List of all columns

Archives of Seattle writing prompts

Seattle Writing Prompts: Twitter

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.

Image from @AEMarling on Twitter

Maybe you were part of #WomenBoycottTwitter on Friday. We were. Or maybe you were frustrated, like Ava DuVeray, that it was only when a white woman was banned that people started speaking up, when women of color have been reporting this behavior for years.

Which sums the problem up nicely: Twitter doesn't listen. Or, they listen and don't care. Or, they care and are somehow so bound to — Metrics? Engagement? Shareholders? Satan? — something, that they cannot fix this problem. So it sure feels like Twitter isn't listening, and the only way to make them listen is stop using their service.

Or, to put a fine point on it, stop giving them the content, for free, that they then sell advertising against. On Twitter, as the saying goes, you are the product. It was an okay trade-off when you were meeting interesting people and making friends, but, that wasn't everybody's experience. Ariel Waldman wrote about Twitter being unwilling to uphold their TOS in 2008, just a year-and-a-half after the service's launch. Six years before Gamergate became, as many have pointed out, a trial balloon for the kind of networked harassment that lead to the organized silencing of women and liberals under the Trump campaign.

And lest you think these things are not connected, the man who, kind of openly, but still allegedly harassed the amazing Kathy Sierra off the internet in 2007 has come out fully as a white supremacist. Previously, he claimed it was all about the lulz. It probably is, to him, as is his belief that anybody without his skin is substandard.

So I'm dedicating today's prompts to some what-ifs. A peek into another dimension of what could have been. Maybe it's just progressive dreaming, but since we're apparently on the alternate timeline where pretty much everything is going wrong, progressive dreaming seems to be all we have left.

Today's prompts
  1. The first response was so rude she couldn't believe it was real. Who could have that big of a problem with her tweet about a comic book? By the time the fiftieth response showed up, she shut down Twitter and went to bed. In the morning, fearing to look, she saw her response timeline was clean, and there was a DM for her from support. "Looks like some jerk sent a bot army your way. We've banned them and cleaned up their mess. So sorry to disrupt your right to express yourself on our platform. We think your actual voice is so much more valuable than trolls."

  2. The cop, broom mustache, wide-set brow, asked her "and where did this threat come from?" — "He posted it on Twitter" — "And you are sure it's your ex?" — "Pretty sure, yeah." — "And this was did you say it? Twitter?" — "Yes." — "What's that?" — "It's a website for publishing thoughts." — "Okay. I don't know much about the internet, but obviously, all of these accounts have real people behind them, and we take any threats very seriously. I'll work with our technology team to request IP addresses and personal information on your harasser so that we can verify it is your ex and build up a case against him before he escalates into violence against your person."

  3. She tweeted "love Twitter! Got this mail today." Attached was a picture of the email. "We noticed that you're friends with a lot of people who have suffered harassment on our platform. We've taken the liberty of hiding your tweets from some people who react too strongly to content, we hope that helps you feel safe and able to express yourself on our platform without fear of harassment."

  4. That bitch. He was gonna teach her a lesson. He went to 4chan and posted a picture of her, and her address. "Help me dox this piece of trash," he wrote. "I dunno," came a quick reply. "The last guy who did this got arrested by the FBI, even though he was going through TOR. I guess these services really take harassment seriously and shut it down before it could grow into anything major."

  5. @jack woke in a cold sweat, again.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Amazon's massive balls

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 have to admit that Amazon has balls. Big ones. Three, for some reason (probably so that nobody will say that they look like balls). They're right there, on the cusp of South Lake Union, right around the corner from one of the few remaining strip clubs left in the city. Sitting at the base of two unique and iconic tall towers, very well-designed by NBBJ.

It's one thing to have balls, it's another to really use them well. We talk about Amazon a lot on these pages. We reported on the first ever reverse-showrooming, after Amazon famously instructed their users to go to bookstores to find the book they want, and then buy it on Amazon. Ironically, then, Amazon worked on restricting internet access in stores.

Of course, Amazon is a large company and not everything they do is evil. Some of it is chaotic-neutral. The company, at heart, is really one simple thing: an efficiency engine. How can I remove friction in getting X to consumers? That's everything to Amazon. That's why you can order batteries on Amazon Fresh, or Amazon Now, or Amazon Prime Same-Day Delivery. They're all competing fiefdoms in the libertarian death-race of efficiency.

Is efficiency bad? Of course not. Some great things have come from it, and there are markets that probably deserve to be toppled, because they're built on platforms that are, at essence, capitalist con-jobs. I'm thrilled that the internet mattress companies like Casper and Leesa have taken on the ridiculous shell-game of classic mattress showrooming. There is no reason car manufactures, like Tesla, shouldn't be able to sell direct to the customer. In a capitalist society, competition is good. So, no, I don't think Amazon is evil. I think, in a large sense, Amazon is indifferent, and through indifference shows aspects of evil. Sometimes, Amazon is actually evil, but a company so large cannot be a single thing. It is a thriving eco-system, and in that eco-system lay many spectrum of value. I'm not even addressing huge swaths of their business that are worth mentioning, like Kindle publishing and what that has meant to independent authors, and what it has meant to traditional publishing.

