Alicia McCalla's Interview with Nicole Givens Kurtz

Check out my interview with Nicole Givens Kurtz on Podcast or YouTube!

Hey everybody and welcome to my writing playground this is Episode #6 of Diverse SciFi and Fantasy Stories Podcast. I’m your host, author, Alicia McCalla. Thanks for tuning in! 

This podcast is all about me honoring my son’s legacy by sharing my diverse science fiction and fantasy stories with the world… Today, I have the wonderful opportunity to share the works of another author who also writes Diverse Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

Let me tell you about Nicole!

Nicole Givens Kurtz is the author of eight novels, and over 40 plus short story publications. She is a member of SFWA. Her science fiction novels have been named as A Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award's Recommended title-(Zephyr Unfolding), Fresh Voices in Science Fiction finalist (Zephyr Unfolding), Dream Realm Award Finalist in Science Fiction (Browne Candidate), and EPPIE Finalist in Science Fiction (Browne Candidate). Her short works have appeared in, Serial Box's The Vela: Salvation, Baen's Straight Outta Tombstone, Bram Stoker Finalist in Horror, Sycorax's Daughters, and White Wolf's Vampire the Masquerade Anthology.

Alicia: Alright! Hey Nicole I am excited to see you!

Nicole: I am excited to see you too. Thank you for having me.

Alicia: Alright you want to tell us about the project that you’d like to share today. What’s the genre? Is it a part of a stand-alone book or a book series?

Nicole: Alright, so today I am here to talk about the latest release, it is called Kill Three Birds, a kingdom of Aves story. And so it's the beginning of a series of novellas that take place in the fantastic world of Aves, which is a kingdom where people are Avian. The kingdom is ruled by an organization called the Order. And the Order is made up of, think of it like the vatican where there is a pope there are cardinals.  So there is an owl that is the pope. There are cardinals of course and then there are  falcons and hawks and condors. My main protagonist is a hawk. Hawks have the unique ability to see the unseen so they have a special blood magic that is passed down through their mothers. Alright and so my protagonist Prentice is a hawk and so what the hawks do is that they are dispatched from the Order to certain eggs. Eggs are cities so think of states or provinces, those are called nests in the Kingdom of Aves and the cities within those nests are Eggs. And so in Kill Three Birds, Prentice is called out to investigate a supernatural or fantastic death that has happened in Gould which is a remote Egg at the...think of it like a mountain community small, very rural. So she is dispatched out to investigate a missing girl who is found dead. Where it gets a little bit thick and kind of mysterious is that when she gets there, because of her ability to see the unseen, she discovers there are actually three dead people and so now hence the title of the work, Kill Three Birds.

Alicia: Okay!! Ha this sounds interesting, I like it.  Okay so now do you want to tell us why are you the person to tell this story or write this series? What makes your stories unique to you?

Nicole: So I really love my stories, but right around March where the United States was going through a lockdown, I wanted to write something fun and I told my husband that I wanted to write something fun and I wanted to write something for me. Something that I would like. I enjoy reading everything that I write but I wanted something lighter. If you think about my Cybil Lewis series it takes place in post-apocalyptic D.C. She is very pulpy noir-ish. Right, it's kind of gritty and the same is true for my Minister Knights of Soul series, again it takes place on Veloris, an ice planet it is very dark and gritty. Sorcery, magic space opera-ish but it is still dark and gritty….I wanted something fun! And I wanted something fantastic and I wanted to like build a world and be more intentional about the world I was building. And so I took out my OneNote and said, okay, I don't want to do elves, I don't want to do dwarves, I don't want to do anything  tolkien-ish but I wanted to have a lot of variety and I actually like birds. I am actually quite fascinated by birds and I was like huh you know I think I’ll...what can I do with Hawks?  Hawks are one of my favorite birds, yep, excellent eyesight. And so I was like, what if this? And what about that? And of course, I like mystery so almost all of my works contain some element of suspense or thrilling or thriller-ish and so that is kind of why I think I am unique and why I felt this story had to be told. It was fun for me.  I had a great time writing Kill Three Birds. I love the kingdom of Aves, I am having a lot of fun coming up with stuff. It just linked itself to a variety depth and I can expand it and so that is kind of why I chose birds. And this was way before the whole Amy Cooper thing and black birders and so what I did do though because I did want to honor black birders and black scientists that focus on birds I ended up doing a lot of research into black birder. And so all of the nests in the kingdom of Aves are named after black birders. And so all the eggs are named after white popular or famous birders.  But the Order resides in the nest of Lanham which is named after Dr. Lanham who is a black doctor of...what bird...? I can't think of the word for bird doctors right now. I am sorry, it's early. (Laughter)

Alicia: I know I don't know it either but... (scoffs)... is it ornithologist or something because  I dont want to make myself sound stupid, right!  (Laughter)

Nicole:I think so I can't remember because, again no coffee. But I wanted to honor him. I wanted to honor other black birders and women and so that is kind of the way the kingdom of Aves is structured.

