Exclusive Interview: “Where It Rains In Color” Author Denise Crittendon
For people who were unfamiliar with the comics, seeing a technologically advanced country populated entirely by black people in the movie Black Panther was a revelation. But in her new novel Where It Rains In Color (paperback, Kindle), writer Denise Crittendon is going one step further by creating a black planet. In the following email interview, she discusses what inspired and influenced this Afrofuturistic sci-fi space opera story.
To start, what is Where It Rains In Color about, and when and where does it take place?
Where It Rains In Color traces the trials of a shimmering, midnight-black beauty queen, known as the Rare Indigo of the utopic, vacation world of Swazembi. A tourist resort, Swazembi is a spectacle of neon mists that float across the planet’s surface. Swazembi also has a spinning underground city with a transportation system unlike any in the entire galaxy. But the idyllic society is disrupted when the Rare Indigo (Lileala) is suddenly afflicted with an unknown skin disease and has to seek a cure in a colony on an asteroid. There, she discovers her planet’s connection to the Earth and to a mystical West African Tribe. At that point, she taps into a healing energy and finds her spirit catapulted into the minds and souls of ancestors who once walked the dead Earth.
Where did you get the idea for Where It Rains In Color?
The plot was initially inspired by a strange dream. Aspects of the dream reoccurred on several nights. Finally, the dreams culminated into a series of scenes I could no longer ignore. Due to the demands of my writing and editing jobs, I let the idea percolate over the years and began to find further inspiration from a melanin lecture I attended as well as a growing desire within me to create a powerful black planet.
The press materials say Lileala is a “young 50-year-old.” Does that mean that people live a lot longer in this novel, and that 50 is the new 20, or does that mean she’s 50 but young at heart? Or immature?
On Swazembi, people live to be 500 to 550, due to their ability to utilize the healing and anti-aging properties of melanin to their fullest degree. According to certain theories, melanin could prolong life in individuals not hindered by disease and other physical and emotional challenges. Since my protagonist is a product of this society, it made sense to me that she would remain immature for an extended period. Fifty seemed like the ideal time for her to finally come of age. She starts out spoiled and childish due to her youth and privileged status. Yet she grows considerably as she steps into the awareness of her true purpose.
It sounds like Where It Rains In Color is an Afrofuturistic sci-fi space opera story…
Afrofuturistic space opera is the best way to describe it. However, it contains strong elements of fantasy, mythology and a bit of history as well.
Where It Rains In Color is your first novel, though you’ve also written some short stories. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Where It Rains In Color but not on anything else you’ve written?
The only influences that come to mind for Color would be my role model, Octavia Butler and, possibly, Frank Herbert. I’m including Herbert because I was mesmerized by Dune and really liked the philosophical messages intertwined with the storyline. In Color, philosophical musings, proverbs and adages begin each chapter, so I definitely see the influence.
As for Butler, the core message of Color doesn’t mirror anything in any of her writings. Most of her work is dystopian. Still, she helped nourish my dream. The idea that another black woman was out there creating alternative worlds seeded my belief that I could do it too. That said, I also was moved and inspired by the fact that many of Octavia Butler’s female characters are strong, yet sensitive women who are usually healers or empaths. These are qualities I tend to incorporate in just about everything I write.
How about non-literary influences; do you think Where It Rains In Color was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Star Trek: The Next Generation. I fell in love with the characters, the storyline, the technology, the philosophy, and the worlds they visited. However, I often longed to them to visit more worlds populated by people of color. Then it finally happened. Star Trek: The Next Generation actually featured an all-black planet, but it wasn’t all I hoped for. I wanted to see melanin presented as magical. I wanted to see the spirals of our textured hair depicted in a mystical manner. At that moment, I realized I was expecting too much from Hollywood. If I wanted to see black beauty, black culture, and a glorious black aesthetic I knew then that I, or someone like me, had to create it.
When not writing fiction, you’ve written news stories for The Detroit News and other outlets, as well as such non-fiction books for young women as Girl In The Mirror: A Teen’s Guide To Self-Awareness and Life Is A Party That Comes With Exams. First, how do you think writing news stories may have influenced the way you write fiction, and especially Where It Rains In Color?
I’m not sure news stories influenced the way I write fiction, but news stories certainly influenced my perspectives about fiction. When I decided I wanted to explore my imagination and write speculative fiction, I was trying to escape reality. At the same time, I felt a compelling need to maintain my strong social conscience because that’s part of who I am. As a news reporter, I observed so much injustice and so much suffering. Some of those social ills are peppered throughout the novel. They’re prevalent in the lives of the novel’s villains, the Kclabs, but also can be seen in some of the circumstances on the asteroid that’s featured later in the book.
And then how do you think writing books like Life Is A Party That Comes With Exams, in which you’re encouraging young women, may have influenced the story you’re telling in Where It Rains In Color?
