D.W. Gillespie Hits the Bullseye With One by One
A Review and An Interview With The Author
By Don Gillette
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: FLAME TREE PRESS; US paperback edition (September 26, 2019)
D. W. Gillespie’s newest release, the novel One by One, is a full-throttle descent into spooky, thrilling, and mysterious happenings that come at the reader from all angles, at unsuspecting times, and with twists that are both gratifying and head-spinning.
If you could take Scout, from To Kill A Mockingbird, put her in the perfect family, move that family into a strangely built, older home you just know is haunted (or missed its best chance at being haunted), and watch the family unravel into dysfunction slowly, fueled by a hint of the supernatural and a hint of the psychotic, you’d have part of what makes One by One a great tale.
The Easton family has moved into their new home – an old house they got at a bargain because it was in need of some repair. Alice, the youngest daughter, despite some minor trepidation, is enjoying the move and getting the “lay of the land,” so to speak. As she discovers the house’s secrets, she also discovers a painting hidden under old wallpaper; a child’s attempt to draw a family. The family in the painting matches the Easton family almost exactly in composition. A dark-haired father, a blonde-haired mother, a son with freckles, and a daughter with piercing blue eyes. The only difference is there is a dog in the painting. The Easton’s don’t have a dog. They have a cat.
But when Alice discovers a fresh, black “X” painted over the dog in the painting and the family cat disappears, accusations begin to fly. Soon after, a fresh, black “X” shows up painted over the boy in the painting…
See where this is going?
Yeah. I thought I knew, too.
I didn’t. And neither will you unless you’re psychic.
The characters in One by One are so vivid and the setting so perfect that it’s honestly all I can do to keep from encapsulating and gushing out the rest of the storyline and ruining it for everyone. When I’ve recommended the book to friends, I have to stop myself from saying too much because it’s almost as if I know everyone in the book. Instead of saying, “I found a book I think you should read. It’s about…” I almost want to say, “Let me tell you a story about this family I met the other day.”
And if you’re wondering what the mark of good characterization in a novel is, that’s it.
As I mentioned, One by One will keep you guessing. In fact, the insanely perfect part about the book is that it makes you think you know where it’s going and it never goes there. Never. Instead of taking the easy way out and following the formulaic route you’d expect in a haunted house story, Gillespie throws a proverbial monkey wrench into the tale at every juncture. Nothing in this story is the same, old, tired, hackneyed stuff we’ve all grown accustomed to (and tired of.) I don’t think I’ve ever said, “Wow… I didn’t see that coming,” so many times while reading a book. The best part of the surprises is that they’re not off-the-wall. He didn’t just pull them out of thin air. They fit – they’re just not something you would have thought was coming next.
One by One is horrifyingly original, excellently-paced, and thoroughly satisfying. Read it. You will not be disappointed. Trust me, I’m not like the rest.
Fortunately, I was able to catch up with D.W. Gillespie and ask him a few questions for Kendall Reviews readers. (KR: Please note there are some small spoilers for One By One)
A long-time fan of all things dark and spooky, D.W. Gillespie began writing monstrous stories while still in grade school. At one point, his mother asked the doctor if there was anything she should be concerned about, and he assured her that some kids just like stories about decapitations.
He’s been writing on and off for over a decade, quietly building a body of work that includes horror and dark sci-fi. His novels include Still Dark, The Toy Thief, and a short story collection titled Handmade Monsters.
He lives in Tennessee with his wife and two kids, all three of which give him an endless supply of things to write about.
Don: Where did the inspiration come from for One by One?
My son, who is 9, is a horror fanatic, and he always wants to tell and hear scary stories. I’ve told him cleaned up versions of pretty much everything I’ve ever written, along with any other story I can remember. We’re to the point now where we’re both constantly just making up stories on the spot, which is where the “hook” of One by One came from. Finding what looks like a picture of your family hidden away in a house you’ve never set foot in… It just has that strange, almost dreamlike feel to it. I knew the moment the idea hit me that I was turning that into something, either a short story or a novel.
Sometimes those little seeds take a very long time to sprout, but this one came together very quickly. I’d say within a week or two, I knew most of the major beats to the story. It was, in a lot of ways, the easiest book I’ve ever written.
Don: Did the unusual house and its surroundings in One by One come from an actual location or was it purely imaginary?
Once I had the idea, I immediately put it into an old house I lived in as a teenager. We moved a lot… just in my hometown, there are probably a dozen houses that I lived in before I got out on my own. I hated it at the time, but now it’s very helpful for me to have all these old houses to go back into in my books. Out of all of them, this house was the most interesting.
