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Seattle Writing Prompts: More Moore

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.

Theaters have a special place in the history of cities. It's more than memory, although I've certainly seen some notable performances at the Moore Theater over the years (odds are pretty good you have as well). Theaters take up a huge amount of space on the grid, but are only lit up with activity and people a few hours a day, at best. The rest of the time they lay in wait, a few people prepping, practicing, staging, or constructing, but otherwise, they're empty.

During the day, the gates across the front entrance may be slightly cracked, and you wonder who is inside. Perhaps you catch the person changing the letters on the marquee. Perhaps you think you hear sound check leaking out. Perhaps you see the tour buses, the sides popped out to allow for more sleeping space, parked in front or on Virginia between 2nd and 3rd.

The Moore is the oldest still-active theater in Seattle. About half the capacity of the grander Paramount across town, the theater feels both grand and tiny when full and a performer is on stage. You can see the expressions on their faces, the intimacy is something amazing.

It opened in 1907, which means as its doors were first thrown wide, just north workers were still sluicing away parts of Denny Hill, in the second regrade effort. The Moore's purpose was to house (in the adjoining hotel) and entertain visitors of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a grand world's fair in 1907 (we all know what the fair grounds of the 1962 world's fair became, so what became of the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition? They became the University of Washington campus).

For many years the Moore was a movie palace, and under the name Moore Egyptian it hosted the first SIFF festival in 1976, before the folks that ran it moved the theater to the old Masonic Temple on Capitol Hill, and kept the Egyptian name.

The Moore has a second balcony, that has a separate entrance off Virginia, which bypasses the grand lobby, and offers more modest bathrooms. Speculation is that this was for racially segregating theater goers, but historians have not been able to uncover definitive proof. Other speculation is that the balcony was for economic segregation, which was defacto racial segregation as well. Feliks Banel wrote a great piece on this that was published on My Northwest.

Now, isn't that enough to give us some ideas to write about?

Today's prompts
  1. The theater is dark. A match strikes and flares, a candle is lit. A quavering hand walks it across a bare stage, one shy step after another, all the way to the front. The candle is placed, ever-so-carefully in front of its bearer, who clears their throat, and addresses the supposedly empty theater with something they've wanted to do in public their entire life.
  2. The theater is bustling, and outside the door on Virginia, trying to hustle a fifty-cent ticket to the high balcony, is our hero. There's a Vaudeville act coming through they keep hearing about, and they're gonna see it no matter what may come. The ticket acquired, they hop the stairs two at a time to get in, and grab an empty place on a wooden bench up front. But when the first act rolls out, they see that rich fellow who did them wrong, sitting right down there on the floor. Nothing — and I mean nothing — is gonna stop them taking their revenge.
  3. The theater is about to riot. The crowd is sick of waiting. They're booing, throwing illicitly imported bottles at the empty stage. The stage manager goes once more to try to convince the band, now an hour late, to get a move on. They're doing lines and gulping whiskey in the dressing room. But at the sight of the stage manager, they decide it's time. "Fucking singer been gone a long time" one of them says, and another goes over to knock on the toilet door. It opens. There is the singer, slouched on the toilet, needle in arm.
  4. The theater is rented for the afternoon. There's a single mic on stage, and only twenty-five people in the audience. Nobody can believe they got this lucky, especially that person sitting right in the middle, who is holding an envelope from the DNA testing firm that conclusively proves that the man about to walk out onto the stage is, in fact, their father.
  5. The theater is closing. Who goes out anymore? Everything is virtual reality now. Every seat is front row. You could sit on the damn stage if you want, and feel it when your favorite musician walks over to you and kisses you. But there's one more night to get over first, and it's gonna suck. Touring asshole comedian, the house not even half sold. But then, in a standard security sweeping, someone finds a duffel bag tucked under a seat. And inside, it sure looks like a bomb.

Seattle Writing Prompts: ghosts and fires

New column! 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.

Butterworth Building, 1969

The Butterworth Building is haunted. Just ask anybody who works at Kells, the Irish pub in the basement of the building.

Opening in 1903, purpose built as a mortuary for the firm Butterworth & Sons, it was likely the first building in the United States to provide full mortuary services under one roof. In fact, the grand man himself, Edgar Ray Butterworth, is credited with having coined the terms mortuary and mortician. So, take that, rest of the world who then adopted terms invented in Seattle. Tell all of your funeral-nerd friends!