Alicia: Hmm okay, I am excited, I love that connection though, honestly. You always do such fantastic things. 

Nicole: Thank you

Alicia: Alright, so you sort of alluded to it but what’s your reason and/or inspiration for writing this book or series?

Nicole: I did want to start out with a bunch of novellas, I did want to do novellas and so I did. I also wanted to incorporate more of the African culture into my fantastic work. I am writing the second novella right now which is called A Theft Most Foul. All of the birds or the people are Kenyan birds, and so a lot of their names are Kenyan and so because the kingdom of Aves is so expansive...if you buy the paperback, if you buy the copy of Kill Three Birds there is a map. Shout out to Sarah Macklin for making my map of the Kingdom of Aves, but it's so expansive and it gives me an opportunity to just run around and be able to learn more about birds and different types of birds and their behaviors in various cultures and in various settings. So that made it really fun too. I like learning new things, right, I enjoy learning lots of things but I also like grounding my fantastic worlds in real life stuff. It's fun and I think that’s kind of the inspiration. With what is going on in the world, with all that is going on in the world, I needed something, I told you it's for me. I wrote Kill Three Birds for me. I need something light and something fun to write so that my inspiration for it. 

Alicia: Is there a theme that you’d like to impart to your readers? If so, what might that be?

Nicole: Sure! So one of the things in Kill Three Birds is, well in the Kingdom in Aves they are a matrilineal society so they worship the goddess. And the goddess is the one who unified all these different  birds and created the five-feathered court, or the five-feathered Order which they reside at court and so on of the major themes in Kill Three Birds is that each egg has a mayor basically think of it as a priest. Actually it's a priest, the doves are priests, and they are also mayors because the whole of Aves is run by the goddess religion. And so you have people who live inside the egg, like in the kingdom of Aves it's like the finches and a few other bird families. But there are also those who reside in the outer shell which is outside the egg. The outer shell is where crows reside, where vultures reside, where roosters reside. And so they are kind of  the people who do not worship the goddess and so they are not allowed to live in the egg, but they serve inside the egg, right. So vultures are the funeral directors, they are the servants and you know the roosters, they don't worship the goddess but they have their own communities Coopentino, Coop-en-tino. There are a lot of little things like that, so I am really big on puns so there’s a ton of puns in Kill Three Birds and if you see it's on purpose. So there’s a lot of little puns like that, but they all have their own individual communities. Prentice who’s a hawk right, she is a big bang investigator. Think of her like the BAU in Criminal Minds, she has to be invited out and requested because there are a regulating body in every egg. They’re the eagles, and if you think about the eagle as the symbol for America and if you think about those who like to wave their flag and talk about I am an american, America! Those are eagles, and so, what she does is she runs into conflict of course with investigating this. The eagles kind of don't want her there. There is an episode in Kill Three Birds where Prentice...so on of the things about being a hawk is that they can see the unseen but when they engage their hawk abilities it erodes their human eyesight...and so over time, Prentice will go blind, like her mom and once you go blind as a hawk you are retired from the Order.  Basically, you are sitting home and you know she’ll produce more hawks. So that’s kind of the drawback to magic, right. There is always a pro and a con, and so the more Prentice uses her abilities there are periods right after where she can’t see, she is blind. And so she engages her powers in a particular scene and she is blind afterwards and so she ends up sitting down on a sidewalk in a residential community and it's like, maybe eleven o’clock at night. And she is just sitting there waiting for her sight to come back so she can fly back to where she is staying. And she is accosted by the eagles, the eagles show up and she knows it's the eagle, she says she can just tell by the tone in their voice but she can't see them. They are big blurry images and they basically, what are you doing here? you're not supposed to be in this neighborhood? You are just...she is like I am sitting on the sidewalk and they are like, well someone called it in, you’re not..and that the thing they don't have cell phones they have bird callers. Their bird callers are phones and so and they pay with birdsong. I told you there are a lot of puns (Laughter). There are scenes that show up, cause again it's all about community, it all about people, it's all about not taking people  based on what their Avian....like one of the most giving things she gets are from roosters. And so there's that,  it's about identity, it is about expectations and stereotypes. 

