WHERE IT RAINS IN COLOR by Denise Crittendon (COVER REVEAL & AUTHOR INTERVIEW)
The Fantasy Hive are joining a host of other blogs to bring you a spectacular cover reveal of Denise Crittendon’s upcoming Afrofuturistic debut, Where it Rains in Colour.
Lileala has just been named the Rare Indigo – beauty among beauties – and is about to embrace her stardom, until something threatens to change her whole lifestyle and turn the planet of Swazembi upside down.
Swazembi is a blazing, color-rich utopia and the vacation center of the galaxy. This idyllic, peace-loving world is home to waterless seas, filled with cascading neon vapors. No one is used to serious trouble here, especially Lileala, a pampered, young fifty year-old whose radiance has just earned her the revered title of Rare Indigo, the highest and most sacred of honours.
But her perfect lifestyle is shattered when her skin becomes infected with a debilitating disease. The unthinkable happens – Lileala Walata Sundiata loses her ability to shimmer. Where her skin should glisten like diamonds mixed with coal, instead it dulls and forms scar tissue. On top of that, she starts to hear voices in her head, making her paranoid and confused.
But Lileala’s destiny goes far beyond her beauty. Soon, a new power awakens inside her and she realises her whole life, and the galaxy, is about to change…
File Under: Science Fantasy [ True Colours | Embrace the Change | What Will Be | Dancing in the Rain ]
So without any further ado, here’s the cover in all its vibrant stunning beauty:
Where it Rains in Color is available for pre-order HERE
Now we have a special interview with Denise where you will find out all about the inspiration behind her book and so much more.
Welcome to the Hive, Denise. We’re so pleased to have you on our Women In SFF feature! Firstly congratulations on your upcoming debut with Angry Robot. Tell us about your book, Where it Rains in Color, by describing it in five words!
Where It Rains In Color is Visionary, Afrofuturistic, Iconoclastic, Healing, Time-Travel.
Can you tell us about your characters, Lileala and Ahonotay? Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
I like characters who tend to heal, mend and fix people as well as societies. There’s something about lifting up others and contributing to the greater good of humanity that motivates me to write. I’m drawn to strong, dynamic, unstoppable women and by strong I’m not necessarily referring to physical prowess. I have nothing against that and I think it’s impressive when women possess the same militaristic/warrior skill and bravery as men, but we can’t forget the importance of emotional endurance and we can’t forget that sensitivity is also a form of strength.
I absolutely agree Denise, there are so many forms of strength which are important to portray, not just physical.
I believe people often confuse brutality and callousness with a powerful mindset. It’s just the opposite. It takes a great deal of inner-fortitude to truly feel and take on the anguish of others as well as your own personal pain. It takes courage to actually allow another’s emotions to penetrate your being. When a woman (or man) accomplish this they are invincible because they have selflessly surrendered their ego and conquered the fear of oneness. They are gazing beyond the boundaries of individuality and recognizing that it’s not a cliché – We really are connected in the spirit. This kind of strength is a natural, internal, unbreakable strength and when women have it, it’s beautiful.
Lileala and Ahonotay both fit this description. Both begin their journey as figurehead beauty queens, but they grow immensely. For Ahonotay, looks were never important. For that reason, she escapes the prison of her physically attractive shell very early in her journey. Lileala takes much longer to discover this. When the novel begins, she is pampered, self-absorbed and rather thoughtless. Initially, I think readers will believe that I, as the author, am showcasing good looks and giving them more weight than they deserve. On the contrary, that’s a ploy. I’m using it to make a number of points. I’m presenting a case for the subjectivity of so-called beauty and making a statement that adversity can change a person for the better. Lileala’s growth is tremendous. Midway through the book, she becomes much more likable and reflective. Before readers approach the end, they will encounter a Lileala who has completely transformed. She is introspective and wants to serve others. As an empath, a healer and a telepath she has to take on enormous burdens and, in doing so, provide comfort and wellness to individuals from the past and present as she builds the road to a better future for her home world, Swazembi.
Ahonotay, on the other hand, is selfless from beginning to end. She’s stronger than Lileala and has no need for grandiose titles and a lavish lifestyle. In fact, she shuns it. The truth is I like Ahonotay a lot better than I like Lileala. She’s so basic and so no-nonsense and almost pure in her commitment. As time goes on, Lileala gets there as well and also wins over my heart. I truly believe readers will be impressed with the extraordinary woman she eventually becomes. And that’s what I admire – extraordinary women.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
My process is simple and doesn’t involve much preparation. Often, I’ll tell myself to meditate first, but my time is so limited and I’m usually so eager to dive into my writing I don’t always do it. The same applies to music. For one scene in WIRIC, it was important to me to have African drums in the background, but normally, I don’t listen to anything but the sound of silence. I revel in silence because that’s when I can truly hear my inner guidance.