Speaking of firsts, it was the first building on the west coast to have an elevator — although the 1st avenue face of the building is only three stories, if you walk around back to Post Alley, you'll find another two below them. Kells is in the former embalming room and crematorium, or the stables and storage for funeral wagons, depending on who you believe.

The building was in the news a few weeks back after catching fire, which is when I started reading about it. Isn't it funny how this little three-story wonder can have such a history? At the end of the post, I'll include a second shot from Flickr, when the building was an engineering firm in the 1960s.

If you search for information about the Butterworth Building, you will find many writings talking about how haunted it is.

All of which gives us some nice potentials for:

Today's prompts
  1. You're a bartender at Kells, and it's closing time. You just got the drunks out, and the last load of glasses put away, and the bar wiped down. The door — you swore it was locked — opens, and a man in black stands before you.
  2. You're a kid, eight years old, and you were chased out of the market after stealing an apple from a fruit-stand. You hide in the old mortuary stables, and you overhear the stable boy talking to a girl he fancies, and he tells her something that changes your life forever.
  3. You're a firefighter, and you enter a smoky room at the top of the building, wearing your respirator. You're making sure the place is clear of people. A buzzing sound and flickering light catch your attention. A device, metallic and round and decidedly futuristic catches your attention. You reach out for it...
  4. You work in the engineering firm on the ground floor, as a draftsmen. You're working on a piece, cigarette in mouth, when a cop walks in. Talks to your boss. You see the boss point at you. The officer removes his hat and walks towards you with a sympathetic look on his face.
  5. You're a construction worker excavating years of really crappy remodels inside the Butterworth building. You're working on this one part of wall, when you feel a loose brick. It wiggles free, and a blast of cold air hits your face. You put your flashlight up and look inside....

Engineering office, 1969

Seattle Writing Prompt: the pyramid atop the skyscraper

New column! 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.

Did you know that someone lives atop Smith Tower? Petra Franklin Lahaie holds the lease. She cleared the space after a water tower was removed, converted it into an apartment, and made her home there with her family and her massive Chihuly chandelier. The New York Times did a great piece, with photos, and Evening Magazine took their cameras inside in 2011.

What a stellar piece of Seattle skyline that building is. A wood frame skyscraper 38 stories tall, the tallest building "west of the Mississippi", as we like to say in Seattle, when it was built, Smith Tower opened in 1914. Its builder, Lyman Cornelius Smith, whose moniker you may know when attached to the company name Smith Corona, bought the land when on a trip out west from his native New York in 1909. Did you know the building still employs elevator operators?

Ivar Haglund once owned the building, as did the property holding firm Samis, a company started to control the interests of that other Seattle iconoclast, Sam Israel (somebody really should write a book about him), a few years after their namesake died.

But it's that apartment at the top that has always captured my fancy. Here are five writing prompts based on that pyramid, and Smith Tower.

Today's prompts
  1. It's 1915 and the newly opened building was built with the apartment up top. Who lives there? What is their daughter like? Does she get into trouble and go on adventures?
  2. It's 1975, and an elevator operator in Smith Tower witnesses a murder through the door cage as he is going down. Worse yet, the murderer saw him. Was he alone in the car? Does the story all take place inside of one hour? Does it spark something bigger? Do they end up in the pyramid as it was, with the decaying water tower?
  3. It's 2000 and the Kingdome is about to be demolished. What does a young street hustler have to do to get up to the top to watch the destruction? Can they even make it? Can they make it to the glass bulb at the very top?
  4. It's 1941 and German and Japanese aircraft are bombing Seattle. What can people in the building do to keep it safe? How can they fight back against air-strikes, like London saw during the Blitz. What if there's a German traitor in the building?
  5. It's 2025 and the big one hits. Who works on floor 15, what part of Seattle do they need to get amidst the rubble, and how will they get there? Do people die? Does the building go down?

Introducing (again) Seattle Writing Prompts

The humble writing prompt is such a great device. When you're stuck, as a writer, often times the perception is that there aren't any ideas, and that the world is bereft of good plots.

