Kamensky: We've learned a great deal about each other's work over the years. We both care a lot about language. That's been a through-line in our work for nigh on 20 years. I think your work has a darker and more violent role than mine has. We've collaborated on deferent things but we do have somewhat different slices of 18th-century culture, and it was fun to think about things like chiaroscuro, the melding of dark and light, and the comic sensibility of the novel with the incredible violence of slavery, economic catastrophe in a kind of fatalist, existential comic vein. Those are parts of our brief conjoined, they were drawing on each other's resources. Jill would say, "Make the currency act make sense," and similarly bringing to bear work on race and slavery in an urban setting is something Jill knows more about than anyone else alive. It was neat to create a world where we hope that expertise can be worn lightly.
Clear it was going to be a romance and a murder mystery...
Lepore: We had real struggles over some of those questions. It was clear it was going to be a murder mystery, there's a central piece on how the murder comes to be committed that is both based in fact and based on a widely occurring set of fears. The fear of slave rebellion and the fear of the murderous slave is a big piece of 18th-century life.
Kamensky: We also wanted dot do something that plays on the mystery genre convention where everything hinges on the will. That was one of our animating ideas form the beginning,to do an 18th century take on what's it like to be in a world where there's urban slavery and everything hinges on the will. We wanted painters for the observational quality they bring to a mystery and I think we weren't aware at the beginning of how central the dynamic of their observing each other would become. The romance came from the writing in a lot of ways. For a long time, we weren't sure how the romance plot would turn out.
Seriously, you didn't assume they would work out?
Lepore:Your readers don't know if it's going to work out.
Kamensky: We didn't know how fully they would ever know each other. We had this two-track two person narrative, and the near misses that were structurally built into it were important to the story stylistically and to the plot. It's a multipart enterprise that had multiple resolutions and we weren't sure how the romance would resolve.
It seems for the conventions, it would somehow.
Lepore: I was always fascinated by one of the arguments against manumitting slaves. If you write a will that frees your slaves you're giving them incentive to murder you. The 18th century also marks the beginnings of the murder mystery as a genre, and to tie those two together seemed a really interesting way to illustrate one of the many paradoxes of freedom and slavery in early America.
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