the window. It was obvious on first glance, they were nowhere in the world. It was obvious on first glance that they had been abducted.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Guild 45th Theater

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

You saw it was gone, right? Closed admidst a confusing cloud of no information and some vague promises from its owner, Landmark. Not that it was a huge surprise; the interior of the Guild — rustic on a good day — had really gone to seed. Look at the coloring on the top right of the building, in the photo above. Apparently, Landmark didn't care to take care of their properties in Seattle. Ask yourself this: with property values what they are in Seattle, and with Landmark steadily ridding itself of its theaters up here (only the discount theater the Crest remains), are restored versions of their theaters likely?

One might think that Landmark nominating the theater to be considered for landmark (yeah, I know. Watch the case of that leading "L") status means they wanted to gussy it up old-school style. But as the Puget Sound Business Journal slyly put it: "It is more difficult to develop official landmarks, and it's why owners looking to sell or redevelop their properties sometimes nominate them. Getting a decision upfront helps them plan what to do with their real estate." In other words, developers don't want squicky NIMBYs getting up in their grill; getting turned down for landmark status makes a sale simpler.

They also closed the Seven Gables Theatre, on the corner of 50th and Roosevelt in the U District. I knew that particular theater well. Downstairs was once a cafe called the Roosevelt that I worked in for a number of years, starting as a dishwasher and working my way up to line cook. We had an overnight pastry chef who would come in as we were closing up the kitchen after the last patrons had left, blast Bauhaus and make the most exquisite cakes, desserts, and bonbons for the after-movie theater crowd. Upstairs, I saw a number of movies, including a brain-melting screening of Fargo, which left the friends I was with complaining about the violence, but left me with an inchoate sensation that the Coen brothers were trying to say something very deep about art (I now seriously doubt they were, but I still love the movie).

I also saw Pulp Fiction in a Landmark theater, and hundreds of other movies. They always had the best popcorn, the best indies (they were the closest thing to a studio-owned chain, given the amount of Mirimax footage that threaded through their projection booths), and the best jaded employees.

KIRO Radio film critic Tom Tangney put it nicely on the aforementioned My Northwest page:

“I’m just struck at how little is left of the Landmark Theatre chain that once dominated independent film exhibition in this town,” Tangney said. “Back when I was working with Landmark two decades ago it operated not only the Guild 45th and the Seven Gables, but also the Harvard Exit, the Egyptian, the Broadway Cinemas, the Neptune, the Varsity, Metro Cinemas, and the Crest. Now the Crest is the only Landmark Theater left, and that’s a discount house.”

The Guild 45th opened in 1921 — older than the Academy Awards! — and was originally called the Paramount. They changed the name when that big theater downtown stole it. The two screens were built at separate times: the west-most screen opened in 1983. It may be the only theater in the world that has a restaurant between its two theaters. Paul Dorpat has more on the theater on his site.

So, beers up to the Guild 45th and the Seven Gables, but not for the chain that let its classic movie houses go to rot, to extract every last cent out of the faithful movie nuts of a mostly overcast city. They could have invested and made them jewels, but instead they let them go until the best move was to close them. All we have left are the stories, and because of some local Seattle film workers who lost their gigs this week, let's make them all about working behind the scenes.

Today's prompts
  1. There's opening night, and then there's the first night you're open. The Paramount theater put its first title on the marquee that afternoon. Showing's starting at 4:00pm — the main show, A Sailor-Made Man, staring Harold Lloyd. The paper came, and wrote a little piece about the theater, and even the deputy mayor came to say hello and purchase a ticket. A new theater was opening in town, and people were curious. They did okay, that night. Maybe they'd get a decent run out of this place.

  2. It was a look over spilled popcorn that finally brought them together. She was sweeping the theater while he closed out the till and locked the cash box in the manager's office. Everybody else was long gone. It was all the popcorn on the floor — the Creature From the Black Lagoon had a few decent scares — that kept them late. So he came at the row from one end while she came from the other. He knew he had about ten minutes before her dad showed up to give her a ride home. And meeting in the middle of the theater, he looked up to see her looking at him. He smiled, and then she was the one who made the move, leaning in for the kiss. Maybe his eyes should have been closed, but then he wouldn't have seen the silhouette of someone in the glass of the projection booth.

  3. The projectionist always cut one wrong frame in. It was the Newsreels — he never could bring himself to destroy them, like he was supposed to. Sometimes, he'd project them after the theater was locked up, just watching ten-year old clips about Hitler, or the Pacific Front. It started with that Mankiewicz film 5 Fingers. It was about the war, and he wondered if anybody would notice a still just spliced in. Nobody ever said anything. It was there, in the first minute of the second reel, 1/24th of a second given to something else. Nobody said anything, that was, until the day a knock came on his door at home.

  4. He always winked and raised his finger to his mouth, as if to suggest she should be quiet and keep it secret that he was there. She never told anyone until her kids were watching one of his old Westerns one day. "You know, he used to come to the theater when I worked there," she told them. "Back in the early 70s. He always came in a bit late, and left a bit early, so as not to be recognized." Her kids didn't care, but it reminded her — he gave her an autographed photo, the last time he came in. Surely, it had to be somewhere in one of her boxes ...?