Given the idiosyncrasies of human thinking, what's maybe going on is that you are stuck in your own loops. Prompts, from the brain/emotion loops of other humans, can be helpful to spark an idea. Other's ideas surprise you, like the punchline to a good joke, and in that surprise comes a stepping out of yourself into another possible imagination. A good prompt, taken in at the right time, can enlarge our ability to write. Or, at the very least, help us find momentum until our true work interrupts to call to us.

When we started the Seattle Review of Books, Paul wrote a couple Seattle Writing Prompts. We both love the idea, but they kind of fell by the wayside, and the other work of the site took precedence.

So when the Kickstarter Fund Project was coming to an end, I decided this would be a perfect form to run on Saturdays. First, because a lot of people only get to write on the weekends, and as they're sitting at their desk, or coffee shop bench, or room with a view, or library to write that day, maybe they're in need of some inspiration. Second, because I've lived in this city a long time, and I love talking about different parts of it.

The form the new column will take is to show a picture of a Seattle location, talk a bit about it, then list five potential prompts. The whole thing is to get you thinking of ideas, concepts, and places that you might be outside of your immediate purview. Maybe some thing in the post will spark an idea, and maybe the idea itself will come not from any of our writing, but from your own loops, newly engaged.

Look for the first of the Saturday Seattle Writing Prompts to go live later this morning. And get to work!

Seattle Writing Prompt #2: Writing the city

Ask any writer: the two most difficult parts of the writing process are 1) sitting down in the seat to write and 2) figuring out what to write about. We can't help you focus on your work, but we can try to help you find inspiration in the city around you. That's what Seattle Writing Prompts is all about. These prompts are offered free to anyone who needs them; all the Seattle Review of Books asks in return is that you thank us in the acknowledgements when you turn it into a book.

I haven't read that many good books about graffiti. Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude is the first one that comes to mind, though I know I've read others. Why isn't there more good fiction about graffiti? Don't writers love to write about writers? And aren't graffiti artists just another kind of writer, explaining the city around them?

If you're having trouble finding inspiration, go take a walk. Focus on noticing the graffiti. When you find a piece that speaks to you — maybe it's half-finished, maybe it's clever, maybe it's crude — try to write about it. What was the artist trying to say? What are the different ways the piece could be interpreted? Where's the artist right now?

If you're unable to go out for a walk, my friend Renée Krulich has a world-class Flickr stream on which she documents seemingly every single piece of graffiti in Seattle that she can find. They're all organized in albums alphabetically by artist, from famous names like John Criscitello to sticker artists like 'Phones. Personally, I'm fond of Sti(c)kman and Allo, but you can choose whomever you like. Or maybe you finally want to get to the bottom of the eternal Seattle question: what's the deal with SHITbARF? There must be a novel there. At least.

Seattle writing prompt #1

Ask any writer: the two most difficult parts of the writing process are 1) sitting down in the seat to write and 2) figuring out what to write about. We can't help you focus on your work, but we can try to help you find inspiration in the city around you. That's what Seattle Writing Prompts is all about. These prompts are offered free to anyone who needs them; all the Seattle Review of Books asks in return is that you thank us in the acknowledgements when you turn it into a book.

The opening paragraphs of this Seattle PI story by Daniel DeMay are so vivid and intriguing that they're practically the beginning of their own sci-fi novel:

Imagine a greater Seattle area that is clearly thought out, directed and completely planned for.
Rapid, subway transit lines connect east to west, north to south and neighborhoods across the city. An above-ground rail line links Everett to Tacoma and passes through a central station where Roy Street now intersects with Highway 99.
Downtown buildings are capped in height, much like Paris, so as to let light into downtown streets. Mercer Island is one big park, restricted from development. And city government offices are condensed in a grand civic center across Denny Way from where Seattle Center now sits.
All this and more was envisioned by Virgil G. Bogue, an engineer and -- some might say -- visionary who came to draft a sweeping plan for Seattle in 1911.

Go read the whole great story to find out why we're not living in Bogue's Seattle. And then think about what would have happened if Seattle voted for Bogue's plan in 1912. What do you think everyday life would be like 100 years later in that Seattle? Would it be an urbanist utopia, or an antique-looking steampunk wasteland? Take a walk and try to overlay Bogue's vision on top of the city you see. Then write about it. Let us know if you come up with something interesting.