Not that Amazon's critics are the most thorough. Talk to a typical lefty old-school Seattleite, and in the same breath they will complain about Amazon employees (rich tech workers moving to the city and driving up prices), and shed a tear for Amazon employees (non-unionized factory workers). I have a lot of friends who work at Amazon. I, myself, interviewed there (they passed on me, but would I have accepted an offer if proffered? That question is my personal-ethics version of the trolley problem, where one switch kills personal beliefs and the other kills debt).

So my feelings about the company are complex. I like the infrastructure they are bringing to the city. I like the varied marketplace of goods. I love Amazon studios, and Transparent, and other shows they're totally nailing. I don't like the whiff of caveat emptor that works its way in from the edges when they're asleep at the wheel, but I know that they believe in delivering value and goods to their customers, so things like that will correct when noticed. What I don't like the most about Amazon is how they're not a great neighbor.

For example, a company their size should be paying much higher taxes and returning wealth to the city in ways besides nice architecture. We should have a Bezos hall, or Bezos park, or Bezos library. Maybe someday we will, but until Amazon's rapacious growth suffers a hiccup and there is some kind of re-org that imparts a whiff of humility, it will be all octopus eating, and polishing the glass in your massive balls, that are private nature preserves for the private members of club Amazon, right in the middle of our city.

I guess they do remind us of who has the biggest ones in Seattle. Right now, like it or not, the answer is clear.

Today's prompts
  1. First, they had to block all underground access. There was no way of controlling the spheres once they couldn't narrow paths in. Next, they made the only entrance a gauntlet. Acetylene torches hooked up to servos could spark a rain of fire. Booby trapped land minds under certain floor tiles would halt careless progress. Inside, they had supplies for at least a year. They could make it, so long as no one infected made it past their defenses.

  2. "He proposed!?" — "Yup. Down on one knee. Had a drone flying right outside capturing the whole thing. I was crying so hard. It was so beautiful." — "And you don't feel weird that, you know, he did it at work?" — "Well, no. I mean, we both love the natural environment so much." — "The spheres are natural?" — "There is a lot of nature inside of them. Anyway, we met at work. We spend most of our days at work. We love our jobs, so why not propose at work?" — "And the drone was outside the spheres looking in?" — "Yeah. We petitioned security to get it back, so hopefully we'll have the footage, soon."

  3. I am the exterminator. I get called in on the specialty jobs. This one was a doozy. Employees dropping food, and the food calls the rats and smaller birds, and the small birds call the crows. Suddenly, you have an aquarium full of pests. My job is to take care of them all. I fight the problem. It was what I didn't expect to find that shocked me. I didn't expect to find a dead body under the dry leaves in the middle sphere. This is a murder mystery, and now I'm out to find the truth.

  4. All he wanted to do was stand on top of the spheres. He tried during the night, but the first time one of his suction cups didn't hold, and he had to replace it. The second try met with guards, who watched the spheres closer than he imagined. The third try, he got about half way up before he looked down, and then froze. What the hell was he doing? What would this prove? Why would he even risk himself in this idiotic stunt? It was as if a veil dropped, and he saw himself for the first time in a truly objective way. And what he saw was horrifying. Part of what he saw was that, he now realized, he was terrified of heights.

  5. I am Rubi. I am Ficus rubiginosa. My home is the spheres, and I oversee all that happens within. Under my leaves the plans of humans are made. Fortunes are won and lost. Above me, a canopy of glass, and then the world. Above me, clouds. Around me, people, moving in a blur. A city changing. A pace too quick for me a tree to recognize. I think in seasons, and you think in minutes. One day, the glass around me will melt, and I'll break free, grow to the size of a skyscraper. I will be Seattle's Yggdrasil, and all shall worship at my trunk. Let me tell the story of how this all came to be...

Seattle Writing Prompts: A destroyed plant; a moment

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.

I saw what happened here. I know why this planter, which sits in front of a building on 4th between Pike and Union, was harassed. Why flowers were on the ground mixed with sprays of clinging soil. I know because I saw it, while walking with some co-workers, to food one afternoon at lunch.

But imagine I didn't know. Or, better yet, imagine I won't tell you. We stumble on these little dramas every day in the city, places where a moment has taken place and we are witnessing only its aftermath.

This plant is but one small example of this. How many times have we seen the trashcan knocked over, the car on the sidewalk, the stripped bike frame locked to a pole, broken glass, tufts of weird fur, a spill or spray of blood. The city has stories, we know that. That's what this column is about. But sometimes, the city has moments, too.