While I’m writing, I sometimes get little flash visions. After I settle into a comfortable zone and get lost in my world, I’ll suddenly see a fleeting image in my mind and wonder what it is. Usually, the image flits in and out very quickly, but it often addresses a concern I have and it’s always something that can be incorporated into my novel. For instance, one of my characters was driving through a rural area when he suddenly came upon these wonderful, majestic, giant clams. I saw them in my mind as clear as day and they were absolutely beautiful. So of course, I included them. On another occasion, I actually dozed off while I was writing. I slept for maybe 10 seconds and woke with a start. Ah, but while I was asleep for those tricky few seconds, I saw just what I needed to move on to the next scene. My mind is kind of odd like that. I get impulses from shadows on the ceiling or patterns on a wooden floor and those impulses guide me. I have even gone for walks and picked up ideas in the shapes of puddles on sidewalks and weird-looking pipes and fixtures. I believe the universe is communicating with us all day every day. We just have to pay attention. When I pay attention I get the best ideas, clues and answers to questions I might have about the world I’m creating.
That’s really wonderful. Do you ever try to sketch any of these images?
My first inclination was to say “no, I can’t draw.” But when I thought about it, I realized I actually did try once and did a pretty good job of recreating what I saw. For the most part though, I don’t attempt sketches. I tend to rely on my memory instead. I feel like I’m unveiling my soul by sharing this, but once I was out of town and thought I saw an interesting image of a magical being in the floor tile. In my mind, a story was percolating. So, as odd as it may sound, I took a picture of it. By the time I made it home it had no meaning at all. I kept staring at the photo searching for the same inspiration I had earlier, but by then it had escaped my imagination. But I was okay with that because ideas and images are always coming and going. I’m very curious about how other fantasy writers conjure up their subject matter. In my case, I don’t find them. I think they find me. Maybe that’s how it works for many of us.
Whilst we’re talking about worlds, your worldbuilding sounds fantastic! What inspired your utopian world of Swazembi? Can you tell us more about these waterless seas, and the swift wind called The Sweep?
I could discuss this topic all day and still not be finished talking about it. I’m a creative dreamer, so the idea originally entered my mind in an elaborate dream. I jotted down the notes and went back to sleep because I had to get up and go to work the next day. This dream came again and again and I knew I eventually had to do something about it. The odd thing is that even when you dream of a world, it’s still up to you to do the work. You see, I only had puzzle pieces and it was up to me to assemble them. Before I began the novel, I also had another moving experience. I’m an old-school trekkie and was particularly excited years ago when I learned that the Enterprise crew led by Captain Pickard on “Next Generation” of the Star Trek franchise was going to be visiting an all-black planet. I love the late Gene Roddenberry and think the Star Trek writers did a great job on the episode. However, I was disappointed, mainly because I felt the script fell prey to a few stereotypes. I told myself then that when I wrote my first sci-fi novel, I would create the most beautiful, spectacular, advanced black society I could imagine. Around the same time, (the 90s I believe) I also attended a lecture about the properties of melanin and realized that would have to be addressed in my novel as well. So, there I was challenging myself to conjure up a technologically-advanced African-centered world that not only was breathtaking but also celebrated dark skin tones. On another note, I was very troubled by the fact that black women were still being marginalized. You may find this hard to believe but in 2011, Psychology Today magazine’s online edition actually published an article showcasing data collected by a scientist who claimed to be able to prove that black women were unattractive. Of course, I refused to read his post. The fact that it was written at all left me speechless and the fact that Psychology Today agreed to run it, angered me.
That’s absolutely horrendous, I’m fuming that it was allowed to be written and published too.
I never got over my shock and I know I’m not alone. You may recall Tamron Hall. When this research project was first released, Tamron was an anchor for MSNBC. Ironically, she’s also black, beautiful and brilliant and yet found herself in the peculiar position of delivering news that denigrated black women. I’ll never forget the expression on her face. She was genuinely bewildered. However, since she was a newscaster and not a talk show host, her job was to report, not offer commentary. It must have been so hard for her to bite her tongue. The whole thing was so bizarre.
