Episode 57: David Hulegaard

My name is Miller Brinkman and I am—or rather, I was—a private investigator. That message was recovered in March of 1948, from a former top-secret area known as Location 2208-C. Two years have since passed, but part of me is forever stuck in that case, analyzing my actions and second-guessing myself. Could I have done anything differently to change the outcome?

Jane Emmett’s story began in Ashley Falls and ended some four thousand miles away.

— David Hulegaard, Icarus

For those who like their noir with a dash of sci-fi, you are in luck: David Hulegaard has published his Noble Trilogy. Think Sam Spade meets the Men in Black. High-octane with a lot of heart, this genre-blending series delivers on both mystery and thrills, and it all starts with Icarus. Comparisons include Philip K. Dick and Stranger Things.

Be still my heart. 

Check out David’s website here, because The Noble Trilogy is not his only rodeo. He has not one, but two podcasts, one where he interviews authors (hey, just like me!) and the newly launched Nerdz of a Feather, where he and his wife discuss all things pop culture. He has also written a book with Tony Healey, a YA space opera, Planet of Ice, in the Broken Stars series. 

Can’t keep up with him? Whew, join the club! But we can try: here’s David’s Facebook page, Twitter handle, and InstagramAnd if you’re interested in the Oregon Ghost Conference he mentioned, next one up is in March 2018.

As always, if you’d rather read than listen, the transcript is below. Enjoy!

— Laura


Transcript of Interview with David Hulegaard

Laura Brennan: My guest today is an genre-bending author who blends classic noir with science fiction and a healthy dose of the paranormal. In his Noble Trilogy, David Hulegaard pits a small town private eye against a powerful and corrupt former mentor — and an even more powerful mastermind, with humanity’s future in the balance.

David, thank you for joining me.

David Hulegaard: Thank you so much for having me.

LB: So, The Noble Trilogy is your first foray into fiction writing?

DH: Yes. I began the project about six years ago. It took me many, many years to finally get it completed. But this was my year. I determined it had waited long enough, I was going to get it done one way or another.

LB: It’s not just the year for your first novel, you’ve actually published the entire trilogy this year.

DH: Yes. I’ve been working on them in kind of bits and pieces, here and there, wherever I could find time and it really had been my goal for a long time to dedicate more time exclusively to writing. And after some changes last year, I made some much-needed changes to my schedule so that I could free up that time to write, and I got very serious about publishing it, I want to say it was August of last year. And I really was just working on this trilogy nonstop for months and months. And then I would get one of them out the door and immediately pick up where I left off on the next one. Until finally I had all three completed.

LB: Did you work them out together?

DH: Yes. When I first started, I didn’t know it was going to be a trilogy. I really thought maybe I had one story, and then I already had my next book idea lined up. It wasn’t until a friend of mine who was doing some beta reading for me on the first book, Icarus, he came back to me with a bunch of questions. And they weren’t the kind of questions I expected to get. You know, sometimes you figure people will have questions about what happened in the story, or maybe just something didn’t quite work the way I had planned, but it was questions about what happened next. That surprised me, and when he started asking me these questions, then I started thinking about what happens next. And from there it opened up this whole treasure trove of ideas of things that I hadn’t really considered to where it did lend itself to an entire trilogy.

LB: Did you do another pass on Icarus to make it fit trilogy?

DH: Oh, boy! I have done so many passes on Icarus, I am honestly surprised I can’t recite it word for word by now. But, yes, I did. Actually, when I got serious about getting all three books published starting last August, I went through all of them multiple times to make sure that there were enough things that connected them in a way that felt natural. That was a big part of the revision process, just making sure that there were enough seeds planted.

Icarus, I think, was the most fun because there were things that I knew, having now all three stories written, I had the benefit of knowing what was coming. And so I could go back and actually put little clues and hints in Icarus that would actually not come to pass until either the end of The Invisible War or possibly even into The Reckoning.

LB: The stories are linked in really interesting ways. It actually reminds me a little bit of Easter eggs in video games, which is another world you’re familiar with.

DH: Absolutely! I’m a big fan of Easter eggs, and so I think you’re right. I think that was definitely one of the driving factors that made it so much fun.

