Tuesday, August 3, 2021



Suzanne Ford is an actress and writer working in film, television, and theatre. She has performed in more than 100 stage productions in New York and Los Angeles, on tour and in regional theatres around the country. Her many film credits include the Duplass Brothers’ recent hit Manson Family Vacation; You, Me and Dupree and The Apparition, and she has appeared on such television shows as Grace and Frankie, Grey’s Anatomy,Criminal MindsIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Friends. She has been an advertising copywriter, has written a biography of Mel Gibson, screenplays, and cookbooks, and has ghostwritten memoirs. She and her husband live in the Hollywood Hills.



The journey of a lifetime told in the audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS begins with a ship: “An enormous canoe, with great white wings like a magnificent bird.” This is the merchant schooner Triumph from New England, anchored offshore by what is now known as the Big Island of Hawaii, and in 1807, the sight of it captivates a young Hawaiian boy’s imagination and spirit of adventure. Fifteen-

year-old Hiapo Opukahaia, orphaned as the result of a war between two rival island chiefs, has been contemplating his future. He dives into the sea and swims to the ship, where he is invited to stay for dinner. When the captain asks if he would like to go to America, he nods Yes.

The audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS, an historical novel for young adults, edited and narrated by actress Suzanne Ford, was written by her late mother, Susan C. Riford.  The audiobook chronicles the gripping story of Hiapo – renamed “Henry” by his fellow crewmen – whose literal and figurative journey leads to the greatest adventure of all: a hunger for knowledge which ultimately changes Hawaii forever. The title refers to the lava rocks and beautiful rainbows of the Big Island, the vision of which Henry carries with him for the rest of his life.

Working as a cabin boy, Henry does encounter true-life adventures – pirates, storms – during the ship’s year-long voyage, via the Seal Islands and China, back to its home port of New Haven, Connecticut. He also learns to read and write English, unlocking his quest for further knowledge; upon arriving in New Haven, Henry realizes he desperately wants to keep learning, but has no idea how.

Weeping one day on the steps of Yale College, he is found by a kind student, a relative of the school’s president. Taken under the president’s wing, Henry becames a scholar. He wants to translate written works from English into Hawaiian, but at the time, there is no such written Hawaiian language. So he begins to apply the principles in an American spelling book – devised by Noah Webster, of dictionary fame – to the sounds of his native tongue. In doing so, he creates the alphabet-spelling-grammar system that is the basis for the Hawaiian written language in use to this day.

Sadly, Henry dies of typhus fever in 1818 at the age of 26. He is buried in Cornwall, Connecticut, until 1993, when he makes one final journey: a group of Hawaiian residents has successfully crusaded for the return of his remains to the Big Island for permanent burial. Hiapo Opukahaia has come home.

Suzanne Ford was inspired to create the audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS originally written by her late mother, Susan Riford, a prolific author of children’s books and plays and founder of what is now known as the Rev Theatre Company in Auburn, New York. Her mother became fascinated with Henry’s story when she moved to Maui. “The novel was her final work before she died,” Ford says. “I took on the unfinished manuscript, wrote the last chapter, had a few copies printed and recorded the audiobook. The story is such a fascinating and compelling adventure, fun to listen to for anyone, but especially for young adults.”

Ford is working on an updated, illustrated book version of BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS. “It’s noteworthy that there has never been a full-length historical novel about Opukahaia, who is such a major figure in Hawaiian history and whose story carries a timeless message about the importance of education,” she observes. “Especially in this era of the dawning of deeper recognition of indigenous peoples and their heritage, this as yet unfamiliar but universal coming-of-age story is resonant and relevant to youth of any culture.”


“This adventure story is riveting from start to finish and the action keeps coming. The ending, though sad because it’s a true story, was very uplifting and inspiring. A very satisfying audiobook experience.”


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here:


And here:



Amazon → https://amzn.to/3vWmVik

Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I'm actually not a full time writer—I'm an actor. My mother, Susan C. Riford, was the writer, and she had nearly finished writing this historical novel for young adults, BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS: The True Adventures of Henry Opukahaia, the Hawaiian Boy Who Changed History, when she died in 1997. A few years later I found the manuscript, finished writing the last chapter, did some minor editing and had a few copies printed, just for family. But couldn't get the story out of my mind, and decided to record the audiobook at a studio here in Hollywood.  It was just made to be read aloud, and I had a ball doing it.

When did you start writing?

As a working actor, I have always done a little writing here and there. I've ghostwritten a few things—some cookbooks, autobiographies of a gun activist and of a famous rock star's ex-girfriend, and was commissioned by a publisher in the mid-90s to write an "unauthorized" biography of the actor Mel Gibson, which was pretty fluffy—it was called Lethal Hero, believe it or not. If you find it anywhere it doesn't have my name on it because I was too embarrassed to take the credit!

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

My viewpoint as an actor has always colored my appreciation of books in general, and certainly of my mother's writing. She was a force of nature—an author, philanthropist and entrepreneur who was also a passionate proponent of theatre education for children. It was she who awakened my love of theatre and acting when I was only five years old, and I've been dedicated to it ever since. In 1958 she founded a theatre company in my home town, Auburn, NY, that is now one of the preeminent Equity companies in the country dedicated to musical theatre and children’s performing arts education. (It's now called The Rev Theatre.) She wrote over 50 children’s plays and books during her 30-year tenure there. Her fascination with this amazing tale of the young Hawaiian boy Henry Opukahaia (who was, you find out in the book, the inventor of the written Hawaiian language!) 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, 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.

So as far as this book is concerned, I think that was the pivotal point for her.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

London. I love the city and would love to work there and maybe also write a book—possibly about a British actor's life.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

Garden! I enjoy it but am so busy with different projects, including my regular gig narrating shows at Griffith Observatory, auditioning for and working in film and television, and helping to run a friend's hot sauce company (I know! It's crazy) that I never have time.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I don't have a burning desire to write, but certainly to act. And I would love to do a play, series or film set in Paris, another city I love — or on a Greek island. (The Tempest comes to mind!)

Back to your present book, BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS: The True Adventures of Henry Opukahaia, the Hawaiian Boy Who Changed History, how did you publish it?

It hasn't been published in print yet (only as the audiobook so far), but I'm working on it. I want to find the perfect artist to do a few illustrations, which I think would be a wonderful addition.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

In a perfect coincidence, my mother lived in the setting of the first part of the book, Hawaii, where she did a lot of research. And she was born and grew up in the place where the hero of her book ended up, near New Haven, Connecticut.

Why was writing (bringing alive in an audiobook) BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS so important to you?

I thought it surprising and an oversight that there has never been a full-length historical novel about Opukahaia, who is such a major figure in Hawaiian history and whose story carries a timeless message about the importance of education. Especially in this era of the dawning of deeper recognition of indigenous peoples and their heritage, this as yet unfamiliar but universal coming-of-age story is resonant and relevant to youth of any culture. I know that was why my mother was writing it (along with the fact that it's a ripping good story) and had dedicated years to its creation.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

I have to say that I respect, admire and am mystified by some writers' uncanny ability to get and develop great ideas. I have a much easier time interpreting those ideas as an actor.

Any final words?

Only to say I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this wonderful book, and I hope that young (and young at heart) listeners everywhere will enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed narrating it. Thank you!

Suzanne Ford

Note: All proceeds from the audiobook and all other future formats are donated to the Susan C. Riford Children’s Arts Education Fund (501c3)


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