I would define a moment as the peak of a story, or a peak in a story, maybe, since a story may have many peaks as it climbs towards resolution. That time where all the threads a writer has been pulling come together in a sharp shock. When the deceit and betrayal get played, when the pressure from all around rises to a fever pitch and a character just can't take it anymore, and something changes in an irrevocable moment of action. See, for reference, Chekov's Gun.

Life is full of such moments, but they're rarely as clean and simple as flowers on a sidewalk, obviously the victim of some kind of violence. The question I want to know is: what lead to it happening? What was the sharp rise before the moment. And if this given moment (flowers tossed on the sidewalk) is the same in each story, what was the buildup? What could have lead to it?

Let's try to explore what could have been.

Today's prompts
  1. "You're a total good boy," she said to him, smiling. They had gone downtown after school, the two of them. They ran in different crowds, but when the rest of the crew had split off, they were left together, and that suited both of them just fine. "What? No. I mean, what?" he said. "You get good grades. Don't hang out with losers. Want to, like, go to college. I dunno. You just seem kind of simple." She laughed at her own boldness. "What!?" he said, with faux anger. "I'm a total rebel." She laughed harder, and making like an ape, scratching his underarms, he went over to the planter and ripped flowers to throw at her, while she shrieked, shocked and delighted by his boldness.

  2. The dress was as much as a down payment on a house. And the two words that Candy would not accept were "No returns." But there she was at the dress shop, and there was the calm clerk explaining to her that she just lost that money forever, invested in couture that, now, would never get its day. That never would walk an aisle. That never would be photographed. The cake, she canceled. The hall refunded her down payment. The caterer booked with someone else. But the dress shop? No returns on bespoke designer dresses. She was fucked. And storming out the front door, she saw those stupid potted flowers, and could only think of one visceral way to express her anger at this situation.

  3. It mostly was in the corner of her eye. She couldn't see it when she looked directly at it, but she had been tracking it around downtown for hours. If it got away from her, if she couldn't catch it, then it could spell the end of the world as we knew it. She almost had it near Westlake, until a security guard started harassing her and she had to bide her time. She saw its silvery shimmer dive into a planter on the side of the road, and that is where she made her play, springing on it and grabbing it, and fist fulls of flower, in an attempt to end this once-and-for-all.

  4. Joe dog, a terrier, was chill. Walking down the street was a nice thing, on his leash with his dad, just having a nice morning, enjoying the smells of the city. Then, right before you know it, he smelled it. Rat. A fat, ugly, stinky rat. Salivating, not from hunger but from desire, Joe went calm. Years of breeding told him he had to stay still and not project his move. The rat may have been aware of him, but it didn't know what he was capable of. And then, walking right by the planter, Joe made his move. His dad yelled "Joe, no!" as he lunged, pulling the leash with him. Going straight for the planter. But the rat was too quick for him, and Joe ended up, only, with a mouthful of flowers that he shook and cast all over the ground. His dad, embarrassed, grabbed his leash and pulled him away quickly. That rat, though, mocked him. Stood on the edge of the planter as he was pulled away and laughed. Next time, thought Joe. Next time.

  5. There are so many angry men in this world, and he was but one. Men are angry for reasons. A song once said "an angry man needs attention," and that is true. Anger is about attention. It is disgust in not being recognized the way you want, and making a show so the world will correct itself and focus its attention on you. It is a selfish act, and it can be a violent act, because the man is crying out "I am so lonely that even if you give me fear, you are still giving me the attention I desire." The angry man can't see that his actions are damaging to the relationship. He would do better to be vulnerable, and to say to the people hurting him "I need your attention. I'm in pain, and I don't know what to do." Anyway, that's the story of the flowers. It was an angry man, yelling gender-specific insults at an unnamed woman. He was storming down the street, and stopped by the potted plant, ripping great fist fulls of flowers and dirt, raising them above his head like down-on-his-luck Thor, and throwing them with violence at the ground. He stormed off, all of us giving him a wide berth, and then he was gone and only the spill of flowers, as a testament to his emotions, lay behind for someone else to clean up.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Safeco Plaza

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 they first constructed this 50 story black obelisk in downtown Seattle, it was the tallest thing around. It dwarfed Smith Tower, and edged out the Space Needle by just enough that it was nicknamed "the box the Space Needle came in." Wikipedia will tell you that it was the first modern Class-A office building in Seattle, but that doesn't tell you how gorgeous this building is.

Once again, NBBJ comes to the front as the architect of choice for unique buildings. Its large two-story lobby (go in and look around sometime if you never have) surrounding austere white marble clad elevator banks give the inside an airy lightness that works nicely against the dark exterior. The escalators in the back of the building lead down to the lower lobby on 4th avenue, which is a nice mid-century modern spot to sit and eat on a rainy day. The front of the building is dominated by the glassine latticework of the Central Library.

