My Secret Life: Comedy writer continues to experiment with styles and subjects
David Mills, admissions assessor in the Assessment and Document Processing department, has been working at York University since the 1980s, but he has wanted to be a writer since as early as age 10, when he wrote his first book: an amusing chronicle of the experiences of an ant.
Since he began working at York full-time at the beginning of 1986, having previously served as a casual temporary worker, he has worked in undergraduate and graduate admissions, the Faculty of Education, international exchange, language testing, entrance scholarship eligibility and transfer credits. He is one of a handful of assessors in a group focused on the School of Nursing admissions.
His work sees him dealing primarily with international students and navigating educational systems around the world that are constantly changing and updating. “What I like about my job is that it's constantly evolving,” Mills said. “It’s not a job you can get bored in because you're constantly seeing something you've never seen before.”
When he isn’t helping to bring the next generation of students to York University, Mills continues to pursue his passion for writing. Primarily a comedy writer, he regularly posts new poems, short stories, articles and other works on his website davidjmillswriter.com.
In addition to a novel published in 2019, Mills’ literary resume includes an unpublished science fiction novel, dozens of short stories, non-fiction articles, and proposals for a children’s patterning book and a dictionary of phrases and idioms.
Mills studied English at Western University. “I had a feeling that if you want to be a writer, you study writers,” he explained.
He began by writing short stories, later becoming enamoured with poetry after joining a group of aspiring poets on campus. He found it rewarding to write parodies of the writers he was exploring in his academic work. He says he always had the idea of publishing a major novel in the back of his mind.
Mills’ first novel, Of Hearts and Livers (Asquith Press, 2019) was originally conceived in his late 20s as a serious text, which he later returned to and re-wrote.
“I think it works much better as a comedy,” he said.
Mills categorizes his poems and stories as part of the “light side” or “dark side,” in order to draw a strong contrast between his typical work and the other genres he explores as a challenge.
Many of his “light” pieces of work include historic parodies, such as a poem that asks what it would be like to have Jesus as a sibling, or an upcoming story featuring descriptions of a golf shot from many of history’s great authors.
Mills, a golfer himself, thought the “blunt and bare” way Ernest Hemingway would describe a shot would be an amusing contrast to how a writer like Virgina Woolf might.
He recently wrote a poem in which every word begins with the letter A.
On the “dark side,” Mills asks God the “big questions,” looks at homelessness in Toronto and explores how a man deals with the passing of his wife of many years.
He is close to finishing his first science fiction novel, which will feature two characters living and being observed in an enclosure on another planet.
Mills says that while inspiration can come from anywhere, much of his writing draws on experiences from his past, such as a semi-autobiographical story of a first date, exaggerated to ridiculous extents to make them funny. While some of his characters originate from real people, none are direct representations. Although the main characters in Of Hearts and Livers are students, Mills does not specify their university, nor their city.
Mills has held readings for the novel and his poems in a small group setting at York and before 200 people at the Art Bar (The Victory Café) in downtown Toronto.
He says the writer who has most influenced his work is P.G. Wodehouse, who has been called one of the greatest humourists of the 20th century – a characterization Mills enthusiastically agrees with.
Of serious writers, he appreciates John Steinbeck, listing The Grapes of Wrath as a favourite book.
Mills’ website contains a handful of his short stories, poems and other writing, although he says he preserves his best writing – like his thoroughly researched dystopian look at miracle pharmaceuticals – hoping to eventually publish those works more widely.
He has spent his time in quarantine working on revisions for an upcoming novel, promoting his existing work and writing haikus about the pandemic experience.