  5. The doors barely closed anymore. The bathrooms leaked. The seats were broken. The ceiling was water-stained. There was mold somewhere — everywhere, you could smell it. The equipment was out of date. Everything was pretty much wrong, but it was still a shock to everyone when the manager, face ashen, asked them to all gather, and then told them to just go home. It was time to shut the place down. It was time to find other jobs. It was time to turn the lights off for good.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Pike Place Market Sign

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

When you're doing a series like this — all about places in Seattle you've loved — you try to not hit the obvious spots. No Space Needle, yet (although I did write about the Monorail), and no Pike Place Market. Why? That place is one of the richest story producers our city has ever seen, from the history, to the business owners, to the senior housing and pre-school. Avoiding the Space Needle is avoiding the obvious tropes, but avoiding the Market is more difficult: it's that I just don't know where to start.

Until today. I was looking at a photo I took of the main sign at the Market — the one at the intersection of Pike Street and Pike Place, with the tall neon letters and the clock — that I had taken from the amazing patio of the apartments in the heart of the market. A friend who lives there was having a barbecue, and I was struck by this unique view of such an iconic sign.

The sign, erected around 1930, was obviously built and designed by someone who understand typography. The condensed low-waisted letters, elegant and iconic, spelling out "Public Market Center," feel both modern and old, and elegant in a gorgeous, homey way. It's very familiar. The sign is a bit like a word that you repeat over and over until it becomes alien: imagine the sign not being there, and then imagine being the person looking up into that vacuum between buildings and knowing that the right way to fill that space is big letters and a clock.

It's a stage — and not in the "all the world's a" sense — or, at least, was turned into one on a gorgeous summer's day in 2015 when Mike McCready, Duff McKeagan, Barrett Martin, and Mark Arm performed a tribute to Iggy & the Stooges in front of the sign.

And think about all the family vacation pictures it appears in. Thousands. Home 8mm movies from the 50s, Polaroids, Instamatics — all of those photos sitting in albums in homes around the world. Then we enter the digital age, and pictures are everywhere.

But we already know it's an iconic location, important to our city, the authentic heart of Seattle life (and, during the summer, an exhilarating and annoying tourist trap, especially when you just want a bag of mini doughnuts made by punks from Daily Dozen, or a loaf of bread from Three Girls, or even to drop in and buy a pint of milk from Nancy Nipples at the Pike Place Creamery. What we don't know is — what kind of stories happened right there that we don't think about? What kind of stories can we imagine looking just looking at this sign?

Today's prompts
  1. His mom would have killed him to know he snuck away at night to look at the neon sign reflecting on the wet cobblestones, but Stanley Mouse loved the sight too much to obey her. She was busy with the new litter, anyway. So he ran up the inside of the wall and exited through the drain opening, sticking his nose into the night air, sniffing, watching the men wash the sidewalk clean of the day. Then, Stanley was being lifted, and a massive face — pierced cheeks and a nose ring — was looking right into his eyes. "Oy, check it out! I found a cute little mousie. Think he wants to join our band?"

  2. Dad left thousands of photos, unorganized in boxes. The other kids went for his books and the paintings, but Jo asked if she couldn't have the photos. He was not a great photographer, but he had a trusty Canon AE-1, and spent their childhood capturing odd moments. It was the Seattle pictures that captured her most, the last trip before Mom died, the last time they were together — must have been '77 or so. But something in the background of the family standing in front of that sign in the Pike Place Market struck her. What was that guy doubled over in the background doing? She grabbed her loupe, and looked closer. Another man facing him, holding what appeared to be a knife. And was that blood? Did Dad accidentally capture a murder on film all those years ago?

  3. It was supposed to happen like this: they'd get dropped off by the black car out front of the Market, and he'd get on his knee and bring the ring out when the light was red and the whole intersection at 1st was open. He had friends on the corners all set with cameras, and a drone flying overhead to capture everything. She'd been hinting for months, so he was sure of what the answer would be, and with videos and pictures to share with her family in Viet Nam, it would allow them to share the moment with her, even if they couldn't celebrate in person. That is what was supposed to happen, but of course, that was before the protests broke out that morning ...

  4. "So, the bad guy has one weakness, and that's bronze, so he ..." The marketing director, Pat, looked up from the mockups of the comic book. "Wait, his weakness is bronze?" The artist was unphased by the sarcasm in her voice. "Yeah, bronze, so Seattle Man picks him up and slams him down in front of the market." Pat rubbed her eyes. "I don't know if I can get past this name 'Seattle Man'." The artist didn't skip a beat "I need you to suspend your disbelief, because this story is perfect. Seattle Man throws the bad guy against Rachel the Pig, and he explodes in a huge sucking vortex of energy ..." Pat nodded. Looked at the clock. "And what was the name of this bad guy, again?" The artist looked her right in the eye. "I'm thinking of calling him: the Grunge."