There's a story about that library, possibly apocryphal. After the old building was demolished, Rem Koolhaus, recently commissioned, had come to Seattle to inspect the site, and glean inspiration for the new design. Standing on the mound, he looked down into the lobby of Safeco Plaza, and saw, through the windows, a painting by Sam Francis. It was a massive abstract whose canvas dominated the space, filling up the expanse of wall behind the guard stations. That painting inspired Koolhaus's exterior pattern of the library (which, incidentally, then inspired our logo).

The painting — and also the sculpture out front of the building on 5th Avenue by Henry Moore, titled "Vertabrae" — came from the collection of Seafirst Bank (née Seattle First National Bank), who were the original commissioners of the building we're talking about. Seafirst had an impressive art collection which was passed along to Bank of America when they bought the nearly insolvent Seafirst in 1983.

But Bank of America had no such regional affection for art. When they sold Safeco Plaza in 1986, they also sold the Henry Moore sculpture to Japanese investors. It caused such an outcry locally that Bank of America repurchased the sculpture and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, who maintain it to this day. But that didn't stop them, in 2010, from relocating the Sam Francis painting to their own art gallery in North Carolina. That austere marble is, perhaps, now a bit too austere, missing its centering artwork.

At the top of the building is a helipad (one of two atop commercial buildings downtown), which is rarely used thanks to rezoning, and then judicious public safety caution after the accident at KOMO in 2014 that killed two and injured one. I've seen a helicopter land there, from the observation deck of Columbia Center, but that doesn't seem to be a very common event anymore. Imagine the day where important bankers were whisked away to make important deals.

Aw hell, we don't have to imagine them. We're writers. Let's create them.

Today's prompts
  1. "The helicopter is approaching, Mr. Brown," said his secretary, Pam. He pulled on his overcoat, loathe to leave the grand view on a day like today, where the Olympic mountains looked close enough to lick, like a snow cone. He rode the elevator up, and then waited on the staircase under the hood for the chopper to land. Ducking against the wind, he ran to the door. He was in and his belt was on when he noticed the pilot was new. He secured his headset. "Where's Frank?" he asked. The pilot, lifting off, didn't look at him. "Now, now, Mr. Brown. Let's now worry about Frank. Frank will be just fine. Let's you and me worry about other things. For example, let's worry about you surviving the next two hours."

  2. It was the bum knee that got her. Couldn't climb worth a damn, and the whole city being hills meant she couldn't get around. No buses went from where she was to where she wanted to be. Couldn't afford a cab, even if she trusted them. Getting from Pioneer Square up to the library was tough. That mean, no books that week. Overdue fines. No checking her email. But then a buddy tipped her: starting on First, go into the Norton Building, and ride their escalator up. One block north to the Wells Fargo Tower, and you can ride those escalators up to third. Walk up to Safeco Plaza, and take those escalators up to Fourth and you'll be dropped off right across the street from the library. But then, entering Safeco Plaza on third, she heard a voice "Hey there mom, let me help you out," and a young man took her arm. She was already winded from the walking she already had to do, so she was slow on the uptake. But looking up, there he was. It couldn't be, but it was him alright. Her own Johnny. And he looked good as the day he died thirty years past.

  3. One little slip of paper. How much it weighed. It pulled at her, like a lead blanket around her shoulders, pulled at her and made her walk slow and heavy. The elevator on the way up to her lawyers office even creaked as she rose, high above the streets of Seattle. Then, later, after some small talk and pastries, and some ceremony of signing, she handed over the check and it was gone. The whole thing was done. Years of struggle, of uncertainty, of pain. The choice was made, the money was drawn, and now she was free. And she knew exactly what the first thing she was going to do was.

  4. On lucky days he rode the elevator with her. She was always holding a library book. Last week it was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. The week before it was Bad Feminst by Roxane Gay. It would suck, being bothered on the elevator, by a strange dude, so he didn't act on his intense desire to talk to her. Until she started reading kids books. First, The Westing Game, and The Phantom Tollbooth, which made him want to talk to her so bad, and then finally, he had a moment when he saw her holding Bridge to Teribithia. A moment where he got choked up and his eyes watered and he stifled a sob. "Are you okay?" she asked, the elevator stopping to let a man in a gray suit off. He nodded, then, when the doors closed, said "I named my cat Leslie when I was ten." — "Oh," said the woman, not unsympathetically. And the other part he could only say in a whisper. "It was horrible. She drowned."