All of these factors weighed on my mind as I wrote Where It Rains In Color. So, I made beauty the foundation of the people and the scenery in my novel. I imagined waterless seas made of swirling mists of vibrant colours. This sea of vapors is one of the many attractions on the planet’s Surface where electromagnetic rainbows spiral through the air. Beneath The Surface, I decided to create a high-tech city with revolving structures and a mode of transportation that was unique and unmatched. The Sweep, which is a vortex of energy, was the result of this brainstorm. Passengers who ride The Sweep move from place to place in a tunnel of currents that resemble a silver storm cloud that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the galaxy. I saw The Sweep as something that would be a marvelous, tourist attraction and a method of transit that Swazembi could call its own. In a nutshell, I wanted to achieve an outstanding black world of peace and harmony that mirrored some of the ancient Black utopias of Timbuktu and Mali but in a futuristic way.
It sounds incredible, Denise!
Where it Rains in Colour features mythology of the Dogon tribe of Mali, West Africa. Could you tell us a bit more about this please? Which aspects of the tribe’s mythology inspired you the most?
When I first learned about the Dogon tribe, I was completely captivated. To be honest, I also was kind of dismayed that I’d never been taught anything about this amazing ethnic group. I had to stumble upon their mythology on my own. I’m not sure but I think I first learned of them during my travels in Africa; In the 1980’s I was awarded a fellowship for a year of study in Harare Zimbabwe. While there, I became enamoured with African spirituality in general. I found it pure and almost magical and I couldn’t get over the fact that most people, including African Americans, knew nothing about Africa’s mysticism and belief in other-worldly concepts. Much of African tribal culture is centered around a myriad of enchanting rituals and convictions, particularly that of the Dogon tribe. They live in mud huts on the side of cliffs, known as the Bandiagara Escarpment. I have never traveled to this region of West Africa, but I’m told by friends who have visited that the children will sit on the ledges of the high cliffs and eat lunch. That’s just how comfortable they are with heights. However, that’s not my fascination. I’m smitten with them because I can’t get over the fact that these villagers with absolutely no technology have such an intricate knowledge and understanding of the cosmos.
Anthropologists call them mysterious because of their bizarre legends that appear to be rooted in actual science. Although they have had little contact with the outside world, the Dogon possess an uncanny awareness of astronomy, particularly the Sirius star system.
In the early 19th century, anthropologists who visited Mali met Dogon priests who were eager to share their knowledge of an uncharted star they described as a companion star to Sirius. The Dogon labeled Sirius as Sirius A and the other star as Sirius B, a.k.a. Po Tolo. However, Sirius B was not visible to the naked idea and the anthropologists didn’t take the claim seriously. They were, however, astounded by the Dogon’s advanced understanding of the universe.
Years later, western science developed telescopes that detected an unknown star revolving around Sirius, just as the Dogon had explained. They were dumbfounded. How, they wondered, could a people with no technology, see the second star? When asked that question, Dogon priests spoke of strange beings that came down from the sky in a “spinning ark.” They described the beings as amphibious creatures that could live on land or in water. These beings are still honored in special ceremonies held annually in their village.
Again, I first heard of the Dogon back in the 1980s, but I never forgot them. Then, in the midst of my second draft of WIRIC, I found myself using traditional Malian names and incorporating references to water beings. After a while, it hit me. My subconscious mind was exploring the Dogon mythology that so many have rejected.
Several western scientists, including Carl Sagan, have disputed the Dogon’s claims. But if it’s all a ruse as The West seems to suggest, then where did this information come from and why would this tribe make up such an elaborate tale? For what purpose?
Speculative fiction typically answers the question “what if” and my “what if” deals with the possibilities and ramifications of Dogon mythology. What if the Dogon really met beings from space? What if these beings of Sirius B transported some of the villagers away from the Earth? Afterall, if they really wanted to be of assistance isn’t it plausible that they might decide to rescue the Dogon and others in West Africa from the impending agony of the transatlantic slave trade? What if they whisked them off to another world among the stars and out of harm’s way? What if some of the Dogon people settled there on a new planet and established a civilization based on African traditions but centuries removed from their past on Earth? Makes sense to me.
