I initially became acquainted with Mills’s work back in 2014, when I picked up a copy of The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books), a collection that, I might note, continues to garner much (and well-deserved) praise. (Bonus: each story in this volume is supplemented by an illustration by M. Wayne Miller.) Not long after, I was privileged to have a story appear along with Mills in the inaugural installment of C.M. Muller’s annual anthology, Nightscript (Chthonic Matter, 2015); and it was with the tale therein, “Below the Falls,” that I grew piqued by the author’s storytelling strength. Among the Lilies (Undertow Publications, 2021) is his latest fiction collection.
Using the term “channeling” when assessing Mills’s work, I intend it devoid of pejorative. Daniel Mills writes without emulation, but his style taps into a medium of Kodachrome antiquity, conjuring an aesthetic of arresting sagacity.
One can find a number of stories that are period pieces, of a sort — stories that, while paying reverence to traditions ossified by Hawthorne, Bronte, and Brockden Brown, operate as an enhancement to the forms of the Gothic and nineteenth-century supernatural horror. Mills acknowledges this in sly blips, communicating to his audience, “We talked of music and literature and I admitted even my love of Poe and Hawthorne and to the escape I had found in romances of the darkest character” (“Lilies”).
Other tales, though, are robust in their modern mode. I’d point to “The Lake” and (a dark little ditty with which I’m particularly enamored) “Dream Children”; I’ve been unable to cast light onto the surface of water at night without a stitch of icy unease since reading it. The collection is capped off by the impressive novella, “The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile,” which originally appeared as a standalone volume published by Dim Shores in 2016.
Regardless of the era Mills places his readers, he conducts his literary tours with a professorial lack of pretension, revealing stories that are sharp and crisp — tales that hum with neon solemnity.
After all this time, I find Mills’s writing creatively nourishing, and I believe unacquainted readers will find his skills, as one of his characters puts it, “not inconsiderable.” Conversely, to his steadfast friends: those who know this, know. I’ve stated it elsewhere, but it bears repeating: Deft and unsettling, Daniel Mills’s Among the Lilies is a haunting enhancement of modern horror fiction — an electrically delicate collection of specters.