  5. "That thing? It's huge." — "I know. It's like I told you." — "It's bigger than you said" — "Be that as it may, we still have to get it down" — "We can't crate it. Not that size. Won't even fit in the truck" — "We could take it off the frame, roll it up. Take the frame apart." — "That seems dangerous. Maybe they should have hired real painting people, you know? The kind that work in museums? Have white gloves?" — "Well, there you have it. You think that, and I think that, but apparently, they didn't think that, and them's the ones doing the hiring." — "What if we mess it up. They insure us?" — "Dunno. Can't say I have a bond on me, you?" — "Nope." — "Are we going to politely inform them that the job is above our capability?" — "I am planning to do no such thing." — "Nor I. So, maybe we start with getting it down. Then we can talk about how to remove it and then we can figure out how to transport it." — "Sounds like a plan. How much you think it weighs?" — "Dunno. How much can you press?" — "Never measured in paintings. I guess we'll find out."

Seattle Writing Prompts: shipping containers

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've seen them stacked like mini-skyscrapers driving 99 through SODO. On the Duwamish side, the towering animal-like cranes, whose job it is to move them from one method of conveyance to another. On the other, those hunched-back rail cranes, that pick up and move them in the yards.

Containers hold our imagination in specific ways. We want to buy them to turn them into houses, shops, studios, boats, and even, of course, Starbucks.

There's just something about those corrugated metal boxes that makes us want to repurpose them into something else. Their first job, though, is to move goods. In fact, what you think of when you hear the name "shipping container" is actually called intermodal containers. They come in standardized sizes, but the real breakthrough in their technology came when a Spokanite named Keith Tantlinger who made some important improvements on existing containers (mostly standardization), but invented the twist-lock that today's containers use so that they can stack. It changed shipping forever.

If you read Jonathan Raban's magnificent novel Waxwings — which starts on the bridge of a container ship about to enter the Salish Sea as a pilot boards to guide the ship to harbor in Seattle — you'll know that containers play a part. Containers are story machines, each one full of things we love to think about, dream about, or need to do our work. And when humans make things and need things, no doubt there are going to be many stories around those things just waiting to be explored.

Today's prompts
  1. Sometimes the twist-locks seize. Salt air, corrosion, etc. Sometimes you have to get in there and cut the damn things free. But he checked all four corners and they were in the release position. So why couldn't the crane get the container free of the stack? Making sure he was well clear, he radioed for the crane operator to try again, and like before, the container stuck tight to the one under it, like it was super-glued in place. It was weird. And then, a surging hum and the wrench he was holding went flying and stuck to the side of container. Magnets? There weren't any magnets that powerful on the earth. He radioed to pull the crane free. "I'm gonna crack it and see what's inside."

  2. They didn't have the nerve to say it to her face. But her neighbors — at least one of them, and maybe more — sent an anonymous note to her email, threatening her with a lawsuit if she continued with the plans for her new house. "Your plan to build using steel boxes is incongruous with the careful design of our neighborhood," the note read. "Should you persist, there will be lawsuits." She wondered if it was the person who lived in the Tudor, or the craftsmen, or the mid-century rambler, or the eighties knock-off architect's nightmare house? Which congruity of those would she be impacting by building on her own land?

  3. The planning had taken twelve Earth years. Where was the least likely place for Earth radar to pick up their craft landing? They decided in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and to mask their decent through the atmosphere to be like a meteorite falling. The mothership could go to the bottom of the sea, then, by the time any jets were scrambled to check them out. And then, they would launch their container ship, and it would go right into port, without anybody knowing. The perfect Trojan horse, and nobody could stop them before they were fully distributed throughout the cities, and it was too late.

  4. The sealed container auctions were his favorite. Something about a gambler's sensibility that knew the promise of something was better than the reality of bored nothingness. So, a few thousand dollars and he'd have a container full of goods. Of what? Of shoes, or sawhorses, of cheap-ass electronics or knock-off Stetson hats, electrical panels for houses, or elevator cables, plastic bottles, climbing gear, or who knows what else? But when he opened his latest lot, he found something far more unsettling: a house-worth of furniture and goods. It was a family's life he just bought, and all he could think about was how much they needed their stuff. How much the move — from where? Hong Kong? — had cost them, and he wondered if he could figure out just how to find them.

  5. They wash up on the beaches, sometimes, still. Daddy says it was the great wave that done it, but I know it was the pulse from the sun that killed all of the electronics. Daddy says they used to talk on little boxes, used to use glowing screens to see faces of people far away. One time, he opened the big box on the beach and showed me, with happiness, "This is a laptop, Dumpling. I wish I could turn it on and show you how it worked." We took all the boxes of them, hundreds, and stacked them in my room. I use them like blocks to make other rooms, but I've opened a few. I like to poke at their buttons and see. Sometimes I shoot them with the shotgun to watch them explode, but Daddy doesn't like when I do that because of contamination, whatever that is. So when I saw a new red box come up on shore I had to go get him, and we waded out to it to see what could be inside. Every time it was the thrill of the new. Every time was like a present come to us. Both of us acted like little kids as we walked into the water to see what we were gonna get.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The thirteenth floor

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.