LB: The other thing I wanted to connect with your video game experience is that there’s a very visual aspect to your writing. Is that just something that you’ve always seen stories visually or did you kind of hone that in the world of video games?

DH: It’s funny because I never really thought that I was going to write at all. I’d always had this goal in the back of my mind that I wanted to write video games and tell stories. I never saw myself as a novelist. It wasn’t until, gosh, I want to say it was in the last 10 years where I had some prodding from friends to write little short stories. I started a blog, gosh, 10 years ago, where I was just doing a little creative exercises, little things to kind of keep my brain stimulated, and I actually wound up getting a little bit of a following. To the point where, again, it was the thing where people were asking me questions, what’s coming next? What’s coming next? And I really had no idea. They were just taking writing prompts and maybe, maybe putting 150 to 300 words to it. And then once that became a thing and enough encouragement and people asking me when am I going to do more, I finally got serious about it.

And I never gave up wanting to write video games, because video games have always been a huge influence on me. And that’s where I’m probably a little different from the traditional writer, I did read, but maybe not to the extent that other writers do. I had been influenced by just a good story wherever I could find it. Whether that was a prolific TV series or a great movie or video game, just wherever I could absorb great story is really where I found so much joy. I think that that’s really what’s helped me form this writing style that I have, is that it’s, obviously I wanted to learn how to string sentences together, but at the same time my influence on story just came from so many different places. Icarus is a good one because it was really a combination of things that range from the video game series Bioshock, the TV show Lost, and the movie Battle Royale. And if it sounds like those three things probably wouldn’t mix in any other world, I think that’s exactly the challenge I took on and hopefully accomplished it.

LB: That’s really interesting, because you really nail the classic noir voice.

DH: Yes, and I definitely — there’s something about that time period, that, whenever I would come across it, whether it’s in literature, in movies, what not, there’s something about that time period I really enjoyed. It was something I really wanted to explore. I thought it was a great time period to think about as a backdrop for this type of story. Because, you know, we were — in the 1940s, you were still about 10, 20 years away from sci-fi becoming such a huge thing, but there were little bits, little things, little nuggets along the way. And I thought, how fun would it be to bring things from the ’50s and ’60s into this time period.

Like, I thought — I mean, it’s fiction, so if these things could exist, maybe they weren’t widely known or maybe they weren’t mainstream. But I wanted to find a way to bring those things together, and I definitely did go to Sam Spade, I think, was another one of my favorites. And just started putting all these things together in a way that made sense in my brain. And when I started putting down on paper, I thought, wow, this may actually work.

LB: I have heard you say that it was very difficult to sort of position something that doesn’t quite fit neatly in one particular genre.

DH: That was feedback that I got very early on. It was like, wow, this is well-written and this is a really great story but I have no idea who’s going to want it. [Laughter.]

LB: Well, luckily though you can go straight to the readers. And readers can find what they want.

DH: Yes, absolutely.

LB: I want to talk a little bit too about another factor in your background. You are a paranormal investigator.

DH: Yes.

LB: So, basically you are Philip Marlowe. You are living the dream.

DH: [Laughter.] I never really thought about it that way before, but, yes. I kind of like that.

LB: So, a paranormal investigator. What is a typical case like for you? I take it it’s not divorce and finding missing dogs.

DH: [Laughter.] No, usually paranormal investigation as a result of someone who believes they are having some type of unexplainable experience, and maybe this can make them feel almost isolated because it’s not something they feel comfortable talking about with just any old person. It can make you feel like you’re being judged, or that people will just call you crazy. And that’s really where a paranormal investigator can come in handy because that’s really what we do, is we go in to look for answers.

It’s not that everything happening is of a paranormal nature. Sometimes, and I would even say most of the time, you can find a real-world explanation for what’s happening. Either way, as long as you’re making that person feel comfortable with their environment, whether that’s a home, whether that’s a business they own. I have definitely investigated places that you would never suspect that somebody might be having experiences at. In particular, a hair salon. Not really a place you would think the supernatural might be hanging out, but… It’s always an interesting experience.