  5. They had to turn off the neon at night 'cause the Japanese might decide to fly over and bomb the city, so lighting a cigarette felt downright clandestine. But tonight the moon was large behind the sign in the Market, so she didn't think too much about it. Her connection was running late, whatever the case. She pulled her collar up, and stepped closer to the Sanitary Market entrance, to shake the chill. She saw him, or rather, saw his fedora, crossing the dark street. But then, she saw the other figure approaching from the side. Then a flash in the dark, and the report of a gunshot bouncing around the cobblestones.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Seattle Tower

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

There it stands, on the corner of 3rd and University. Twenty-seven stories tall, completed in 1928, this deco-style brick tower was a shining example of Seattle's upward momentum in the early part of the 20th century. It's a lovely building, and it's on the US National Register of Historic Places.

The problem is, talking to people from New York or Chicago, they have dozens — hundreds? — of buildings that raise to the mark of a modest deco tower such as this one. They won't think twice, like when the great museums who hold iconic works by painters don't think twice about smaller museums with lesser pieces, and they'll tell you how that building is nothing compared to what their city holds.

But a city holds what a city holds, and this beautiful tower is unique, and all ours. Did you know they graded the brick in 33 shades to make a facade that started dark and lightened as the tower grew? Did you know that 300 lights were used to illuminate the facade, to emulate the northern lights, and that's the name the locals gave the building?

I've been lucky enough to visit businesses in the building a number of times. A lovely marble lobby leads to classy elevators. The floors feel ... well, old. They don't seem modern, but they shouldn't, right? In one conference room, a window opens onto 3rd Avenue, and one could just hop on out onto the ledge where the spotlights used to sit.

I wonder if the owners have considered lighting it up again? I think it would be marvelous if this building — one of my very favorites in the city — called a bit more attention to itself.

But for now, let's see what stories we can find inside of it.

Today's prompts
  1. It was a black cat, on the ledge, and there was no way that she was going to let it get stuck. By the cat was shy and wouldn't come in the twenty-third story window. Well, no doing, she'd have to go after it. She climbed out onto the ledge, and the cat ran around the corner. Then she looked down, and realized, it would be an awfully long way to fall. She grabbed hold of some brick for dear life, and was paralyzed on the spot.

  2. Leaving your job is hard enough — you fill your box with all your stuff, and make that embarrassing walk in front of all of your now-ex co-workers to the elevators. It's even worse knowing the Depression will make them all have the same fate soon enough. But it's triple worse when your boss is introducing a new hire as you're leaving, and you know two things: that person is going to lose their job any day, and that when you were making the walk of shame, you caught each others eyes, and ... wow. Fireworks.

  3. He called himself Spider-Man. He was going to make the news that day by scaling the Seattle Tower. It was going to be a brilliant stunt. All the talk shows would want to talk to him. Sure, it wasn't the tallest building in Seattle in 1977, but it was one of the most iconic, and frankly, the easiest due to the facade construction. He set out, around 6 a.m., and approached the building from the 3rd Avenue side, looking up, feeling ready and excited. But something caught his attention from the nearby newsstand. A radio broadcast — a man, calling himself the Human Fly, was climbing the World Trade Center, and he had been at it for hours. Today, of all the days.

  4. There were 300 lights on the outside of the building, and it was his job to change them when they burned out. For fifteen years those lights shone up, making a gradient from the ground to the top, emulating the northern lights. In fact, that's what the locals called it — the Northern Lights building. But now, in 1942, the West Coast was going on blackouts to avoid giving Japanese bombers targets. So now it was his job to go dismantle every single fixture so that they couldn't be turned on, even if by a traitor.

  5. First day in the brickyard his boss said, "Look, kid, I don't care how you do it or what you do, but the crazy architect wants us to sort these by color. Just break them into three or four groups by the way they look, got it?" He got it. He got that his new boss didn't know how to use his eyes. The problem wasn't sorting a mountain of bricks into three groups; the problem was going to be sorting them into less than three hundred.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Seattle's Privately Owned Public Spaces

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

Look at the little plaque in that picture. It's just a little corner that edges one of the tiles on the 4th Avenue open space in front of Safeco Plaza (the building also known as "the Box the Space Needle Came In"). It's a demarcation, of course, of when you are leaving officially public land and crossing some imaginary, but well-documented, veil onto private land. But did you know that this plaza, and many others like it, are actually official public spaces?

They are Seattle's POPS, or Privately Owned Public Spaces. There are many of them — some, modest and available from the ground floor; others, more grand and on private floors in buildings that you can access any time the building is open. The thing is, unless you knew you were welcome, you might think twice about just hanging out in front of a big building. But welcome you are.

The city has made this PDF list available — maybe someone should visit each one and then document the visits. The guide could be clearer, though. One of the greatest POPS in the city is in the Fourth & Madison Building. Enter the building through the grand revolving doors on 4th. Walk to the left, down the lobby, and find the back elevators. Take them to the seventh floor, where you will find a park in the sky: a lovely public space with a lawn, and tables, with views and a chance to get away from the bustle of the city while still being in it.

Of the many, many, many political tensions in our world, one that is more subtle (e.g., there's nobody on cable news screaming about it right now) is this idea that the world belongs to the owners, as opposed to the idea that the world belongs to the commons. You see this in desires to sell off our public lands, but you also see it in your very city, where the needs and desires of property owners often bump up against the needs and desires of the citizens. Some feel that the property owners should have the upper hand here, but when you choose to buy property in a city, you are entering a contract with the commons of that city. Yes, you have rights assigned to you by law and by ownership, but you also undertake responsibility to the city you've pledged your money and taxes to. You enter a contract, and the benefit is that you get to live where many others desire to live as well.