This is really fascinating, I’m so glad you’re bringing Dogon mythology to light.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Octavia Butler is my heroine. She was the first female sci-fi writer and first black sci-fi writer I ever read. I see her as such a visionary and love the fact that many of the worlds and civilizations she creates are so natural and organic. My other significant influence is Ursula Le Guin. Like Butler, she weaves such compelling and powerful stories and has strong messages in her work. Many of these messages seem to serve as predictions for humanity. Clearly, “The Left Hand of Darkness” foretells the current gender dysphoria and subsequent gender revolution taking place in our society. Butler’s dystopian “Parable of the Sower” is just as prophetic. As for contemporaries, I would relish the opportunity to work with Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Rivers Solomon or Bethany Morrow.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Writing is my escape and my happy place. So, unless I’m sick or exhausted, I rarely have days that I don’t want to write. Ghost writing is my livelihood and, therefore, I have clients who depend on me to put their ideas into words. Although I love my work, I often find it difficult to switch back and forth between the different genres, writing styles and points of focus. I have to focus on one or the other – it’s either my clients or me and, for practical reasons, they usually win. With that said, when I find the time to totally immerse myself in my own projects I am deliriously happy. My challenge is to stay there and revel in it and not allow myself to rush back to my other assignments. Because writing my own work is such a treat, I do not have to force myself. When it happens, I’m more like a kid in a candy store. I have no desire to run away. On the other hand, if I were feeling blocked, I know I would go for a long walk in nature. I’m told that it’s called forest bathing and I get that. Once I’m out among trees and around water, I plug into the spirit realm and get totally inspired. That’s one of the reasons I’m dividing my time between Nevada and Michigan. I need to be in Nevada because my family is there, but it’s a desert. During the summer, Michigan is where my soul feels more at home.
Ok, time for a fun question ! If you could be transported to any fantasy world, which would you choose and why? How do you think you would fare?
I think I’m too embarrassed to answer this question but you asked it so I won’t hold back. I’m a fairy at heart. As crazy and childish as it sounds, I would totally get lost in a fairy world with quaint story-book houses made of pebbles, sea shells and banana leaves. I relish the idea of wearing garments made of flowers and flitting about on gossamer wings. Sorry, but I don’t fantasize about conflict. In my ideal world, I would frolic through lush gardens and forests that rained lilac petals, communicate with baby goats, lambs and bunnies and feast on berries, nuts and grains communal style with peaceful, loving friends. This sounds like paradise to me and I think I would fit in quite well.
That sounds perfect, can I join you please?
LOL. You are so welcome! I’m thrilled that someone else finds this setting as inviting as I do!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
My first choice would be a lovely summer art festival and a long walk through a beautiful forest. Later, I would go out for a leisurely lunch or early dinner with a very good friend and just talk for hours. I love stimulating conversation and, fortunately, I have friends who do as well. If I could find the right spot, I’d also like to hang out at a quiet, sophisticated venue where I could have a drink and chat with acquaintances. In my hometown of Detroit, I know so many people that I rarely encounter strangers. In between all this maybe I could also squeeze in an hour doing Zumba or some other type of dance fitness.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Battles make me cringe. So, if I can help it, that’s not going to happen. However, I would absolutely love to take one of my dreadlocks and magically connect it to the tail of a banshee (one of those amazing dragon-like creatures from Avatar). My dream is to then go for a rip-roaring ride on its back. I actually had a chance to do that virtually at Disney World. It wasn’t real, but it sure felt like it. I was dipping and soaring and reveling in the beauty of Pandora. Wow! I felt like the lead character, Jake Sully, when he said “I was born to do this.” LOL
Oh my god, that sounds amazing! I didn’t even know you could do that at Disney World! Are you a huge fan of Avatar then? Are you looking forward to the sequel?
There’s a fairly new virtual ride there that’s based on Avatar. You’re strapped into a seat inside a large chamber with about nine or ten other people. I don’t remember but I think we were wearing special goggles. Either that or we had our own individual screens. Again, it seemed so authentic it’s hard to recall what was actually taking place. I had this experience in 2019, right before the Pandemic started. And yes, I’m an Avatar fan. I was moved by the philosophy, agility and compassion of the Navi. Their relationship with the forest and all of nature really mirrors my perspectives about life. Their culture reminds me so much of African and Native American culture. I couldn’t help but be captivated. And, yes, I am looking forward to a sequel. On the other hand, you know how sequels are. They sometimes try too hard. Since, I’m not a fan of battle scenes as I said earlier I’m kind of hoping they don’t overdo that aspect of the plot. With that said Avatar is packed with so much beauty and insight, I can avert my eyes when necessary. For most of the movie, I’m sure I’ll be thoroughly enchanted.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I don’t know how obscure it is but I think Octavia Butler’s “Dawn” is not as appreciated or widely-heralded as, perhaps, it should be. When you hear about her work, it seems that “Kindred” and the Parable series are the ones most touted. Those books are excellent, but there’s something about the messages and warnings in Dawn that really made me think. I was impressed with the straightforward and matter-of-fact way she unveiled a plot that was riveting and unlike any I’d ever followed. I once read that when a writer uses lean prose and shares a tale in a direct manner, the reader is even more engaged, primarily because it seems so shockingly real. Octavia Butler did just that. Her characters from Earth are waking up after years of being in a stasis imposed by beings from another world who want to mate with them. For those who haven’t read it, I won’t share details and give too much away. Suffice it to say the novel felt like an altered or future reality that has or will eventually happen. That’s because Dawn has an eerie yet believable undercurrent. When I finished it, I simply sat on my sofa and stared for awhile. Seriously, I just sat and stared.