So I would say, you asked about what a typical case is like, and I would say that most of the time they are residential issues. And that could be an environment where they don’t feel safe for their children, things like that. And those are the kind of cases that you really want to pay close attention to. You really don’t want people feeling unsafe in their own homes and especially not if they feel like something is a threat to their child.

LB: How do they find you? How do clients find you?

DH: Usually, it kind of depends on where you are. I think in bigger regions there are paranormal teams that have websites and business cards. There are conventions now that happen all over the place, especially in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a big group the puts together the Oregon Ghost Convention that takes place once a year. It’s much easier to find someone to help you nowadays. And then where I’m at, I’m in a really small isolated town. With only about 8000 people in total, it’s really a word-of-mouth thing. I don’t necessarily advertise, but people who have met me just remember that kind of stuff. They may have a friend tell them about something is going on, and they’ll say, oh, let me put you in touch with David. He can help.

And so that’s how I get contacted mostly, but I also live in a town that fully embraces its paranormal experiences and everybody’s really open about it. So it’s not environment where I feel like I have to be hush-hush about it or someone might think something’s wrong with me.

LB: Oh, no, I think it’s fascinating. I also think — your work has been compared to Philip K. Dick.

DH: Yes.

LB: I can see that in terms of one man against mind-bending obstacles, shall we say.

DH: [Laughter]

LB: And I can see that coming in through your experience with the paranormal as well. Where do you see the similarities with Dick?

DH: That’s a really tough one because that is such a flattering compliment. Remember the best compliment I think that I’ve received was somebody said that my writing was like a Sam Spade novel as written by Philip K. Dick.

LB: Oh, that’s perfect.

DH: Just hearing that, it’s like, what can I really say? I’m a pretty humble guy. I am so honored that somebody would feel that way about my writing, I could never compare myself. I’m so flattered somebody else would make that comparison. And I’m very happy for that comparison.

And the same thing, you know, we talked earlier about how I draw influence from so many other types of story. I had a reader contact me on Twitter just recently that said that they had picked up Icarus and that it was perfect timing because they had just completed the Netflix series Stranger Things and thought that my work was so in line with the enjoyment that they got out of that show. That’s another just huge compliment. I love Stranger Things, and I would love for people to feel like my work fits right in that wheelhouse. That if they love a show like Stranger Things, they can pick up my book and feel like it’s right at home for them.

LB: Yes, I agree, and I also think, though, that there’s a thing about your novels and especially Icarus, because Icarus starts with innocence.

DH: Mm-hmm.

LB: It’s a small town, there’s pie, it’s the ’40s — it’s one of the things where it’s a time that’s been idealized. And it’s about losing that. Losing that innocence. Do you not agree with that?

DH: I’m actually, I’m so flattered that that’s what you took away from that, because that’s really what I was going for. I wanted to paint this sort of idyllic picture of the small New England town in the 1940s. When I think about the criticisms that I’ve heard about it, it’s still good. I like hearing those criticisms because it’s really what I was going for. He isn’t your typical — I’m sorry I’m referring to Miller Brinkman, the protagonist. He’s not your every day private detective. He’s not going to be the same character that you’ve read countless times in other detective novels. He’s not that kind of hard-boiled guy who’s driven by dames and alcohol. He is very — I don’t want to say bumbling because I like to think that he has his own charm that makes him unique.

But he doesn’t have that real-world experience because the only life he’s ever known is a small New England town. So when this big case falls into his lap and the police aren’t taking it seriously, he sees it as an opportunity to step up and really embrace this career path that he’s chosen. But what he thinks is a missing person’s case winds up leading him to something entirely different, and that’s, as you said, where this safe four walls that he’s always known starts to crumble and his whole world completely changes.

LB: The one thing he does have as a driving force, though, is a belief in the truth. In finding the truth.

DH: Yes.

LB: In that sense, he is very much in line with the noir hero. You’ve also co-authored a book with Tony Healey, in his Broken Stars trilogy. How did that come about?