The people who sold it to my mom swore up and down it was haunted, which of course, only made it more exciting for a teenager. I never saw any ghosts myself, but with a house that strange, you really didn’t need ghosts. I knew that I wanted that house to feel like a character in the book. Almost all those details are real. My room was the one that had windows that went into another room, and just like Alice, I didn’t want to sleep in there without the blinds up! Even the pool was real, though the worst details were all my imagination. When we moved in, the pool hadn’t been touched for years, so it was just full of frogs instead of… well, you know.
Don: Since the character of Mary exists solely through the words in her diary, how tough was it to flesh her out and make her real?
Mary definitely came to life through multiple passes. I knew I wanted her to be sort of a mirror to Alice, almost like she was looking into the early, scary stages of young adulthood through a stranger’s eyes. There were some key aspects to her and Alice that I didn’t really envision until I started writing them. Mary really started to bloom once I saw Alice’s reactions to her. It was tricky for sure, but I hope people feel like the diary is enough to make her real.
Don: One by One is quite unique, being a sort of amalgam of a haunted house/ghost story/psycho-killer thriller. Did you envision this before you started writing or did it evolve as you were working on it?
The funny thing is, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what it was until I got towards the end. It really could have gone either way, and early on, I was expecting it to be a bit of both. Once I got to the ending, I decided to drop the supernatural angle entirely, because I really liked the subversion of what the reader expected the story to be. After that realization hit me, the rest fell into place, and on subsequent edits, I started leaning into that idea of subverting the haunted house story.
Almost every aspect of the book is set up to be a cliche. Creepy house. Dead girl’s diary. Things going bump in the night. I tried to really lead the reader to the obvious conclusion, hoping that I would still be able to pull the rug out from under them at the last second. Hopefully it works!
Don: Both One by One and your previous novel, The Toy Thief, have strong female voices and characters. Was it a conscious choice to write both books with female leads?
Not specifically. I’ve written about 12 books at this point, most of them still unpublished, and I try to switch things up as I go. I’ve probably got an even split of male and female protagonists, but these two have just happened to get published back to back.
That said, I really think these stories both work well with young women in the leads. Alice and Jack [Ed. note: Jack is the main character in The Toy Thief and Jack is a woman] are both thrown into situations where they have to be wise and strong beyond their years, and I see a lot of my wife and daughter in these characters.
Don: Flame Tree Press is really making a name for itself in the horror genre. Was their editorial process relatively quick and painless?
Flame Tree has been great with both of the books we’ve worked on together. One by One in particular was a new challenge for me, as it was the first time I’d pitched a book before actually writing it. I was very nervous, just knowing how books sometimes don’t come together the way you want them to, but I believed in it, and thankfully, so did they. Their editing process is quick and easy, which is a far cry from some of my earlier experiences!
Don: What’s in the works?
There’re always a few plates in the air that I try to keep spinning. I’m in submission on a middle-grade book about monsters that I can’t quite share just yet, but the feedback is really solid from some big publishers.
As far as pure horror goes, I’m working on a new novel called The Mill. Every book I work on has some kind of deeper goal behind it, whether it’s playing in a different style or subgenre. The challenge to myself here is very simple…I’m trying to write the scariest book I’ve ever written. We’ll see how it goes!
One By One
The Easton family has just moved into their new fixer-upper, a beautiful old house that they bought at a steal, and Alice, the youngest of the family, is excited to explore the strange, new place. Her excitement turns to growing dread as she discovers a picture hidden under the old wallpaper, a child s drawing of a family just like hers.
Soon after, members of the family begin to disappear, each victim marked on the child s drawing with a dark black X. It s up to her to unlock the grim mystery of the house before she becomes the next victim.
You can find out more about D.W. Gillespie by visiting his official website www.dwgillespie.com
Visit D.W. Gillespie’s author page here
Find D.W. Gillespie on Facebook here
Please follow D.W. Gillespie on Twitter @dw_gillespie
Don Gillette has been writing since he asked for (and received) one of the original “Tom Thumb” typewriters for his 6th birthday.
He is the author of three novels, a dozen volumes of poetry, hundreds of short stories and newspaper articles, a complete collection of his political humor pages from the now-defunct weekly newspaper, The Wilson County Advocate, a book of short fiction (Old Leather), and most recently a mixed-media collaboration, Fallen Angels.
As a contributing author, his work has also appeared in several anthologies including the HWA Poetry Showcase III.
Don has B.S. and M.A. degrees in English. He spent 25 years in the Tennessee Army National Guard and served on active duty during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He retired in 1996 as a Chief Warrant Officer Four and subsequently spent 20 years as the VP of Military Operations for Reese Group, Inc.
Don is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the Academy of American Poets.
He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Sim Yoon and is at work on a 4th novel, Dark Voices.
You can follow Don on twitter @dongillette
To find out more about Don, please visit his official website www.dongillette.com
You can visit Don’s author page here