This tension played out, through pieces of art, twice at Safeco Plaza.

One: Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae, by Henry Moore, was purchased and installed by Seafirst National Bank, who owned the building, in 1971. After Bank of America bought the building in 1982, they sold the sculpture (and the building) to investors in Japan. After a public outcry, Bank of America purchased back the sculpture and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, who still officially own it.

Two: A massive — eighteen by thirty-six foot — painting by Sam Francis used to hang in the marble lobby of the Seafirst building (aside: walk through the building. Take the escalators down to 3rd Avenue. It's a marvelously considered space: austere, beautiful. Designed by NBBJ with a corporate mid-century Asian inspiration) on the large elevator bank wall that stands behind the guard station. The painting was an abstract, facing 4th Avenue. Rumor has it, when Rem Koolhaas visited the site of the Central Library, he looked across into the atrium of the building and saw the crossing patterns on the large canvas. It was his inspiration, if you believe the story, for the diamond cross-hatching that dominates the library's facade. That painting was moved when Bank of America decided to open a museum of its art in South Carolina. There, apparently, it still sits, out of context, inspiring no architecture.

Hmmm. Maybe we've only learned that Bank of America are jerks who don't care about keeping art in Seattle. Let's make up some different stories, shall we?

Today's prompts
  1. There were the cops, lined up, impact plastic covering their faces, armor covering their bodies, standing a line along where the private land started. There were the protesters, walking by, looking at the cops. Wondering why some of them were holding batons. Then there was the troublemaker. Black jeans, black sweatshirt, black balaclava. Then there was a brick flying, and the lines moved towards each other.

  2. Why had she decided to walk down the stairs? She thought it would give her some exercise, didn't think how much 29 floors down would make her knees feel wobbly. She made it out to the street, out to the edge of the public square, before they gave way. Before she skinned her knee going down. Before she looked up to see a hand held out to help her up.

  3. Because she died inside, the ghost rules said she could not cross the boundary set forth by the seers who drew the building lay lines. She sometimes haunted those on the elevator, and more than one janitor or night security guard quit before they were employed for a single week. But those minor amusements were erased when the little dog died in traffic in front of the building. Its ghost looked at her now, across that line that divided them, the line that neither could cross. It whimpered as she tried to reach it, determined to find a way.

  4. The drunk men were arguing. "That's it!" one yelled. "Here's the line," he pointed to the metal that demarcated the plaza. "This is it! You cross this line, and it's coming to blows." The other man edged right up, toes against the mark. "This line?" he said. "You mean, if I cross this line?" He picked up his foot, and threatened to move it forward.

  5. The detective pulled his collar up against the wind and rain. 4th Avenue was deserted, except the occasional taxi driving by, splashing water. He flicked his cigarette into the gutter, and waited for that big bad businessman to exit the building. Soon as he crossed the line onto city property, the cuffs were coming out. Inside, commotion. He saw the mark. He raised his hand to his partner on the other side of the building. Time to bust some criminals.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Seahawks Victory Parade

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

One million people convened in downtown Seattle on a bright, freezing Tuesday — February 4, 2014 — to celebrate the Super Bowl win of the Seahawks. The route led down 4th, and the entire way from Seattle Center to the Century Link Field was a mass of people. There were no arrests that day. Some people take weird pride in that, but maybe it does show that we can have kindergarten-style fun as adults here: we all work together and nobody gets hurt

But probably more likely, it was the fact that nobody — certainly no long-time Seahawks fan — expected to ever see this day. Those long-suffering die-hards who would never give up, and always cared, were finally rewarded for forty years of dedication. The mood was a few excitement levels higher than jubilant.

As a young high school punk in the Eighties, I was caught in a John Hughes movie, sure the jocks were my enemies. Some of them were, in fact. But unlike movies, life contains many people who are only, in small ways, part of the group you assume they belong to. I failed to recognize a truth I've come to accept as an adult — that sports fans are just nerds, like every one else. I hung out with the music nerds, and the science nerds, and the math nerds; the fashion nerds, the art nerds, the reading nerds, the comic nerds, the movie nerds, the science fiction and fantasy nerds, and the drama nerds. I didn't understand the language or culture of the sports nerds, like some of them didn't understand some of the other languages I knew so well (although, many, of course, crossed multiple nerd disciplines).

And being a sports fan, as an adult, is no indicator of anything other than that you enjoy spending your time playing and watching sports. Is there anything more precious and annoying than the person who demurs that he doesn't like sports in such a loud way as to impress on you his superiority of the fact?

Because maybe there are a lot of true blue-and-green Seahawks fans in Seattle, but there aren't a million of them. But there are a lot of people who recognized a reason to celebrate, and who wanted to step up to offer thanks and congratulations. There was this impossible team that had everything come together in an inspiring way, and they went in and dominated. Normally not a sports fan, I was a football fan that year.

And here, you can see above, was a crowd so thick you couldn't walk through it. I was there, on Columbia, waiting for the parade to start when that ambulance cut through. The crowd parted and folded around it, the ambulance moving about 10 miles an hour or so, lights and siren off, the crowd looking like it was ready to rock it, as if this were a riot. But it was moving like a fish in a stream, and the water parted so it could find its way.