DH: Yes, so, this was a fun little thing. Tony’s had this huge series that he has been working on for years and has this huge dedicated following now, and then he started doing side stories. So he created a separate part of that universe called the Broken Stars, and his goal was to create a young adult version because his main series was definitely more adult oriented. So he had this Star Wars sort of feel in mind, he wanted to make it something that could be inviting for younger audience but still deliver the science fiction, space opera feel that he’s known for.

So what happened is, he got the first book published and then he wound up getting himself a publishing deal for series called, it’s the Lane and Harper series. The first book was called Hope’s Peak. He got himself a nice deal there to do that, so he had to switch gears. But at the same time he was coming up on a deadline to get the next book out in the Broken Stars series. So he tagged me in and asked me if I could pitch in and help him out and write the second book in the series.

As a fan of his, I was so excited for the opportunity to work with him because he creates amazing sandboxes. I was chomping at the bit to play with his toys, so to speak. And it was a really good collaborative experience because he knows his series better than anyone, so I could come up with an outline of where I saw the story going in the sequel and he would just send it back to me with checks and Xs. He’d say like, all these things work, here are the things that don’t. Think about these things. And it really wasn’t that difficult of a thing to do. There were only, I think, two points in the book that we had different visions for, and once he explained why my original idea wouldn’t work in that universe, it made total sense. I was able to make adjustments, kick it back to him — I mean, we only did, I think, two rounds of revisions before he was like, Go!

It’s a relatively short book overall. It’s young adult so it’s in that 65 to 70,000 word range. We worked together on it over the course of about 3 to 5 months, I think it was. And that was such an incredible experience to work with a writer as talented as Tony is, and then also just an opportunity to step outside what I do and really try to apply my style to his universe. I was really happy with the way it turned out, it’s reviewed really well and Tony is constantly knocking on my door reminding me that Book 3 probably needs to happen. So we’ll see.

LB: That’s great. Now, you also interview him. You are a podcaster as well, and one of your two podcasts interviews authors.

DH: Yes.

LB: So, my podcast listeners might be interested in this. Tell me where they can find it.

DH: Right now it is, the Hulegaard Books Podcast, super original name, is currently on my website, DavidHulegaard.com. It’s not a weekly series, it’s definitely more of a when time allows sort of a deal but there’s a good chunk of episodes on the website that you can listen to. And, yes, Tony definitely comes up pretty regularly. He’s such a fun guy to talk to, really interesting take on writing and I’ve learned a lot from him.

That was kind of my goal with that series to begin with, I wanted to have conversations with writers not just about what they’re working on but how they could maybe help other writers with different tips and things of that nature that might help you tighten up your own craft so to speak. So there was that.

And then I needed something a little different from that, something that explored another side of my personality. So my wife and I recently launched a new podcast called Nerdz of a Feather which is really just us bantering about the dorkiest things going on in pop culture or that have happened in pop culture. We’ll have conversations about everything from Stranger Things and Justice League to ’90s R&B hits. We’re just kind of all over the board. But that is available on iTunes and Google Play.

LB: Fantastic. So what is next for you?

DH: Well, I’m currently working on my next novel, which is in the relatively early stages. I’m hoping to have a completed draft early 2018. I’m going full sci-fi with this one; whereas the Noble Trilogy was definitely more of a genre bending adventure, this one is straight up science fiction. Very space opera. I was thinking along the lines of Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Mass Effect, that kind of stuff. I would say those were the main influences behind this idea. So that’s what I’m working on, and hoping it’s going to turn out. I’m really excited with how it’s going. It’s something where, as a writer, when you start feeling excited like you just can’t wait to get back to your keyboard, that’s when you know that is coming along. That’s a great feeling to have.

LB: I’m excited to see it my own self, so write faster!

DH: [Laughter]

LB: So if people want to follow you online, where can they go?

DH: The best place to reach me is definitely my website, which is www.DavidHulegaard.com. But then I also have a social media presence, so if you want to come friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you can even follow me on Instagram if you like pictures of dogs and pizza. So those are the best places to find me. I’ve got a newsletter you can sign up for as well if you’re anxious to see what else is coming out in the near future from me.

LB: David, thank you so much for joining me today.

DH: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.




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