Something Abides After Such Horror: a Review of Daniel Mills’s Collection, AMONG THE LILIES

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.

Cover art by Yves Tourigny

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.

Review: The Crafty Contagion of Frank Duffy’s DISTANT FREQUENCIES

It’s creatively unhealthy to covet the literary traits and fictive tricks of a fellow scribe.  Right?  (I’m, like, asking for a friend.)  It’s my estimation that, as opposed to wholesale envy, there’s nothing wrong with my creative aspirations (I mean my friend’s aspirations) to emulate the stylistic proclivities on full display in Duffy’s latest collection, Distant Frequencies (Demain Publishing, 2020).

Among other crafty endeavors, Duffy is involved (in numerous creative capacities) with filmmaking (some of the lingo in the eerie, “Not Yet Players,” offers a tell-tale signal), and his proximity with the medium is reflected in his fiction.  There’s a cinematic precision in his stories that eclipses the typical tale which strives for a “ready-made” transfer to the screen — narratives which are all veneer and of little substantive distinction.  Instead, Duffy (and the effect possesses an effortless resonance) manufactures a brand of fiction wired-up with value and vividity.

I’ve said it elsewhere but it bears repeating:  Duffy’s third collection of short stories, 2015’s Hungry Celluloid (Dark Minds Press), was an aesthetic inspiration.  Four years later, what continues to fascinate me (and my aforementioned friend) is Duffy’s ability to bring such descriptive electricity to such narratively-tight exercises.  There’s an inky dexterity to the nine stories in Distant Frequencies, demonstrating Duffy’s flexibility in a duality that is both literally “serious” and escapist in its capacity for outright horror.

There’s a deceptive breadth to Duffy’s stories that works to insulate readers as they proceed.  To put that strange sentence another way, it is — from the writer’s purview — about a selfless proficiency in your craft (functional fluency, in other words); and, from the reader’s perspective, a concern of intrinsic trust that the experience will consequentially satisfying.

Less akin to outright repetition, there are piercing pinpoints — the perpetual presence of the Priest, the black vestments, the unsettling-sentient hillside church, the rotting sanctuaries — which puncture and secure the stories with gleaming stingers.

Notwithstanding the extremities of your taste, it’s implausible that you’ll suppress a shudder throughout passages in the more eloquently eerie and acutely gruesome stories:  “A Greater Horror”; “Appearances”; “And When The Lights Came On”; and “Permanent Hunger.”

As I’ve said:  Ostensibly effortlessly, Duffy employs descriptions that are familiar in particular prism, while possessing the effect of lingering — in this, it becomes difficult to not see things his way long after you’ve parted ways from his stories:  His shadow games are now your shadows.  “The villagers stood beneath a tree, the upper boughs displaying a dozen corpses on ropes … black tendrils caught on a breeze.  The corpses blew back and forth, reanimated by the suddenly changing season.”  Yeah — that’s yours now too.  Let’s call it a contagion.  Crafty, for sure — deftly adept, without doubt — but a contagion nonetheless.