Daniel Mills: Year in Review

2014 was a good year for me. The best, actually.

In March, my collection The Lord Came at Twilight was published by Dark Renaissance Books, while subsequent months saw my short stories appear in various venues, including Pseudopod, The Children of Old Leech, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 25. I finished writing my second novel this past summer and later published a couple of brief nonfiction pieces at The Lovecraft eZine and SF Signal.

All of which to say that it was a fairly eventful year, professionally. However, the accomplishments I’ve described above were all eclipsed in the autumn by the birth of my first child — an event that transfigured my life utterly, leading me to redefine myself as a husband and father. The transition to fatherhood was a beautiful one, if also challenging, and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by family and friends throughout, all of whom proved incredibly patient and kind. The horror community was likewise supportive, to the extent that I often found myself staring at my computer screen, dazed and dizzied with gratitude. To all of you: thank you.

But looking beyond my own experience…

We all know that the past few years have been awfully divisive for the wider geek and genre fiction community, but in 2014, this turmoil spread to my own corner of the weird/horror genre, where much of the controversy centered on the backlash to a Change.org petition to remove HP Lovecraft’s image from the World Fantasy Award statuette. The petition in question cited Lovecraft’s well-documented racism but also included a blanket dismissal of Lovecraft’s work. The resulting “discussion,” if it could really be called that, was often mean-spirited, and matters were only aggravated following stories on Slate, NPR, and The Guardian.

I realize, of course, that Internet flame wars have become a commonplace, but watching this unpleasantness unfold, I found myself wondering what it meant to be part of an online community – and wondering, too, if that phrase “online community” was not itself a contradiction in terms.

Several months later, the controversy over Lovecraft’s legacy still shows no signs of going away, but we can be thankful, at least, that the debate did not distract from the World Fantasy Awards themselves, since the 2014 award for best novel went to the single finest book I read this year: Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria.

Samatar writes in the tradition of Lord Dunsany, evoking lushly detailed landscapes and cultures via a frankly stunning command of poetic language and imagery. Olondria is perhaps most effective as a ghost story — a genuinely haunting one — but it is also a sophisticated examination of storytelling, place, and the self. And that ending? It aches. 

The novel is that rarest of specimens, the kind of book you want to urge everyone you know to read if only so they, too, might be reminded of why they love reading — and why, perhaps, they may have felt drawn to the genre fiction community in the first place.

It’s only appropriate, then, that Olondria was one of many recent releases covered in 2014 by the Geek Mountain State (GMS) book club. In a year where many of us in the genre fiction world felt our sense of community slipping away, GMS showed me again and again what a real community could look like — from book clubs or public readings to downing Heady Toppers on the porch at Readercon.

All of this has helped to reshape the way I think of my place within the state’s literary culture. I’m a Vermont writer and fiercely proud of the fact (aren’t we all?), and while the state may be famous for its writers and poets, the truth is I have never felt myself a part of the local scene — not until recently, anyway.

In the past two years, groups like GMS, The Dooryard, and the late, lamented Renegade Writers’ Collective have worked to foster a sense of community both online and, well, “IRL,” helping to cultivate an atmosphere of mutual encouragement inclusive of writers across all genres. In the process they have shown me that real community is possible, even online.

Please don’t mistake my meaning: I’m proud to be part of the horror community. It remains as exhilarating as ever to be connected with my peers all over the world, many of whom are doing remarkable work. I don’t think I could give it up. But 2014 also demonstrated that online communities can be unstable, prone to rapid change — and not always for the better. There have been many changes this past year —in my life as well as the wider community — but it has been a constant source of comfort to me to know that I will always have a place here in These Geek Mountains.

Here’s to 2015!