I remember feeling a bit worried as it approached, but it went through the crowd like nobody's business, to wherever it was headed. And just to narrow our focus from a million people, down to the crowd here in this photo at the moment of that ambulance's passing? Just in there, I'm sure we can find five pretty interesting stories to write about. Every corner along that route had at least as many stories. Every place that was empty of people who came, every place that was full of people who couldn't come because of work, or because they were unexpectedly obligated to be somewhere they didn't want to be. All of those stories are just as good.

Sometimes, the hardest thing about writing these prompts is that there is no place in the world that you can walk which contains no stories.

Today's prompts
  1. "We won't get through," said the passenger. "We'll get through," said the driver. He moved slow, watching people before him nudge each other to look behind them. Only a few short honks were needed to clear the way. He kept a tight foot on the brake, keeping speed under control, worried about lurching. As they hit 4th and started to turn, the driver caught sight of the passenger, who was a bit green. "You okay?" he said, turning his attention back to the mass of people he had to navigate. "I really don't like crowds. Really don't." And then the passenger passed out.

  2. She didn't even know the man. He was in his 70s, she guessed. Probably underdressed for the weather, in his lightweight coat and cotton Seahawks skull cap and scarf. But when he sat down on the curb, and his eyes went far, she could see he was having trouble breathing. She crouched in front of him, worried the crowd might see them and press in. Put a hand on his shoulder, and when he could barely focus on her, she called 911.

  3. The man wasn't feeling sick that morning. Just a normal coughing fest in the shower. But dammit, he had been a season ticket holder during season one and almost every season after that. There was no way he was going to miss today's parade, like he missed the last five seasons or so. It wasn't too hard to get past the front desk at the nursing home without being seen (he did that all the time, those idiots), but he almost got made on his way to the dock. The ferry ride from Bremerton was fine. He just snuck some coffee when the cafeteria staff was busy. It was walking up the hill to 4th that he started feeling weak. He never could catch his breath again. And finally, what he wanted more than even seeing the team, was just to sit down and rest for a moment.

  4. Why had she even come? First, it was freezing cold. Second, her husband was being a turd, just swilling vodka from a flask and screaming like he was thirty years younger than he was. And she hated coming into Seattle, and especially downtown. It was filthy, and riddled with criminals. And for some reason, the EMT had to ask someone from the crowd to assist him in helping that poor sick man onto the stretcher. It was just completely unacceptable, how these government agencies never get anything right. Sending one EMT into a crowd like this. One! Terrible planning. This city was a complete cesspool, and still it got to dictate everything that happened in the state. She resented everything about this day, and she could not wait to get the heck out of here and go back home.

  5. She was only five people from him the whole time. She kind of saw the commotion about the man who was having trouble and watched the ambulance approach. But she was with friends celebrating. Well, and making fun of the woman next to them, who did nothing but complain to her poor husband, who was just trying to have a good time. But then when the EMT lifted the cart into the ambulance, she saw the man's face clearly, even through the oxygen mask. She cried out: "Arrest that man! Arrest that man! That's my father, and he's guilty of murdering my mother!"

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Re-bar

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

The Re-bar is so old that, if it were a person, it would be old enough to go to the Re-bar. In fact, it's twenty-seven or so. The infamous club, which one of the owners laughingly calls "straight-friendly," is one of the few remaining safe places for all people on the wide diaspora of queer culture. But sadly the building, once a modest island in a sea of parking lots, is now absolutely mobbed by huge glass construction; it's an oasis of artistry and self-made culture among luxury condominiums and offices that completely dwarf it.

It's where, famously, Dan Savage met his husband; where Nirvana had their record release party for Nevermind; where one friend fell for his wife because she was dancing topless on the speaker stacks; where Dina Martina put up her yearly hilarious shows; where beloved drag queen bouncer Isidor became the namesake of a DIY punk metal band; where calls home the longest running house music night on the West Coast (after DJ Riz Rollins, who started DJing there, was told when he started: NO HOUSE MUSIC!); where, long before idiotic debates over where people can pee became mainstream, Re-bar maintained genderless facilities (there were urinals, but I remember no labels on the doors, and a certainly looseness about which you might pick).

And, of course, perhaps most germane to these very pages, it's home to the Seattle Poetry Slam, every Tuesday night.

It boggles the mind to think of the stories those modest walls hold. Music, art, theater, films, dancing, and just the kind of place where artists and freaks go to hang out together. You go out, create a bit of life, and go home. Perhaps to someone else's place. Perhaps after having some drinks. Perhaps that night becomes a touchstone in your life.

And given the current political climate, let's just be extra fucking clear that we don't mean this god-forsaken place. Nor is it the bar of the same name in New York. To hell with those imposters. Those in the know understand how special our own Re-bar is. If you haven't been lately, perhaps you should stop by for an evening out. Who knows how long they can hold back the tide of property values?

As for those stories — how many can we uncover? I dunno. But maybe we should make up a few to see what happens.

Today's prompts
  1. One step at a time in those heels. It takes a long time to learn how to use them right. The wig not secure, and feeling like it's listing to one side. One fake tit lower than the other, and, my god, the bra was much to small and starting to bind. And a run in the brand new tights, already, before she was even to the door of a club. There were many people coming out to dance tonight, but this was her debut, goddammit, and she wanted everything to be perfect.

