When the novel Something Upstairs was published, it was set in the Providence, Rhode Island house (built 1835) I was living in. I had moved there from Los Angeles, from a most modern city to a very old one. Indeed, it felt as if I was going back in time. That sense of going back in time travel was what gave me the stimulus for the time travel in the book.
The Historical Society set up a tour as a way to engage students in RI history. The kids would come by the house, chant my name, and all kinds of folks would knock on the door. 15 Sheldon Street: You can see it on Google Maps.
For a small state, RI history is quite packed. Founded (17th century) by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, (exiled by Massachusetts) it was always considered politically radical. Its true name is “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” It was an early abolitionist state even as its large sailing fleet was transporting slaves. It was tolerant of many religions (Quakers, Jews, and Catholics) amidst rigid New England protestant bigotry. The Baptist Church (then considered radical from a religious point of view) began here. It was the first industrial center in the US, with the earliest factories. It has a long, long history of political corruption, and was thought to be the center of the New England Mafia. Brown University is there and so, too, is the Rhode Island School of Design, from which many, many picture book artists flow, including Brian Floca. Providence is where I first met him and where we began to work together. Providence itself is a veritable museum of wonderful old architecture. Its state capital is, in size, second only to the national capital in DC. Small as it is, I met people who bragged that in all their lives they had never left the state. That’s a very hard, if curious accomplishment.
And now, it is the setting for the opening pages of my current project, a historical novel that begins in Providence, and winds up in San Francisco. My research allowed me to find out that California is about a hundred and fifty times the size of Rhode Island.
But hey … big things can come from tiny places.