I have a fantastic lady here today to tell us all about the new YA historical, Black Rocks and Rainbows: The True Story of Henry Opukahaia, The Hawaiian Boy Who Changed History. What's really unique about this book is that it is authored by Susan C. Riford, mother of creator/narrator Suzanne Ford. Since her mother cannot be with us today, Suzanne is going to fill us out about this magnificent audiobook which is available at Amazon (buying link below).
First, find out more about Susan and her mother's book...
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As a book bloggin’ and book luvin’ Princess, I’m always curious to find out how authors got the ideas for their books. Can you tell us how you got the idea to write your book?
The author of Black Rocks and Rainbows: The True Adventures of Henry Opukahaia, the Hawaiian Boy Who Changed History was Susan C. Riford, my mother. Her fascination with the amazing tale of the young Hawaiian boy Henry Opukahaia began when she and my Dad moved to Maui, Hawaii in the late 1980s. The novel was her final work before she died in Maui in 1997, but not until she had participated in the event that brought the story full circle: the successful crusade in 1993 to bring Henry’s remains home to Hawaii from his grave in Cornwall, Connecticut where he had died in 1818, and reinter him at Kahikolo Cemetery on the Big Island of Hawaii, near the spot where he was born.
After my mother’s death I found the unfinished manuscript, read it and was thrilled. I wrote the last chapter based on her extensive notes, had a few copies printed and, because I am an actor and love narrating books, recorded the audio book.
Your readers might be interested in the trailer for the audiobook, which is found here.
Can you tell us a little about the main characters of your book?
Since the book is historical fiction, I think it belongs in BOTH categories - fiction and nonfiction. The main character of Henry Opukahaia is unique, and fascinating, because he was a real person. He's a young native boy in early 1800s Hawaii, a beautiful but very cruel and dangerous place, who goes through a horrific ordeal—first losing his parents in a tribal war, then being adopted and groomed as a warrior by a great King, then, in a twist of fate, becoming the apprentice to a kahuna nui, or head priest, all on what is now known as the Big Island.
Can you give us an excerpt?
Now the story (remember, it's all true!) really gets interesting. Here's an excerpt detailing what happens next:
Opukahaia decided to take the path along the cliff overlooking the ocean. He liked to watch the brilliant colors of the late afternoon sky dance in the dark water below. But as he came out of the forest and onto the bluff, he suddenly stopped stock still and stared, frozen in amazement.
Out in the bay below him drifted an enormous canoe. It had great white wings like a magnificent bird. As he watched, the boy saw tiny figures of men scurrying around on it. Some of them climbed up the tall poles that held the wings. Where had they come from? Were these the strange men with light skin his uncle had described?
Opukahaia was overwhelmed with curiosity. He wished the canoe would come closer to shore so he could see it better. Soon it would be dark, and tomorrow it might be gone.
Quickly, he unfastened his kahuna cape and laid it on the ground. He would swim out to the big canoe and see it for himself! Then he could tell his uncle and the other priests about these men who had come to their island. He scrambled halfway down the rocky cliff and dove off into the water below.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: The
Opukahaia swam swiftly toward the ship. The distance was greater than it had seemed from the cliff, but his strong, even stroke finally brought him to the side of the vessel. It rose high above him and was longer than ten war canoes. He swam back and forth along the length of it, looking for a handhold - some way to climb up the side - but could find nothing.
Then he heard a man’s voice and the sound of feet running. A head appeared over the edge of the boat above him. It was a light-faced man and he called down to him, but the words were strange to the boy’s ears. Opukahaia raised one arm from the water and waved. The light-faced man ducked out of sight and then returned.
A dark, friendly face appeared beside him and called to the boy in his own language, the language of Hawaii!
“Do you want to come aboard? Here. Take hold of this and climb up.”