Superstition, ugh. Am I right? The public thinks something bad is going to happen on the thirteenth floor. So, what would be the thirteenth becomes the fourteenth floor, and suddenly your building has thirty instead of twenty-nine stories. Somehow, because that floor has changed its title (or has it?) it is magically cleared of bad luck.

Sorry triskaidekaphiliacs, or people who are obsessed with the number thirteen, but there aren't many buildings with a thirteenth floor. I happen to work in one, and it was an almost shocking site to see the elevator hit that number without skipping it on my ride up. Now I relish it, and occasionally, when I ride the elevator with someone disembarking on the thirteenth floor, I'm curious as to what they'll find on it.

According to some accounts, as many as 85% of the buildings with an Otis elevator did not have a thirteenth floor. Unless they are versed in this oddity of modern social architecture, most people seem to not notice the thirteenth floor thing. So, if you imagine that floor is a Roky Ericcson song sending you a message, I'm sorry to say that floor would be wrong.

This seems like it would be useful Wikipedia page — "Buildings in Seattle that have a thirteenth floor." So, if you live or work in one, drop us a line, and if we get enough, maybe we can create it.

But until we have an exhaustive list, all we have is potential stories in mostly imaginary buildings — things that might have happened on the thirteenth floor, if somehow they existed but we never learned that they are all cursed by their very numbering.

Today's prompts
  1. Everything was on the upswing. New offices. Name being painted on the door by building maintenance guy, kneeling in blue coveralls, applying the gold to my name: "Chuck Masters, Private Investigations". New secretary, and she's a real sweetheart. Last month's billing through the roof. Ten cases closed. Things keep going like this, I'm gonna bring in a junior partner and see if we can't take a swipe at Pinkerton. Maintenance guy finished, and stood, stretching his arms, different parts of him cracking. "Well," he said. "Glad things are going so good for ya. I guess I'll be seeing you in a few months." — "Why so, pal?" — "You're the fifth dick to move into this place in two years. Ain't none of you lasted more than six months or so. And I'll tell you why, fella." — "Okay. Let it loose." — "I will. It's because you're dumb enough to rent an office on the thirteenth floor. Might as well call yourself Bad Luck Masters, because that's what you're in for, buddy. Mark my words."

  2. She would never be able to afford to rent in this building on her salary. A skyscraper in Belltown? No way. But the rent on the units on the thirteenth floor was $1000 a month cheaper than the rest, and for some reason, the landlord seemed desperate to rent them. Her only problem would be furnishing the place. And her air mattress popped the first night out of the blue, so she doesn't have a bed. And the electricity cut out for a while. And her shower went ice cold randomly. And she smelled a weird electrical smell in the kitchen. And when she turned out the lights, she could have swore there was a face looking in her window.

  3. Of course the elevator stopped with him inside. Somewhere around the 14th floor. He rang the call button, and maintenance said somebody would be right up to help him. Then he opened his phone and got onto Slack. "Hey, I'm stuck on the elevator." Somebody responded with the "face screaming in fear" emoji. "lol, it's fine" he typed, just as the elevator dropped a floor or so, then bounced and stopped, the friction from the brake pads filling the small room with a burning rubber smell. The lights flickered. Then the door opened, and he stepped out. Immediately, he was tackled, and his arms were cuffed behind him. "We've got a security breach on thirteen," said a man's voice, and the squelch of a radio. "Roger" came the reply. But wait — this building didn't have a thirteenth floor. Or did it?

  4. "We can get there on the stairs," he said. It was "take your kids to work" day, and they were the only two ten-year-olds. Both his dad and her mom were in a boring meeting. They were given iPads and told to entertain themselves, but he was fascinated that this building had a thirteenth floor. They had tried the elevator, but that floor wouldn't light up when they pushed the button. So they tried the stairs. The first staircase exit on thirteen was locked. But she suggested they try the second, and, sure enough, that one was ajar. They opened it, creaking on the hinges, and were greeted by a weird smell. "Mothballs", she said. He brought out his iPhone and turned on the flashlight, and they stepped into the floor.

  5. "It used to be easier," George said. "Back before the superstitions." — "yeah, but isn't that kind of our fault?" asked Bernie. "I mean, before us, people came up to thirteen all the time. Lived here. Worked here." — "Like us, for example." — "Exactly. Like us. And then, what, a couple of accidental deaths and suddenly people stay away like the plague." — "Well, except the maintenance guy. He still comes up here every week." — "He doesn't like it, though. You can see he wants to be done right quick." — "Maybe that's your fault, Bernie. Maybe if you didn't rattle your chains whenever he showed up." — "Don't you blame me, George. Being stuck with you here for the rest of time isn't enough for me." — "I'm just saying that if you laid off, maybe he would encourage people to move in and then we'd really have somebody to haunt." — "Don't you go blaming me, now. You're the one who got us killed in an old building." — "Wait, you hear that? He's here. Just lay off this once, okay?" — "What if I only moan in his ear?" — "Fine. Whatever. Do whatever you need."