  2. She signed up for the open mic, but the idea of reading her poem aloud was making her heart reside in her throat. The idea of standing on a stage and reading a piece of her own work — especially something this personal and revealing — was so disturbing that she went and got a beer, just to calm herself down. It was just after they called her name, and she was walking to the stage, that she saw in the audience the person she had written the poem about.

  3. When you're on the floor, the DJ booth looks like an amazing oasis, a place set apart from the sweat and beat and mix of writhing humanity. And this night, with the place packed, she looked up to the DJ, headphones on, head bobbing to the beat, but distracted by what was to come next, and she had a vision. She could be there. This dude's transitions were for the birds. He kept breaking the flow. He kept dropping the beat. And if he did it one more time, she was going to risk getting kicked out by going up there and helping him get the floor thumping again.

  4. It was a late, late night, so he came in the next morning to clean the place. Opened the doors to air it out, ran the dishwasher a few times with the straggling glasses, and gathered the bottles into the recycling. He was sweeping up when he found the wallet, just lying there on the floor, so obvious now, but probably desperately missed. He opened it: no license, no credit cards. Just $100 bills. Nearly thirty of them.

  5. She was already cut off, but she stayed at the bar drinking water and coffee, kind of weaving to her own pattern. There weren't places for her any more. Not in this modern Seattle. Weren't many places she felt at home. It was all condos and yuppies, and they used to hate yuppies. Jesus. She turned to the woman next to her, a baby face, all of twenty-one, who was here to dance, had streaked and colored hair. "It used to be junkies and whores all the way down 1st, from the Market to Pioneer Square," she said, and the club girl rolled her eyes and turned away. "It was glorious," she said, taking a sip of hot coffee. "Absolutely glorious."

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Montlake Spite House

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

The story I heard was that Seattle enlarged Montlake Avenue and took half of one man's plot by eminent domain. He asked his neighbor, who had a large lot, to split off a bit and sell him some so that he might build a full-sized house. The neighbor refused, so the man built a small house that completely blocked his neighbor's view of Montlake Avenue.

This story makes no sense at all: I mean, who wants a view of a big avenue? I'd thank my neighbor if they blocked the noise and bustle like that. But no doubt, if you know about the spite house, you've heard some story of how it came about: a divorce, feuding neighbors, angry developers. Whatever the case, the base facts about the house are known: it was built in 1925, the house is about 826 square feet. It goes for about the price of a condo these days: it sold in July of 2016 for about $500k.

I toured the house, once. It was on the market in 1989, and I called the realtor to arrange a viewing. I showed up with my girlfriend at the time, and let's just say that neither of us really looked much like potential homeowners. His skeptical scowl told me that he was onto the ruse, but such is the price of hosting an infamous house. And, really, maybe I should have bought it: I remember the listing price as $60k or so, which seemed outrageous to me at the time, but given that my rent was $450 for an 800-square-foot studio on Capitol Hill, I probably could have afforded the mortgage if I had figured out how to work a down payment.

Every time the house hits the market, news sites around the world list it as a novelty. Google searches for 'Montlake Spite House' raise a lot of links. Take the real estate photos, write up a lazy summary for your readers, and there you go: you've garnished clicks for your site. But all of them claim one thing: nobody knows the real story of how that house came to be or what it's about. And while that may be frustrating from a historical truth point of view, it's awfully intriguing from the point of view of someone who likes making up stories.

So, maybe we should try to create some?

Today's prompts
  1. The Divorce — Being an independent woman was all the rage, but even if you were a flapper, being a divorced woman in the 1920s was no laughing matter. Even worse was when your ex-husband was ordered to divide the land by a judge, but not told in what proportion. Nothing left to do but show him you can't get rid of an independent woman that easily.

  2. The daughter-in-law — It took her a month of travel after a year of arranging. She came by train, getting stuck crossing the Rockies, which were having a very cold Spring. All just to get to her son on the West Coast, where he settled in Seattle. He'd asked her to come, after all. But when she arrived, he didn't even pick her up at the station, claiming he was busy. When she finally found her way to him, he offered to put her up in an apartment over on Queen Anne, all the way across town from where he lived. When she met her daughter-in-law, she saw where all this guff was coming from. And she knew just the antitode. She bought that tiny piece of land out front of their place. She'd make sure that woman always had a good motherly influence nearby.

  3. The bet — Beggars can't be choosers, but gamblers did choose their lot and so shouldn't beg when they're down. They sure as hell shouldn't welch and make their debtor force them to sell off a piece of their land just to pay down on the debt. If they whine enough, that debtor might just make sure they could stay nearby, just to see that everything that was owed was paid up in full.

  4. The creep — Mrs. Franklin wasn't even yet thirty-five when she was widowed. And with two children to raise, the only thing to do was to shave off a bit of her land and sell it to the city for the extra money. Perhaps, she thought, it could become a small park. Wouldn't that be lovely for the children? It was with great surprise that she noticed a foundation being dug one day, and upon further inquiry, was further surprised to find out the gentleman who bought the land was not connected to the city. He was, unfortunately, a man long familiar to her; one who courted her before she met her husband. One who she rejected many times. One who now leaned on his shovel, taking a break from prying loose some rocks on the land, and gave her a wide smile. "Not gonna be so easy to get rid of me this time," he said with a wink, and then he got back to digging.

