And now, a good reason to study history. In her new historical fantasy novel The Conductors (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Nicole Glover introduce us to the mystery-solving power couple of Hetty and Benjy, whose adventures take place a hundred and fifty odd years ago. In the following email interview, Glover explains what inspired and influenced this magical tale.
Photo Credit: © Exposed Moxie Photography
To start, what is The Conductors about, and when and where is it set?
The Conductors follows two former underground railroad conductors who, after the Civil War, settled in Philadelphia and solve murder mysteries, using magic. The book’s central mystery revolves the death of close friend and the aftermath that follows in their lives, focusing on their friends and the community around them.
Where did you get the original idea for The Conductors, and how if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this story?
The Conductors started as a short pieced of historical fiction. I had the idea for a while, but it wasn’t going anywhere until I mused on the idea of adding magic to the story. Once I did, the mystery part fell naturally into place.
And is there a reason you centered this story around a husband and wife as opposed to two brothers or an old lady or a guy, two girls, a stoner, and a dog who’s also a stoner?
I have always loved the dynamic of a power couple: a pair that are great at what they do individually and are even better together. Plus, I’m a sucker for romance, but I always disliked that most stories tend to end after a couple gets together, when that part where things get interesting.
Now, while The Conductors is your first published novel, I’m guessing it’s not the first thing you’ve written. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Conductors but not on anything else you’ve done?
No specific stories influenced the book. I’m a big bookworm, so if I was inspired it was to write my own stories and take twists on things I have seen and would like try differently. Most of my inspiration these days is at the craft level, the ability of writes to write compelling characters, and set up a world of book so well you’re invested by the end of the first page.
What about non-literary influences; was The Conductors influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Clue (both the movie and the board game) for mystery elements and quirky characters; Sailor Moon for astrology influences and more overall interest in space; video games with a big cast (like from the Final Fantasy series) got me thinking how to build a good rounded cast that bounce off each other; and comics for both dialogue and some of imaginative ways to get storytelling across.
I also have to ask, given what’s been going on lately, how much did the current state of race relations in the U.S and the world influence The Conductors, even though it’s not set in modern times?
I found in my research in the Reconstruction era (1865-1877) in which this book is set in the middle of, many parallels to today. So much that a lot of the articles and essay written during that time period still resonates today, and need only to be have a few names and dates changed. It truly is the most important moment in U.S. history, and the ease that our collective memory has brushed over it explains all the problems we’re facing today.
Now, in the press materials for The Conductors, you mention that you hope this is the first book of many for Hetty and Benjy. Is your plan that this will be an ongoing series or a set number of books like a trilogy?
A second book called The Undertakers is currently set for November 9th of this year. It’s basically another mystery that Hetty and Benjy tackle not long after the first book.
So, how many books are you planning for there to be?
I always have a bunch of ideas, and couple I seriously outlined, but I’m going to be a bit coy about it, since you know the whole thing about chickens and before they hatch….
The press materials also say that your “life outside of books” includes, among other things, “baking the perfect banana bread.” Okay, I’ll bite: What does it take to bake the perfect banana bread? And you realize, of course, I will need proof. Like a couple loafs worth, right?
Can’t promise sending any banana bread, but here are few tips for great banana bread: Use very ripe bananas, be generous with vanilla and sugar. Also, don’t be afraid to add mix ins. I’ve done strawberries, mixed berries, cinnamon, and even added cheesecake.
And do Hetty and Benjy bake any banana bread in The Conductors? Oh, is that like their version of Scooby Snacks?
No banana bread making. There’s one character that is a great cook in the book, and it’s not them.
Earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But do you think it could work as a movie, show, or game?
I definitely think it could work as a movie or show, but I’d love a video game.
What kind of game?
An action RPG with a somewhat open world, but with magic done like Okami, and chapters for different mysteries but one larger mystery that’s a thread throughout. I’d also have Hetty be the main character, though there’d also be a few moments when the game would switch to Benjy.
And if someone did want to make it into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Hetty and Benjy?
I’m really bad at casting, and in general I prefer going with unknowns. But if I had to cast characters, Teyonah Parris [WandaVision] and Jonathan Majors [Lovecraft Country] are on the list.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Conductors, what similar kind of fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out next?
Djèlí Clark is a good place with The Haunting Of Tram Car 015. There’s also Zen Cho’s Sorcerer To The Crown, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades Of Milk And Honey, not to mention just about anything Octavia Butler wrote, especially Wild Seed.