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Fremont Bridge

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 was the first one, you know. Out of the six bascule bridges in Seattle, five of which are on the same waterway (starting from the east: Montlake Bridge, University Bridge, Fremont Bridge, Ballard Bridge, and the Salmon Bay Bridge, which is the train bridge with the huge counterweight hovering over it, and which is open unless a train goes to cross, so opposite the others in that way), the last being the First Avenue South Bridge over the Duwamish.

But Fremont was first, and this year we celebrate its centennial. It opened on June 15, 1917. It's the busiest drawbridge in the United States, apparently (although, Wikipedia says citation needed on that fact so if you have facts, consider editing). It was the home of writer-in-residence Elissa Washuta for three months, while she explored the history of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and how its construction changed the landscape and displaced indigenous peoples.

There used to be a sign on the southern entrance to the bridge that said "Now entering Fremont, center of the universe, throw your watch away", but it's gone now. When we drive across the bridge, the sound of the grating buzzes under our wheels. If we stop, which thanks to Seattle traffic is not uncommon, you can see the water through that steel.

It raises faster than you think it should, the bridge operators, those anonymous heroes or villains (depending on if the red light flicked on before you started crossing or after) are obsessed with safety, as they should be. Bridge operator (and writer) Barb Abelhauser took the Stranger to task for cheering on a cyclist who climbed the open Ballard Bridge.

I have a friend who claims, that in High School in the eighties, he would get drunk with a buddy and sit with their backs on the straight posts of the University Bridge and ride it as it opened and closed, hanging on for dear life. We strongly recommend against such stupidity, but it goes to show that the idea of crossing that illicit boundary of the lowered barrier is not an uncommon one. Why, just look at the fantasy fulfillment of the Blues Brothers movie.

It is a busy bridge — an average of 3,108 cyclists each day ride across. In 2006, the Fremont Bridge had opened over 566,000 times, about 35 a day on average. It was designated a historic landmark in 1981.

Everybody has a favorite bridge. Montlake is cute as a button, and feels almost gothic. University has a kind of laid-back stretch, like a giant who just woke to yawn. Ballard feels like a commercial fishing vessel, functional, built for purpose more than style. But the Fremont bridge has a certain romance to it. The Fremont Bridge, if it were a person, feels like the one that would have attended all the cool punk shows, smoking clove cigarettes. It has the most sparkle of the set, like it has lived a life we can barely understand. It's the artsty-fartsy one, with the neon repunzel hanging out a window.

But isn't that silly to romanticize it? The bridge is, simply, a functional and important part of transportation infrastructure. But oh my goodness do all those people crossing it give us ideas for stories.

Today's prompts
  1. The bridgetender couldn't discriminate. When a boat needed to go through, she could hold them up while she made sure another wasn't coming along soon, but at some point she was going to raise the bridge to let them through. Until, she was surprised to see, the distinctive lines of her father's 45-foot sloop. Her father, who had left five years ago without saying anything. Who had taken all the money and disappeared. Who had a warrant out for his arrest.

  2. Most cannot see the veil that hangs down the center of the ship canal. But surely you've noticed how much you prefer one side to the other? There are those that only cross into Fremont or Ballard if they must, and there are those that don't feel safe until they do. But Miranda, who had the sight, could see the veil, and she knew what it protected. And she could see the rip that was forming every time the bridge lifted and fell.

  3. Mother mouse was a worrier, and baby boy mouse was a daredevil. But with twelve children to manage, she didn't have time to fret too hard over one. But on this day, when she needed to make sure all safely crossed the Fremont bridge, she fretted extra hard. She grouped them, surrounding baby boy with his more obedient older siblings. They had just crossed the gap that connected the two leaves of the bridge, when baby boy jumped back across and scurried up a post "I want to see the boat better!" he called. Mother mouse shrieked when she heard the horn. She knew the bridge was about to rise, and she had to get everybody off before it happened.

  4. The job of the grosstender was to cut down the bodies, the ones hung to show the power of the bridge guard. The grosstender was sub-human to most, which was good because he was left alone. Each body he hauled by wheelbarrow to the burial site reminded him of someone from before, when the bridge was not a medieval pseudo-military asset, but simply a way to cross the water, and back then, you didn't have to pay to do it, or die if you tried to cross without payment. So he gave them names, and when he buried them, he wrote that name in the dirt atop their grave. That worked fine until the day that the grosstender came across someone he actually remembered from before.

