Nicole Glover is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Conductors. Here’s the publisher’s description:
From a bold new voice in speculative fiction comes a vibrant historical fantasy of magic and murder set in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, were Conductors on the Underground Railroad, ferrying dozens of slaves to freedom with daring, cunning, and magic that draws its power from the constellations. With the war over, those skills find new purpose as they solve mysteries and murders that white authorities would otherwise ignore.
In the heart of Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward, everyone knows that when there’s a strange death or magical curses causing trouble, Hetty and Benjy are the only ones that can solve the case. But when an old friend is murdered, their investigation stirs up a wasp nest of intrigue, lies, and long-buried secrets- and a mystery unlike anything they handled before. With a clever, cold-blooded killer on the prowl testing their magic and placing their lives at risk, Hetty and Benjy will discover how little they really know about their neighbors . . . and themselves.
What’s Nicole’s favorite bit?
One of my favorite bits in The Conductors is an aside I made between my main characters, Hetty and Benjy talking about a time they staged Much Ado About Nothing in the home of their friends. Because the book revolves arounds the central mystery, I wanted to hint at the characters’ life outside of mystery solving – and a love of theater felt like a perfect fit. I went with the theater in the first place due to inspiration from Sherlock Holmes.
A few years ago I picked up a really nice hardback copy of all the Holmes stories, and subsequently went into a deep dive on Holmes mythology. I found myself struck by the quote that when it came Holmes “the stage lost a fine actor.” The idea of the sleuth also being a great actor is something that vastly appealed to me and it’s one of things I loved to see pop up in any adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. It just makes plain sense. Suspects as well as murder victim’s love ones can be cagey at times, and sometimes a bit acting is required for the case to continue. Which is how the trait ended up with Hetty and Benjy. Throughout my book they briefly take on certain personas, to either get out of trouble, get answers, or merely to bluff their into achieve their goals.
Beyond being capable actors to help with mystery solving, I liked the idea of Hetty and Benjy having a group of friends that came together to put on plays for their amusement. It meant the plays were fully amateur affairs, which allows for a lot of hijinks, from people forgetting lines, mashing up wildly different plays together, magic being use for special effects, and at least one person taking the plays far more seriously than everyone else.
This also ended up being a nod to the long history of Black actors and the acting troupes they formed over the years. There were several troupes active in the 19th century, including the Ira Aldridge Troupe which not only was founded in Philadelphia in 1863 but had fair bit of notoriety for producing material that appealed to Black audiences and didn’t do any minstrel acts that were popular in the time period.
If you’re wondering why I picked Much Ado About Nothing, as the play I referenced there are two reasons. The first is that while I was in the middle of the final draft for The Conductors I had the great pleasure of seeing a performance of Much Ado that Danielle Brooks headlined back in 2019 put on by the Public Theater. Much Ado is my favorite Shakespeare play, and that particular production reminded me why I love the theater in the first place and how new life can be breathed into old stories. The second reason was how good of a fit this play was for my characters. Perhaps it’s because I know the play so well, I could easily imagine my characters cast in the play, having way too much fun with the dialogue (‘I would eat his heart in the market-place!’) or finding poignancy in certain lines (‘I love you with so much of my heart there is no room to protest’). I also found some parallel with my characters. While unlike Beatrice and Benedick, Hetty and Benjy’s relationship is much more amicable, their friends are still eager to make a love match occur. A minor plot point in The Conductors is Hetty emphasizing that her marriage to Benjy is a business arrangement instead of a love match, and that while there is love, it is one of friendship instead of romantic. A thing that all of their friends have come doubt over the years. In fact, the in-world explanation for the performance of Much Ado in the first place, is that their friends selected the play on purpose to have bit of teasing fun at Hetty and Benjy’s expense.
Nicole Glover works as a UX researcher in Virginia. She believes libraries are magical places and problems seem smaller with a cup of tea in hand. Her life outside of books include bicycles, video games, and baking the perfect banana bread. The Conductors is her debut novel. She can be found at nicole-glover.com.