Alicia: But I love it, I love the detail there, great details! Is this theme something that you’ve personally experienced or something that fascinates you? Tell us about the inspiration behind your theme.

Nicole: So yes, a lot of things that happen in Kill Three Birds in regards to the victim is Gertude Finch. And so the issue with Gertude is that she bucks the system. She is again, remember I said matrilineal society, so there are a lot of expectations for her. The finches have been in Gould forever and so as the first born daughter there are a lot of expectations. And I am also a first born daughter and so a lot of what I wrote into Kill Three Birds deals with the burden or the challenges of being a firstborn and the expectation that your family have for you when you have your own expectation from your life.

Alicia: What do you want to tell potential readers about the diversity within your stories? Why should they give your diverse stories a shot?

Nicole: Oh wow…so if you like fun, there’s a lot of diversity in the sense that because they’re birds, they do have certain characteristics though and so I think that there is a certain degree of verisimilitude you will be able to see certain aspects of the way certain groups behave. You will be able to be like, “oh okay, I know someone who behaves like that” and so I definitely think that it is diverse enough to where people won't be bored. I definitely think that if you are looking for a fantastic thrilling kind of suspenseful read it's good for that because everyone is…. but there are many -and it's a short novella- but I definitely think there are many of strong themes of stereotypes, of expectations, of what it means to be human, what it means to care, and how issues of power and its corruptibility. And so I definitely think that those are familiar themes that people will be able to pick on but because it is such a diverse world in the sense that there are all these different birds and all these different socio-economic groups. I definitely think that there is enough verisimilitude for the reader to actually enjoy and to see representation of themselves and the people they know within that story. 

Alicia: Tell us about your diverse protagonist? Who is the protagonist? What’s at stake for them?

Nicole: Alright so, Prentice what’s at stake for her in terms of…a lot of her interactions because she comes from a big metropolitan city to a very small city she has to learn real quick about the politics of Gould. Right, but she also has to confront some of her own  prejudices and stereotypes and beliefs about certain bird groups. One of my characters is non-binary, a couple of my characters are lesbian but she has certain expectation of what she thinks  about certain groups especially those in the outer shell, and her vulture driver. And so she has to confront those things and I think she grows during the course of  just to learn how to trust people because she tends to work alone even though hawks are usually paired with condors for this particular investigation she is not, she is solo and she doesn't trust any of the people in Gould because everyone’s a suspect. But that brings with it a level of...it puts her in danger. So the dove there whose name is Balthazar is like look, “A. it’s my egg, B. you’ve got to tell me what is going on” she doesn't know if he is suspect, everyone’s a suspect and so she struggles with that and that of course I think we all find times where we're new to a place. We are the only ones there, she is the only hawk in Gould and who do you trust? Balthazar tells her, “Look, I have to live here when you leave”  and so there is all this type of political strife and things that happen that she has to deal with and I think that forces her to confront her own personality flaws and biases as well. 

Alicia: Okay, alright then are you ready to share your piece? Read your piece, please.

Nicole:

 “You wanna see what a killer looks like? Look in the reflecting glass,” Prentice Tasifa said over her shoulder. Her voice rose above the evening’s insects chittering. Not getting a reply, she stood up and looked over to Dove Balthazar. “Anyone is capable of killing.”

“Those who are with the goddess, and follow along her path, don’t slaughter others,” Dove Balthazar said, with a sweeping arm across the bloodied body between them. The white, gold-trimmed sleeves of his cloak just missed the carnage. “Hawk Prentice, try to remember how this woman lived. Holy. Pure.”

“She’s a teenager.”

Prentice pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. Balthazar, like most in the rural egg, was about to discover the true nature of human beings. Anyone was capable of great violence when dumped in the right situation. Doves like him only saw goodness in people. That was their role.

She put her attention back on the body. Despite the velvety darkness enveloping the site, Prentice used her skill to observe what most people missed. This wasn’t a homicidal rage.

The body was covered in blood, but Prentice could tell she’d been hit with a blunt object. Her hands bore defensive wounds. A pit tightened in the bottom of the hawk’s stomach.

“Do you want to talk about the skeletal remains found over there in the woods? We can wait on that one. Tomorrow will be soon enough.” Prentice watched his face.