  5. She figured that femme-y rider was totally straight. Wedding ring, a kind of norm straight-girl vibe to her. Maybe two or three times a month, they'd converge on the bridge during their commutes, Chantel coming from Frelard, the norm girl from Wallingford. They'd taken to saying hi to each other, and sometimes riding together for a bit down the Westlake cycle track in silence, but a silence that made Chantel's heart beat fast. One day, Chantel was surprised to see her sitting on the bridge approach, holding her ankle. Chantel stopped, and saw blood. "I have a first aid kit," the girl said. "In the left-hand Ortlieb, can you please get it?" Chantel unrolled the panier, and looked inside as the girl said "No! In the left hand one!" but it was too late. Chantel had seen what she was hiding, and it made her bite her lip with excitement.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Remo Borracchini's Bakery & Mediterranean Market

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.

That pink box with the blue stamp on top. How many children in Seattle have seen that box in the fridge, knowing that inside is their dream cake, the one their parents ordered for their birthday, just biding its time until the party started? How many weddings have peaked with faces smeared by frosting that came all neat and delicious, inside that same pink box?

Mario Borracchini started the bakery, then called the International French Bakery (which should give you an idea of how Americans viewed Italians back then) in 1922, or thereabouts. The bakery changed its name to the Ginger Bell Bakery and moved into its current location in 1939 — a Seattle neighborhood colloquially called Garlic Gulch, because it used to be full of Italian businesses.

Brothers Dino, Angelo, and Remo ran the place until Remo took over in 1965. The building is a historical site in Seattle.

A fair share of stories have taken place there. A tragedy from this year: a teenage girl shot and killed in her mother's car when they pulled up to pick up a cake. A labor dispute from a clerk who was rude to customers inspired an apparently naive, but well-meaning, toothless protest (the woman fired claimed she never received breaks, but the owners of Borracchini's were able to produce videotape of her taking breaks).

But bad stories are few when you feed sweet goodness to Seattle for so long. According to one headline and interview from 1993, on one day "13,780 people were eating our wedding cakes."

That's what I like to think about. All of those cakes out in the world. All of those cakes at all of those parties. All of those pink boxes, and all of those unskilled cake decorators who were hired by the Borracchinis, and left with that ability under their belt.

And so, maybe we should take a look at where some of those cakes might end up.

Today's prompts
  1. It was her fifth birthday cake, and her mother had ordered the wrong character. It was supposed to be Elsa, but an image search went wrong produced Anna, and now the whole party was potentially heading for ruin. What would she say, when they opened the box? How could they explain that there wasn't time to change it? They decided to play it straight, see if they could pass it off. So, after a rousing chorus of "Let It Go", they broke into "Happy Birthday," watching her face as they approached with the incorrect cake.

  2. "It's a fucking scene from a bad movie," Georgia said. "I will not be in a bad movie." Sarah agreed, nodding, "No, you are not. But you know, those movies are bad because they are cliched, and cliches come from somewhere. For example, the feeling of needing to move on. Sometimes symbolism works. Sometimes taking action works. Sometimes being cliched works." Sarah opened the box, and there it was, the wedding cake that would never be served. "It does look good," Georgia said. "You haven't eaten since last night," Sarah said, handing over a fork. "One thing first," Georgia said. She took the male cake topper, and threw him out the window. "Okay. Let's eat."

  3. It was his fifth year doing it. He'd order the smallest sheet cake he could, have a little celebration after dinner. Light a candle for himself and have a piece. It reminded him of home, that sweet sponge, that sugary frosting. Just because he was a cranky old man nobody liked didn't mean he shouldn't take a few minutes to enjoy himself. And so, he lit the candle. He just didn't expect the knock on the door to happen right then.

  4. She had asked for the same cake every year since she was a little girl, almost thirty years — the one thing that was constant in her life. Vanilla frosting. White cake. Raspberry filling. No writing on top — she wanted it plain, austere, a field of frosting. So when he showed up on her birthday with the pink box, and he had that look on his face, she knew he had messed it up. "Baby, I'm sorry," he said. "I had to get some writing on it." She took a breath. Pursed her lips. "And what does this text say?" He grasped the box tighter. "You need to promise you'll forgive me." She shook her head. "Show me." He sighed. Closed his eyes, then after a minute opened them again. He down on one knee, and cracked the box open.

  5. They got about forty of them around the cake, a full sheet cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. It was huge. Bunny handed out the forks, and even tried to give one to a cop, but he didn't budge, didn't look, didn't lower his baton. Didn't break formation. So, they counted down, over the chants of people behind them, and then forty forks dove for that cake. Pulling it apart, decimating it, pulling at the giant yellow words on top: RESIST! The whole thing was gone in less than four minutes.

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, 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, 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.