  5. The optimist — Someday, he thought, canals would run down the streets in Seattle like in Venice. The Montlake Cut would be dug north and south, and the avenues that lined the college and went up to the hills would be water all the way. So when wicked old Mr. Rockson, who openly mocked the canal vision at a city planning meeting, offered to sell the land that bordered Montlake Avenue to him, little did the old jerk know that he was selling off his canal-front property. And soon that little tiny house out front was gonna be worth four times the house that sat right behind it.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Arctic Building

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

One of the great stories of Seattle took place in this building. One of the great facades of Seattle buildings graces its exterior. Now a hotel, once a club for “explorers”, (but mostly the people who did business with them), the Arctic Building isn’t the largest building in Seattle, nor is it the most important, but it may just be one of the most interesting.

It was raised in 1916, by some lucky sods who had made off like bandits in the Klondike gold rush. At least that’s what the myth is. As Seattle well knows, most of the money was in outfitting the fools who went prospecting, not in the prospecting itself — this is the story of early Seattle. The primary funder of the club, James Moses, made his money in pottery, not gold or pickaxes and tents. And he wasn’t even a Seattle resident. The Arctic Club had strong ties to New York, where there was another club, and Chicago.

You would join the club if you wanted to reinforce your business connections to the Alaskan territory. The bar, which was once housed in an older building the club used before the building we all love so much was built, was apparently stolen through a window one night when nobody was paying attention.

The modern hotel bar is a good place to grab a drink these days — they faithfully, as possible, recreate the look-and-feel of a vintage lounge, although the drinks will set you back more than they did back in the early days. Here’s a hint: walking up to the parking lot on the corner of Cherry and Fourth allows you to walk up pretty close to one of the walrus cartouches — they’re gonna raze that to make a new skyscraper soon, so do it while you can.

A post shared by Martin McClellan (@hellbox) on

And that great story? Be warned: it’s a tragedy. It centers around Marion Zioncheck, a leftist firebrand politician, who was elected to the US Senate as a representative from Washington. He was a staunch New Deal Democrat who had a wild streak, apparently. He was arrested with his wife for drunkenly cavorting in a fountain. He sent manure to J. Edgar Hoover. He was, by all accounts, completely crazy.

He announced he was retiring, and set the stage for his college buddy Warren Magnuson (the park is named for him) to run in his stead. But then, Zioncheck changed his mind. One August evening, in 1936, Zioncheck’s wife of four months Rubye was waiting in the car for him. He was in his office on the fifth floor of the Arctic Building. They were all set to go out to an event.

And then, his body tumbled down from the sky, smashing into the street in front of poor Rubye, almost hitting pedestrians, and ending the life of Marion Zioncheck. The fall was ruled a suicide, and in fact, there was a note left behind, and a witness, his brother-in-law who claimed he was trying to stop him from the act. There are those who think otherwise.

History is funny like that. It leaves buildings behind with these ghosts. I caught the bus on Third between Cherry and Columbia for years, and I walked past the spot where Zioncheck fell nearly every day. I never thought about him, save for when I was telling someone the story. Funny how we just move on and don’t remember. How a building can just be a nice hotel now. I wonder if you could sleep in the room that has the window he jumped from? Might be worth asking at the front desk.

One thing’s for sure. There are heck of a lot of stories waiting to come out of that building.

Today's prompts
  1. It was midnight when they broke in to the old Arctic Club. The new building was ready, and there was just one thing then needed. The building was quiet as they opened the massive window as high as it would go, and started breaking loose the large wooden bar. It was theirs, and they were gonna take it.

  2. That old building on Third and Cherry was in poor repair, in 1975, and not looking so great. A woman, a waitress at the Harbor Club atop the Norton Building, was rushing down the hill in her heels, trying not to be late for her shift. When suddenly, she was grabbed by the waist and pulled aside. A tusk from one of the walrus friezes crashed to the sidewalk where she would have been. "Are you okay?" That voice...she turned, and gasped when she saw who had saved her.

  3. They could only do it when the bar was slow, but it was a fun game. They tried to guess which couples getting hit on would go back to a room together. On a good night, they had a couple of hits. Occasionally, they stopped a creep from harassing someone. But when one of them elbowed the other to point out the man in the green suit making a move on the woman in the black wrap dress, what they never expected was to get pulled into the middle of an international incident.

  4. They gathered every full moon. They wore black robes, and gathered under the walruses. They shined their lights up onto the building and began their chant. All hail the walrus! The walrus who brings life! They knew they'd have five minutes tops before the cops came, at least that was the average. But this time they had something planned that would change things. This time, they wouldn't be chased away so easily.