Girl In The Mirror and Life Is A Party were rooted in my efforts to uplift youth. When I wrote Mirror, I was volunteering at a home for girls who were wards of the court. I talked to them bi-monthly and listened to their concerns, their dreams and their self-esteem issues. The home had a diverse population and both books address issues faced by teens of all races. At the time, I had recently discovered the power of the mind and the importance of positive affirmations. So, I felt driven to share this awareness with young women, especially troubled ones. However, when I set out to write sci-fi, I shifted my focus to the pressures on black girls in particular because I was tired of them (us) being singled out, marginalized, and made to feel less than. This book is my message to a society that’s determined to exclude those of a darker hue. For that reason, Where It Rains In Color deliberately flips beauty standards. Though it’s not a self-help book, the theme is pretty obvious. It unabashedly places a crown on the heads of melanated women.
Now, sci-fi novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes part of larger sagas. What is Where It Rains In Color?
In Where It Rains In Color, the reader watches the protagonist, Lileala, evolve. Her growth is tremendous and reaches a peak at the end of the book. That means the story can’t end there. I’m not saying it’s a cliffhanger, but the closing chapter certainly suggests there is more to come. In my opinion, it has to continue. Now that the once pampered protagonist has morphed into someone stronger and more powerful, she has vital tasks to complete. Her transformation impacts the entire galaxy. Therefore, it’s important to follow her into the future to see what changes she makes and how she improves and / or shakes up the world around her.
So, what can you tell us about this series?
I can’t predict what publishers will accept and / or decide to publish, but I will say a duology definitely exists in my mind. The second book is Walk Of The Trinity, and it involves a daring new mission that is facing the former Rare Indigo, Lileala, and her newly-acquired friends, Ahonotay, a former Rare Indigo who is a mute telepath, and Martore, a gifted, bi-racial resident of Swazembi’s ally world, Toth. Collectively, the trio will embrace “trinity breathing / walking,” a technique introduced in Color. However, their exploits will happen beyond the limits of Swazembi as they take the “trinity” concept to a much higher level.
Upon hearing that Where It Rains In Color is a duology, some people will decide to wait until Walk Of The Trinity is out so they can read it and Color back-to-back. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
They should read Where It Rains In Color now. I’m not anticipating a monthly series or even a trilogy. If they enjoy the first Color, hopefully they can patiently wait for one sequel. In fact, one reviewer mentioned that she feels the need for more and, therefore, her final and full assessment of the novel is dependent on what happens next.
Earlier I asked if Where It Rains In Color had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask if you think Where It Rains In Color could work as a movie, show, or game?
Yes, a movie.
And if someone wanted to make that movie, who would you want them to cast as Lileala and the other main characters?
As the Rare Indigo, I would love to see someone young, dark, and beautiful like Lupita Nyong’o [Black Panther] or a striking, unknown black actress, or possibly the Sudanese super model Nyakim Gatwech, dubbed the “Queen Of Dark.”
For Lileala’s best friend, Zizi, I see [Glass Onion‘s] Janelle Monáe. She’s sassy and has such an Afrofuturistic vision.
For the quirky but wise clairvoyant, I’d love someone like Whoopi Goldberg [The Color Purple] who could capture her personality so well, or maybe even the talented Viola Davis [The Woman King], [Hidden Figure‘s] Octavia Spencer, or Alfre Woodward [Star Trek: First Contact].
As for Lileala’s devoted, her fiancé Otto, I have my eye on one young Broadway actor, Edward Ewell. He’s so talented and has starred in several August Wilson plays.
[Training Day‘s] Denzel Washington, Sterling Brown [Black Panther], or someone older like Morgan Freeman [The Dark Knight Rises] would be great in the role of Lileala’s dad, Baba Kwesi.
Denzel’s son, John David Washington [Tenet], seems perfect for Brian, a young man who befriends Lileala after she arrives on the asteroid.
Also, on the asteroid, Martore could be portrayed by [Euphoria‘s] Zendaya; Matore and Zendaya are both biracial. Or perhaps one of the sisters in the singing duo of Chloe or Halle would fit this role nicely.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Where It Rains In Color?
Swazembi is fictitious, but the Dogon tribe of Mali is an actual ethnic group that discovered the star, Sirius B, long before astronomers in the West knew it existed. They claim beings from Sirius traveled out of the sky to their village in a spinning ark and taught them about the cosmos. This narrative is always referred to as Dogon Mythology, but I don’t feel that’s a fair label for these beliefs. Since the Dogon live in huts, and have no access to technology, I’m inclined to believe their story about visitors from the stars. I included their fascinating tale as a backstory for Swazembi and how its inhabitants came into existence on their colorful planet on the edge of the Milky Way 5000 years in the future. As a writer of speculative fiction, it’s my job to answer the question “what if?” So, I’m asking: What if the story is true? What if star beings actually rescued the Dogon and others of West Africa long before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began? What if they whisked them off to another world? If so, Where It Rains In Color could very well be a post-Earth reality.
Finally, if someone enjoys Where It Rains In Color, what similar kind of sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler because it features an ageless black woman who is a sensitive empath, healer, and shapeshifter. Though my main character doesn’t shapeshift, she does heal and tap into the minds and spirits of her ancestors. Readers who enjoy Where It Rains In Color will be enchanted by Wild Seed.