The two men threw a rope ladder over the side, holding it fast between them. Opukahaia reached with both hands and pulled himself up to gain a toe-hold. When he had climbed to the top, two pairs of strong hands pulled him over the edge and onto the floor of the boat, where he sat, sprawled and wet, looking up at them. He decided to grin.
The dark-skinned man returned his smile and gave him a hand up.
“I am Makani Nakolo,” he said, “and I am from these islands. The others call me Mak. I have sailed for two years with this ship. What is your name, boy, and where is your home?”
“My name is Opukahaia - and I live with my uncle, who is Kilopano, the kahuna nui of this island.” He gestured toward the cliff.
The man’s eyes widened as he relayed this information in the strange language of the other man. Then he turned back to the boy.
“You must come with me, Opukahaia, to see the chief of this canoe, which is called the Triumph. He is a good man. His name is Captain Britnall.”
After THAT the story really gets exciting. Henry's adventures on the Triumph include a skirmish with Chinese pirates, a run-in with the notorious captain of a slave ship, and a nearly disastrous hurricane. Also, and most important, he gets the chance to study English and history from an educated young man on board, which delights him.
When the ship comes home to America, Henry is desperate to continue learning. He's found weeping on the steps of Yale College by a kind student who leads him to the school’s President. Taken under his wing, Henry becomes a scholar, and eventually invents the written Hawaiian language as it is used today.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would that be?
I'm not a professional writer, but as an actor, I do tell stories. I think I would remind my younger self that the most important aspect of storytelling (as Stephen King says) is character. A good story is told from a person's distinctive point of view, and to be effective, that person should be believable, sympathetic, surprising and appealing. All of these qualities belong to Henry Opukahaia, and that's why I think he's a wonderful hero.
What would you say is one of your interesting writing quirks?
That I'm not really a writer? But seriously, as a longtime actor I think I have a good grasp of dialogue and I do enjoy writing it. Because often as an actor you're called upon to improvise on a set, that has been great practice for creating compelling dialogue, when it's needed, for the written page. There's joy in writing stream-of-consciousness dialogue and then, of course, revising it later as needed. The world of the book, or play or screenplay, comes alive with its dialogue. My mother, because she was also a playwright, was a whiz at dialogue. I think there's a lot of value in that.
Do you hear from your readers (in my case, listeners)? What do they say?
Because it's just come out, I've had limited communication with listeners at this point, but I did hear from my grandson, who pronounced the audiobook "awesome." That from him is very high praise indeed.
What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Hastening to reiterate that I'm not a full time writer, I must admit I've never received truly tough criticism. Or maybe I've just forgotten it. I remember mostly the good comments, which may be a survival technique. (I know it is in show business!) Once on an essay I wrote in sophomore year of high school, I actually got this comment from my English teacher: "This is like poetry." That was very encouraging, and I've never forgotten it. I think we can all agree that sometimes positive comments are even more valuable than negative ones.
What has been your best accomplishment?
I can say without hesitation that having a family I love is my number one accomplishment (as far as I can claim credit for it) and that after that is my acting career, which, as you know if you know about show business, is pretty competitive. I'm glad I have been able to produce as much work that I'm proud of as I have as an actor, and I look forward to doing more.
Do you Google yourself?
Not really. No time! I do check on IMDb once in a while to see what my ranking is.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
A ton! But not books - mostly screenplays and short stories.
Fun question – if you were princess or prince, what’s one thing you would do to make your kingdom a better place?
Simple: I would make health care free to everyone, and make it a law to attend live theatre at least once a month.
Do you have anything specific that you would like to say to your readers?
I so hope you enjoy listening to Black Rocks and Rainbows: The True Adventures of Henry Opukahaia, the Hawaiian Boy Who Changed History and that you—whether you are a young person or just young at heart—can relate to the message that if you have the courage to follow your destiny, to do what you love and pursue it with your whole being, miracles can happen.
Note: All proceeds from the audiobook and all other future formats are donated to the Susan C. Riford Children’s Arts Education Fund (501c3)