  5. What was amusing was the one time she stayed in a hotel and could hear the neighbors next door spanking each other. What was not amusing was being in a hotel and hearing the neighbors next door yelling at each other in scary ways. But when she called the front desk to report them, all she was told was "Lock your door and don't leave your room until we tell you its safe", and the line went dead. Then the screaming in the hall started.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Alaskan Way Viaduct

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

It never should have been built. Think about Vancouver, who denied the highway madness of mid-century America. Think about the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, where a group of residents banded together to fight a highway bisecting their neighborhood. Then think about Seattle where, in a fit of veiled hatred towards beauty and all things natural (e.g. the large body of water at our feet), we built this 50 foot wall of concrete to block us from having to see it.

But, look, times were different then. My parents (with sisters and me in tow) moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham in 1982. When they bought their house up there, they found that houses on the side of the street without a view went for more money than ones with a view. Why? Nobody wanted to look at the working bay. It was industrial. It was polluted. Same in Seattle — so why not just build a modernist brutalist ribbon to partition the clean streets of downtown from the horrible ennui of a polluted, working Elliott Bay?

And times were different in that it was post war, and the most modern idea of great living was grouping all of these places people wanted to go into superbundles and people could drive to them, because everybody was buying cars like they were raffle tickets to Hamilton. Take your private world with you wherever you go! Cars were everywhere, and no "normal" family wanted to live in the city any more. It was the start of white flight, suburban dreams, and the inhuman drive towards putting culture out to pasture, for the possibility of a square of manicured grass with a habitat box plopped in the middle. Surrounded by pipe-smoking, lawn-mowing, casserole-baking, PTA-attending white people just like themselves.

This was a problem for cities: people who lived there, shopped there, ate there, worked there, and paid taxes there, were suddenly only working there, and they took their tax money with them to the burbs. So, let's build a highway to bring them all back, so that they can drive into town in comfort, and repatriate that money that had escaped. Except, of course, the highways went both ways, so people would just go home with whatever money they didn't spend on Frangos and fresh salmon.

There are people who love the Viaduct. Someone wanted to turn it into a park, like the Highline in New York, which is stupid because the Highline isn't in imminent risk of falling down when breathed on wrong. The Viaduct has been, in effect, condemned, for years, and is far beyond its functional life. And underneath, the dim, cluttered, depressing basement of downtown, is like a cyberpunk novel stripped of interesting technology. All sorts of things shrink there for lack of sunlight, from people just trying to get by, to people just trying to get one over.

But recently, an amazing thing happened: the most expensive, and largest bore, drilling machine in the world actually broke through the retaining wall of its exit pit, in a dust-throwing storm of earth crunching. Four billion (and counting) dollars later, we have an underground replacement for the aging stacked highway (which opened four years earlier than the Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland, that collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, killing forty-two people), and in a few years the dismantling of our stacked utopian fifties vision of he world will be stripped from our twenty-first century streets.

I say good riddance, and I just hope we get rid of it before another earthquake strikes here. Very few of the politicians who campaigned so hard for that project to happen are around to take the heat for its overruns, and the inevitable lawsuits that we, the taxpayers who voted against it, will be stuck dealing with.

But of the Viaduct there is one thing I will miss: it is the greatest egalitarian people-owned view in Seattle. If you have a car that moves, you can take it in. If you don't, hop on a bus that travels part of it. Because when it's gone, the ability to look out over Elliott Bay on a beautiful day — the Olympics appearing as close as Bainbridge, the sparkle on the water dancing, orca breaching alongside ferries, barges, cruise and container ships — that view will only be available to the highest bidder, and the bids are going up sharper than the profit line in a New Yorker boardroom cartoon.

All we'll be left with are stories.

Today's prompts
  1. It was the one road in Seattle you could open the throttle, if there was a cop ahead, you'd spot them. It was 3am. There were four cars, hopped up with engines growling. When the flag went down, they hit 99 just north of the Aurora bridge. First to make it to West Seattle was gonna win, and the Viaduct was where they really put the hammer down.

  2. It was all fenced off, where they were building the old highway. He knew, in the morning, a big concrete pour was starting. He pulled, heaving the bulky form in the bag, and cut the fencing. All he had to do was dump this stiff down the hole, and tomorrow, it would be gone forever.

  3. As meet-cutes go, this one was weird. They owned identical cars. Maybe that wouldn't be notable in Seattle if they were Subaru Outbacks but perfectly maintained 1960s Mercedes-Benz 230sl convertibles? An accident was blocking northbound, and the first time they pulled up next to each other, they caught eyes and laughed. The second time they yelled, back and forth, the white car driver initiating. The third time, the driver of the red car sent a paper airplane flying across, landing on the passenger seat of the white car. On it, a phone number.

  4. All he wanted to do was walk it. From the on-ramp to the off-ramp. Just walk it like a person walks any road. The cops saw it different, thought he was a suicide. But come on, man. Would a suicidal person be wearing a yellow safety vest? All he wanted to do was walk and take in the view. And now, he was gonna have to make his way through a bunch of cops to do even that simple thing.

  5. The shaking felt like a flat tire, at first. She had just entered the southbound lanes where they go under the north, but when she saw a telephone pole, next to the highway, swaying, she knew it was something more. She felt movement too strong, too intense. Too wrong. Traffic slowed around her and she laid on the horn. Move, you idiots, move! She looked in the rear view, at her son, sleeping in his car seat, oblivious. There was no way she was gonna let a damn highway win. She pressed the gas around, she had just enough room to get around that Tesla. She laid on the horn and went for it.