When asked what a particle physicist does in Petaluma, Ransom Stephens replies, “I write — and teach a bit.”
This fifth-generation Californian traces his unusual first name back to his grandfather’s grandfather, Col. Leander Ransome (the ‘e’ was dropped by subsequent generations).
“According to a plaque at the top of Mt. Diablo, the colonel was the first person to survey the State of California,” he says. “My family insists that ‘Ransom’ is an Irish name, so I went to Ireland and asked around. and no one had heard of it … so I don’t know where it came from.”
The author of two novels (“The God Patent” and “The Sensory Deception”) and a nonfiction book about the neuroscience of innovation in art, science and life (“The Left Brain Speaks but the Right Brain Laughs”), Ransom’s very first work was completed early in his career.
“It was a bound-with-staples biography I wrote in third or fourth grade,” he says, “about my grandfather, Frank Ransom. He was born in Nicasio, but his mother died when he was 3, so his father sent him to an orphanage in Oakland, which hired him out as free child labor. He was the most positive man I ever knew - everything was wonderful and astounding. He played bass drum in the Shriners marching band, and he spoke very highly of everyone. We’d do shots together in his sunroom in Oakland with my shot being 7-up.”
Growing up in Walnut Creek, Ransom soon discovered writing.
“Documenting things made it easier to understand and remember,” he explains.
This skill was a boon for writing tech notes and internal papers during the 15 years he spent conducting cutting-edge particle physics research and teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“The only problem,” he confesses, “is that I was stranded in Texas. So when my daughter graduated from high school, we headed to California.”
That he now resides in Petaluma is a bit of a marvel to Ransom.
“I dated a girl in college who lived here,” he says, “and Pt. Reyes is one of my favorite places on Earth. So when I was offered a job as an applications engineer at Agilent Technologies in Santa Rosa, I took it. We drove up from Texas in a yellow truck, towing my daughter’s car, and when I saw a For Rent sign on a house on the corner of 4th and G, I knocked on the door. I am very happy and fortunate to live in such a wonderful community.”
Ransom quickly immersed himself in Petaluma’s cafe society, saying, “I can attribute everything fun and interesting I found here to people I met through the Aqus Café — like John Crowley, Susan Garbert and Dusty Resneck. Susan took us on tours of the town and introduced me to that place of joy and thrills called the Mystic Theater.”
Using his “early-release” money from Agilent to become a full-time writer, Ransom almost sold his first book to Simon & Schuster.
“It was a memoir about a single father trying to raise a daughter in Texas, and it was on the editor’s desk when my ex-wife decided to sue,” he says. “By the time she signed a release, the editor had left and the bloom was off the rose.”
How can Petaluma improve?
“Petaluma needs to break from its schizophrenic Eastside/Westside mythology. I’m hoping the SMART Train will help, because the infill can act as an umbilical cord between both sides.”