A pair of former conductors on the Underground Railroad investigate a murder in Glover’s debut historical fantasy, The Conductors (HMH/Adams, Mar.).
Tell me about the decision to focus on a tight-knit Black community in Reconstruction era Philadelphia.
I wanted to show the internal lives of Black folks. There were a lot of politics going on at that time that I could have dropped in, but I decided the characters should be the focus. And as I was doing my research, I found all of these community systems like mutual aid societies and beneficial societies that existed back then and even further back into the antebellum period. Anytime there was a free Black community that started up, they built these systems for each other. So I got really interested in depicting that. Plot-wise, I also like the idea of seeing how people live on their own without worrying about the big -isms.
How did you develop the magic system?
The characters’ celestial magic is based off my interest in astronomy and astrology, and it was designed to be kind of loose, because the magic system was created by people who lost all of their magicians when they were yanked from their homelands to plantations. So they knew they had the ability for magic, but they had to figure out a different way. The idea is that different cultures each have their own magic system. I don’t mention all of them and I kind of leave it up to the reader to imagine, but I did want to contrast celestial magic and sorcery, you know the typical wands and spells and whatnot. I decided I was going to make that the white people magic, the European magic that was more restricted, and a lot more enshrined in tradition and spell books.
The story explores the tension between chosen and biological families. Why this theme?
It came from thinking of how many families were torn apart throughout the antebellum period and how people built their families on the plantations. When enslaved people ran away, they had to restart their lives and find people to fill in different family roles. I know for me, there are people who I call my aunt and uncle or cousin even though they’re not really—but they are family.
The relationship between Hetty and Benjy is refreshingly unconventional. Tell me about their dynamic.
Hetty and Benjy are kindred spirits. They both have quirks, and they’re both clever in their own way and interested in magic and in the curious and peculiar things around them. I always felt like they would have ended up together no matter what. But one of the fun things about their dynamic is that they know everything about everything else in the world, but they don’t understand the person they’re closest to; they can’t get a sense of the other’s feelings.