Welcome to the twelfth installment of my “Author of the Week”! These articles focus on Weird Fiction and/or Lovecraftian authors that I think more readers should know about. If you have suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This week’s author is Daniel Mills. I asked Daniel five questions:
Please tell us about yourself — as much or as little as you’d like to say.
I am the author of the novel Revenants: A Dream of New England (Chomu Press, 2011) as well as the short fiction collection The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books, 2014). My fiction is often set in the hills and valleys of rural New England for the simple reason that I have never lived (or, indeed, ever wanted to live) anywhere else. I grew up in the Champlain Valley and attended the University of Vermont in Burlington before moving back to the same Vermont town where I was raised and where I currently live with my wife, daughter, and cat. What else? I’m twenty-nine years old, an unrepentant anglophile and lover of ghost stories, weird tales, and all things Victorian.
How and why did you begin writing?
This one’s easy: escapism.
My childhood was quite sheltered, I think. I attended a Catholic elementary school and spent much of my free time wandering the woods behind my house. This time was as idyllic as anyone could hope, infused with a sense of the unreal — I’m reminded of Lovecraft’s “A Confession of Unfaith” where he writes about watching for dryads and satyrs in the woods at dusk.
When I was fourteen I went to a public high school with a primarily suburban (and very affluent) student population. Unsurprisingly I felt out of place at the new school, very much the outsider, and it was around this time that I started writing short stories, if only so I could experience another world. For the most part these teenage stories were set in exotic and/or obsessively detailed fantasy worlds and written in a florid style that owed an awful lot to the early work of another outsider: HP Lovecraft.
As I’ve said I wrote these stories for myself only and did not share them anyone. As I got older, though, I came to see writing as a means of seeking connection with others. If nothing else, it was the one thing at which I was any good (a student athlete I was not), and I remember one incident in which I taped up a printed copy of a story I had written to a wall in my high school in the hopes that someone, anyone, might stop and read it. Obviously, there was an element of attention-seeking here, but I think I must have failed in this respect since I don’t recall anyone being particularly interested in the story I had posted, let alone in its author.
Thinking of it now I can’t help but see a parallel between my adolescent self and the writer I am today. The desire for connection is still there — recognition too, if I’m being honest. After all, how much of a difference is there, really, between a taped-up print-out and a story in a magazine? I’m also coming to terms with the vestiges of escapism in my writing. If I can’t be the Victorian antiquarian with pocketwatch and pince-nez — if I can’t see with my own eyes the great pine forests that once covered much of northern New England — if I can’t actually experience the world of Hawthorne’s fiction, or Lovecraft’s — then surely the next best thing is for me to imagine them, to enter into them so completely that the present-day is left behind.
What is it about Lovecraftian horror and Weird Fiction that appeals to you?
For me, at least, Weird fiction is probably best understood as the literature of despair: philosophical, cosmic, even depressive. As someone who has struggled with these issues at various points in my life, it isn’t difficult for me to understand the appeal.
The work of someone like Lovecraft or Ligotti assumes a fundamentally indifferent (if not outright hostile) universe but instead of grappling with — or, worse, attempting to deny — the substance of this reality, they instead seek to understand it. I think of Machen’s “The White People,” probably the finest Weird story I know, and of the awe mingled with terror that attends the final lines of the Green Book. Or Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” where the unearthly color at the center serves as the perfect metaphor for the ineffable in its all beauty and horror. Or Aickman’s “Niemandswasser” and its ending, all that is left unsaid.
Reading stories like this, I really do believe that we experience a kind of transcendence: through the extremes of horror and awe we are shown a fragment of the sublime, of a beauty beyond words.
Afterward we pant after it, haunted, returning again and again to the work of authors like Machen, Lovecraft, and Aickman for the visions we find there. Because the best weird fiction accepts the dark truth of things then shows it to us in all of its majesty. Beauty from terror, terror from beauty: the awe we experience in such moments becomes its own victory over despair — perhaps the only victory possible.
Which of your books do you recommend that readers begin with?
Though Revenants: A Dream of New England was published first, I might actually recommend starting with The Lord Came at Twilight. Revenants is very stylized, very atmospheric: a tribute to Hawthorne’s fiction and to the desolate beauty of the New England autumn. By contrast Lord contains fourteen stories written over a period of four years. Accordingly it demonstrates a greater range of stylistic and structural approaches while addressing many of the same themes as Revenants: repression, religious guilt, buried secrets. The way these hidden forces shape our view of landscape, and conversely, the way our relationship with landscape can reflect or reveal this secret self.
Would you list your books, and any stories available in anthologies?
My novel Revenants: A Dream of New England was published in 2011 by Chomu Press while much of my short fiction to date is collected in this year’s The Lord Came at Twilight available from Dark Renaissance Books. Other recent stories include:
- “Isaac’s Room.” Available in Black Static 35 and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 25.
- “The Woman in the Wood.” Available in The Children of Old Leech.
- “The Other Boy.” Available in Shadows & Tall Trees 5.
- “De Profundis.” Available in Classical Horror and Strange Aeons 13.
At present none of my work is available free to read online, though the Pseudopod podcast recently produced a reading of my 2011 short story “The Photographer’s Tale.” Check it out here.
Thanks to Daniel for answering my questions!
(Previous “Authors of the Week”: Richard Gavin, Molly Tanzer, William Holloway, Brian Hodge, Elizabeth Bear, Don Webb, Nathan Ballingrud, Stephen Mark Rainey, Scott Jäeger, John Claude Smith, Livia Llewellyn.)