Exclusive Interview: The Toy Thief Author D.W. Gillespie
Based on the title, you might think The Toy Thief (hardcover, paperback, Kindle) is horror writer D.W. Gillespie’s literary revenge on a sibling who WON’T STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF!! But as he revealed in the following email interview, while it wasn’t inspired by a sticky-fingered relative, it’s still a rather personal tale.
Let’s start with the basics: What is The Toy Thief about?
The Toy Thief is about Jack, who’s this tough, no-nonsense young woman who’s reflecting on her childhood. She’s just now ready to deal with the events that happened one summer when she was a kid. That’s when she started noticing things missing from her house, specifically toys. She even catches something on tape one night, a hand snatching one of the toys away. Eventually, she and her brother come face to face with a creature they call The Toy Thief, and the two of them have to find a way to deal with this supernatural threat.
At the most basic level, that’s what it’s about…but it’s really about this broken, barely held together family. It’s about Jack growing up and learning what it means to lose something, to change, and to ultimately find a way to live with the past.
What inspired you to write The Toy Thief, and how different is the finished novel from that initial concept?
That’s a great question, and it’s really different for all of the books I’ve written. By now, I’ve written about a dozen books, and they all come from really different places. The Toy Thief actually came from the idea of the central monster of the story. It all came together when I was having a conversation with a friend at work…he’s a 3D animator, so we always talk about character designs, video games, stuff like that.
I had this idea of a monster that was almost like an angler fish; you know, the ones with the lights over their heads. Something about that image just stuck with me. That’s always my favorite part of the process, when an idea sinks its claws in and you just sort of live with it 24/7 until it either fizzles out or turns into something. Eventually, the skeleton of an idea grew up, but The Thief himself remained pretty much the way I imagined him.
That basic starting point really helped me to flesh out the story. So, he has a light on his head…some kind of contraption to help him see in the dark, and he has all these little tools for picking locks and sneaking in and out of places. But why? To steal things, of course.
And why did you decide to have the creature steal a kid’s toys as opposed to their pets or crayons?
This is another part of the story that sort of grew organically from that original creature idea. At the most basic level, there was just something creepy about toys, especially old ones. That’s where it started, but the further I dug into it, I started to ask myself, what do the toys represent? Innocence. Youth. Childhood. All these special, sacred things that are so fleeting. Once I got deeper into that idea, it started to change The Thief himself. The toys weren’t just something he wanted, they were almost like food. He can feelthe energy in them, and he feeds off it.
The Toy Thief is a horror story. But are there other genres, or maybe a combination of them, that are also at work in this story?
It’s definitely a coming of age story as much as it is horror. A lot of it was inspired by my own life. My parents divorced when I was like five or six, and I moved around a lot. I have all of these almost fractured memories of houses that we lived at for one or two years at a time. The house, the neighborhood, pretty much the whole setting of this book is a real place, or at least, it was a real place…not really sure if it’s still there or not. Some of the little vignettes that Jack talks about didn’t actually happen, but the essence of my childhood is very alive in there.
Now, The Toy Thief is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on The Toy Thief but not on your previous books?
This was the first book that I’d ever written in first-person, which was definitely inspired by some of the writers I was reading at the time. Gillian Flynn especially has this amazing voice that comes through in her books. I remember reading Sharp Objects before I started writing The Toy Thief. I had already decided to go first-person, but reading that really inspired me to see how far I could go with a character’s voice. It really was thrilling to write that way…something about getting yourself into their head at such a deep level is just a lot of fun.
What about such non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a particularly big impact on The Toy Thief?
I’m a huge Guillermo Del Toro fan, and I think there is definitely some of his influence in The Thief. It’s got just a bit of that almost clockwork, fairy-tale monster in it that he does so well. I’m also a huge gamer, and I think you could take the basic design of The Thief and drop it right into a Silent Hill game. Really, that entire series, especially the first four games, has been a massive influence on my writing.
As you know, some horror stories that are centered on a specific creature or killer are not self-contained stories, but are instead the first parts of a series. What is The Toy Thief?
It’s definitely a stand-alone. I love the monster, but this book is really about Jack, and I’m extremely satisfied with how her arc ends. It’s the first book I’ve written where the character’s closure comes in literally the final line of the book. I’m very proud of her as a character.
Generally, I tend to look at series as something you need to be all in about. I have a few ideas for series that I haven’t started yet, mostly because I don’t want to just drift around without knowing where I’m headed. I certainly don’t think I need all the details ironed out, but in my experience, you can tell when a long-form story doesn’t have at least an idea for an ending in mind.
Earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that influenced The Toy Thief. But has there been any interest in adapting The Toy Thief into a movie, show, or game?
It would be almost embarrassing if I told anyone how much time I’d spent thinking about what The Toy Thiefmovie would be like. Obviously, I’m biased, but I think it would make a killer movie. There’s no news on that front just yet, but I’d love to see someone’s interpretation of the story. I think it would appeal to a wide audience too…it’s just creepy enough for horror fans while not being an overly gory, hard R rated movie.
If The Toy Thief was being adapted into a movie, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I can’t help but see the Stranger Things cast whenever I think of this as a movie. Millie Bobby Brown is probably a little old for Jack now, but she would be great. David Harbour would be perfect as Jack’s dad, sort of a schlubby, hands-off sort of dad.
And what if it was made into a video game?
I’ve never thought about it as a game, but what an interesting thing to consider. I’m almost picturing something like Gone Home meets Five Nights At Freddy’s. During the day, you’re walking around the house, setting up traps, trying to figure out what The Thief is up to. At night, it comes in your house and you see how well your planning went. I think I’ve just talked myself into something that sounds pretty damn awesome. I could see a small indie team really nailing that, someone who’s budget is small enough that they wouldn’t feel pressured to make it a first-person shooter or something like that.
Finally, if someone enjoysThe Toy Thief, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
At the moment, my only other novel is Still Dark. It’s a fun, trippy story about a family vacation in the mountains that goes haywire. It’s not as heavy as The Toy Thief, but horror fans should love it. I also have a short story collection titled Handmade Monsters for anyone that’s interested in seeing some of my earlier short fiction. And I’d also tell any fans to keep an eye out for my next book, titled One By One, which hits next year.