Balthazar paused, his index finger pointed at Prentice’s chest. Her scarlet cloak, dark dress stitched at the waist and crossed with a leather gun belt that contained her talons, covered her entire body. 

“Skeletal remains?” He gaped.

“There’s no rush. There’s a depression in the grass. The trail has gone cold, anyway. Body’s been there a while.” Prentice shook her head. She stepped back from the current corpse, moving to the trail that snaked through the woods behind the church. Like most eggs, this one had a centralized location to worship. “The two men, suspects, who came here.”

“Two men? How do you know they were two? How do you know they were men” Balthazar followed her to the worn path, his white cloak grabbing leaves and other ground debris in his wake.

Prentice took out a cigarette, hand-rolled with tobacco. She snapped her fingers, sparking a small flame. She touched the cigarette’s tip and inhaled deep and long. When she exhaled the stream of purple smoke through her nostrils, Balthazar scowled.

“Answer me, Hawk Tasifa.” He coughed. “Can you stop smoking?”

“No,” Prentice said.

“No, you can’t stop or no, you can’t answer me?” Balthazar’s thick eyebrows rose in question. “We requested, I requested, help from the Order. We have a real situation here. Some of my nesters are dead. The eagles have no idea what’s going on.”

Prentice sighed. “Yeah, and the Cardinal sent me, the hawk. Let me work. The smell of blood is disturbing and turns my stomach. I’m not a condor, okay?” She didn’t want to explain to him that smoking kept her from puking at death scenes. Yet underneath the putrid odor, something else surfaced. It hinted strongly of earth magic tinged with something black.

“How did you know about the skeletal remains? We searched the grounds after we found Gretchen…”

“Hawks see the unseen.” Prentice pointed to her hazel eyes, wide and large, stretched from the bridge of her nose out toward her temples. From a young age, hawks’ appearance unsettled others. She had spent a lot of her childhood in the nyumbani with her family. Her male siblings went out, to school, to work. Home-schooled by the rooks, Prentice and her sisters worked hard on their studies.

She adjusted her headscarf and sighed.

In her role, she saw what ordinary people missed. She’d been born with this gift. As a descendant of hawks, her mother worked for the Order. Trained as the investigative arm of the Order, hawks were dispatched to see what others could not. Now, here she stood, in the remote Gould Egg, a small community of three-to-five hundred people. A scenic gem situated on four thousand acres of sprawling woodland.

“We have a real problem here. Someone is using your woods as a dumping ground.” Prentice rubbed her right temple. She dropped the cigarette and ground it out with the toe of her boot.

Alicia: Okay! (Laughter) That was fantastic! Now I want to know what happened! Where should readers go to find you and your work?

Nicole: You can find my work at the mochamemoirspress.com, you can find it at amazon.com, and a variety of other online stores. It’s coming soon to like sisters scifi and if you are in Charlotte you can find my work at park road books. So yeh, a variety of places. 

I’d also love to hear what readers think about Nicole’s stories, feel free to post a comment on my blog. Either me or Nicole will respond. 

I’m author Alicia McCalla and I write Science Fiction & Fantasy stories for readers who want diverse protagonists and unique storylines. If you enjoyed this episode and want to support me or donate to “my cup of tea fund”, just head over to my blog on my website, find this post and click on the donate button at the bottom! 

If you’re not one of my subscribers and want to join my league of heroes, go to www.aliciamccalla.com to sign-up for my newsletter to get updates, learn about my latest projects and purchase my diverse SciFi and Fantasy Stories! If you’re already one of my subscribers, thank you so much, please feel free to share this podcast with anyone you think might enjoy it. Okay, until next time, “Wakanda Forever…” and thanks for listening. 

I’m author Alicia McCalla and I write Science Fiction & Fantasy stories for readers who want diverse protagonists and unique storylines. If you enjoyed this episode and want to support me or donate to “my cup of tea fund”, just head over to my blog on my website, find this post and click on the donate button at the bottom!

If you’re not one of my subscribers and want to join my league of heroes, go to www.aliciamccalla.com to sign-up for my newsletter to get updates, learn about my latest projects and purchase my diverse SciFi and Fantasy Stories! If you’re already one of my subscribers, thank you so much, please feel free to share this podcast with anyone you think might enjoy it. Okay, until next time, “Wakanda Forever…” and thanks for listening.

Would you like to donate to my cup of tea fund? Click on the cup below:

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