“The River Between” by Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa’Thiong’O is definitely obscure but oh so gripping. I read it many years ago and, therefore, don’t recall all of the details that made it interesting. The biggest thing I remember is that I was immediately lured in by the writing and thoroughly fascinated by the simplicity of life in the village. Wa’Thiong’ O presented and dealt with the huge gulf between missionaries from the West and villagers who were clinging to their traditions. I learned a lot about African culture through the eyes of an author who wrote with such authenticity because he was close to the experience. I think I was most impressed by the dialogue between individuals representing both sides of the fence, especially those from the village. I was amazed at the way they honestly came to terms with both their differences and common humanity.
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual/in person events our readers may be interested in?
Angry Robot are in the process of setting up both virtual and in-person events, and they, and I, will be sure to share as soon as confirmed.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
WIRIC attempts to challenge limited beauty standards and, in the process, lift women beyond the barriers of physical self-assessment based on what they have been led to believe. More than anything I want readers to appreciate the unique qualities of ALL races without judgement, without pre-conceived attitudes imposed by society. I’m saying stop giving others control over your self-image. Stop letting others tell you what’s appealing and what isn’t. Beauty standards are subjective and they’re changing all the time. As recently as twenty years ago, most women wanted to be skinny. Now, fuller figures are moving into the spotlight. Why? Fluctuating social norms. A push for inclusion. A market that’s begun to promote derrieres.
With each page of WIRIC, I hope readers are reminded that we do not see with our eyes. If another human is embraced due to outer packaging, it is a result of media influences, the pervasive messages surrounding us and our conditioning. It’s what’s being drilled into our minds and what we have been taught. And more often than not, it’s actually rooted in narrow, racist perspectives.
In the insular society I created, the Swazembians have not been subjected to Eurocentric influences and therefore have no reason to doubt their aesthetic, their magnificence or their regal status in the galaxy. It has never been challenged in any way.
Actually, WIRIC flips conventional standards for beauty and puts the shoe on the other foot. Hopefully, this will give readers a lot to ponder. It might even anger a few of them. Some might be a bit insulted that darker skin tones are being exalted. Others might feel intrigued or complimented.
Both parties are on the right track. If a reader is pleased, that’s a good thing. If a reader is offended, that’s good too because that reader has just discovered what it feels like to be excluded.
My point is that it’s time for society to open its mind, be inclusive and behold the diversity. I’m emphasizing this because the world we live in tosses around the terminology, but when it comes to women of colour, it doesn’t practice what it’s preaching. It dismisses the positive physical traits of darker hued women, even when these very traits are being appropriated (i.e., full lips are now considered a plus, yet black women are rarely credited for having them naturally). Also, it’s not uncommon for attractive black women to be told they’re pretty “for a black girl.” A recent, well-publicized example of this occurred when a Columbia College psychiatry professor was suspended after a tweet that described Sudanese model, Nyakim Gatwech, (known as the queen of dark) as gorgeous but possibly “a freak of nature.”
Observations like this are just as negative as body shaming. At one time, I conducted motivational workshops for teen girls and was saddened that most of the darker-complexioned African American girls did not feel good about their skin tone. This shouldn’t be – not in the 21st century.
With WIRIC, I hope to challenge this way of thinking or at the very least initiate the conversation. Toni Morrison once said “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So that’s what I did. I used the proverbial pen to extol Black beauty and produce a captivating Black empire revered for its brilliance and power. In doing so, I’m saying to say to the world, no you don’t get to define us. We love ourselves just as we are.
Meanwhile, I sprinkled in an array of messages on self-healing. At certain points in the novel, my protagonist, Lileala Walata Sundiata, reminds the people she heals to remember who they are in their core and to tap into that awareness as a source of their recovery. We can all do that. Last but not least, I would love for readers to walk away with the understanding that “everything is now.” Just as Lileala reaches back to pray for the ancestors, each of us can send light to historical figures we admire or family members and friends who endured great pain. For instance, I have sent healing thoughts to my mother who died of cancer in 2007. I believe some of the strength she demonstrated while she was ill may have come from the love I sent from the future. The same applies to me. I may be surviving because I’m riding on the waves of supplication of someone from the past and I may be thriving because I’m receiving well wishes sent from someone who, supposedly, is not yet born. Again, to quote Lileala “everything is now.”
Thank you so much for joining us today!