The Making of ‘The Only Good Indians,’ and How It Plans to Resurrect Horror

Stephen Graham Jones is a talented writer, equally capable of writing about literary and historical fiction as well as dark fantasy and horror. His stories are often based on slashers, monsters or ghosts. As an educator, he teaches courses which explore these figures from all angles-something that has resulted in his recent debut novel The Only Good Indians (2020). It took home the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in Horror Literature as well as the Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature.Joining a quickly expanding body of literature that makes readers recoil in fear at the prospect of what might be lurking in the shadows, watching from just outside a forest, lying in wait beneath floorboards or lurking past any turn on the road. The anticipation and dread Jones’s stories provoke really amps up when he introduces these themes with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Columbus Day rooted deeply to their colonial movements so that 1492 is not seen as an occasion for celebration but rather “a storm so bad it eats the world.” Whatever form monsters take in his work though, James Rodríguez Jones really excels when creating storied presences deep into our psyches.

Jones’s previous fiction is set in the American West, but The Only Good Indians- It defies borders and temporal dimensions, or, more correctly, creates its own, just like his most daring experiments in weird fiction.  Like other offerings including Demon Theory, All the Beautiful Sinners, Mongrels and Mapping the Interior this story has its setting primarily around Blackfeet Nation Montana. Even though he transports readers to the sites of horrific massacres, Ledfeather also tells stories that involve years of tragedy and grief. 

Output: He speaks not only about Palo Duro in 1874 and at Marias River on a January morning in 1870 (found in his books Growing Up Dead In Texas and Ledfeather And The Only Good Indians respectively), but many other severe attacks against indigenous peoples which continue today even when they are unknown to most Americans. Maybe that’s why Jones keeps bringing readers back to these places and homelands, where bones and bullets still lay scattered over the land. Spirits of animals and humans alike dwell in them, too. Memories haunt us there too- they are not forgotten or erased even if they are hidden by shame or guilt. All the while – this is what distinguishes Jones’ writing – he eschews facile answers, clichéd figures who serve as fixed sites for victimry or tragedy which offer no closure at all to real life problems.  In this complex merging of space with place with history that Jones activates in his fiction, it is clear enough that he wants readers to know something about these places so we can make them a part of our lives  

The Only Good Indians is a slow-burning narrative that delivers on the ambitious and lofty ambitions established by Jones. The novel’s setting, characters, sensations evoke an uncanny familiarity to readers. It opens in Williston, North Dakota with Ricky Boss Ribs (Richard), who has been working as a native oil man for three years before his body breaks down from exhaustion and exposure to the cold weather of winter. On the surface, Jones’s writing establishes a sense of isolation and menace from the very start. The feeling grows as we read on to find out that Ricky dies violently in front of a bar. What initially appears to be just an isolated incident turns out not to be at all-the story is actually set 500 miles away from where it starts and years before what transpires there.The revelations brought by this story evoke the postmodern sense that there is always more to be discovered, known and remembered in the puzzles of his telling. Much like abandoned attics and haunted houses, secret dungeons in forlorn castles or maybe even that hedge maze outside The Overlook Hotel – Williston and later Great Falls and Browning- Montana hold their own dark spaces.  Situated on high plains at confluence of Missouri River & Yellowstone rivers; boomtowns dot Bakken oil fields.Another town in the Indian council

try, located in an area of intensive environmental destruction, has also become notorious for its horrific conditions. Indigenous girls and women are not safe there when it comes to sexual abuse and violence. Missing indigenous people is not a focus of this novel but their memory exists within the shadows that materialize; they are carried by winds into society’s guilt about what it had done to these victims.  In addition to all those crimes, Jones addresses other injustices as well- ones made national because they were never dealt with properly before by mainstream America- such as blindness or amnesia at fault during our nation’s history which still applies today under specific circumstances like alternate facts or fake news .

The first concern that Jones brings to the surface is cultural destruction. The theft of native lands, for example, and the concomitant disruption of food ways and cultural practices, are also issues brought up in this book. Juxtaposed against these terrifying forces which form the basis of deprivation, oppression and violence is one young female’s hopeful vision; ‘that handful of years when Indians had reservations before they got all America back’ .  These historical/futurist contexts are brought into focus through four major Blackfeet characters – Ricky Lewis Cassidy Gabe- who partake in an ill-fated hunt.The decisions that the characters make during this hunting trip will unleash a chain of events and consequences which threaten to consume them and all those around them. As Jones wastes little time in unpacking the tangled associations he employs between violence and place in the novel’s structure, we learn about Williston as Ricky’s penitence.  His fate ends up ironically described by a headline all-too-common to our region.

The narrator in this opening scene, third person omniscient Jones, adds an element of ambiguity to the event in the unsettling headline. The violent death of a Blackfeet oilfield worker is touched on briefly before moving away from his death and towards more pressing matters- Western towns have been experiencing outbursts of violence against native people for over two centuries now.  These are typically places which were built on top of ashes- or they can be said to be built “on” many ashes that are still fresh with violence. This particular piece will explore these realities through pictures that are good at showing how real it has become when looking at what all is happening every day in some parts. When it comes to Jones’s work, you can’t always believe what you see. The scene of Ricky’s death for example serves to extend the range of Jones’ experiment with the slasher story by providing an initial glimpse at a figure that personifies the central mystery in this tale – lusus naturae.  Following Ricky’s putative murder by a group of white men who had their “hands balled into fists, eyes flashing white,” this seems like any other story we might have heard before.  But before they could reach him, we catch just enough time to get our first glimpse at something lurking in unmeasurable distance during that cold night where Ricky became another victim of what only appears as an all-too-common crime. 

Output: In his works however things are not always as they seem and when it came down to trying out different types on horror stories one such idea was experimenting on slasher type stories which would eventually lead up having some kind too evil creature be a part of them which is called LUSUS NATURAE and ending up being more about how people react or respond after seeing something disturbing happen rather than anything else since he wanted us readers/viewers alike know these events. 

Jones activates this merging of violence and retribution, space and place, past and presence through an opening scene charged with ambiguity in a blending of horror history that is intensified by the desolation of transgression- familiar elements of new West literature.  The Gothic West or weird fiction both share these qualities as well.This evocative scene is initially framed as another murdered

er of a native person in a bloodslaked region with an established association to senseless brutality. However, just beyond our perception at the edge of shadows on frozen prairie lies something dark and huge – it’s only described as “[a] huge dark form. The mingling narrative elements include native storytelling, regionalism, and mystery into weird horror that elicit comparisons with Jordan Peele. We reject almost immediately that Ricky’s murder fits the headline it receives instead what turns out to be far more dreadful: an inexorable retribution. Yet the consequences Ricky suffers are not entirely unexpected; they extend from transgressions leading him back into exile in attempt escape memories which led him there for good reason-to forget. 

What makes Jones’s haunted West so realistic is the fact that it’s multilayered and complex. B-horror and pulp Westerns don’t have this level of realism to them, making his work different than those kinds of novels.The small Western towns — or “how shit the reservation was,” as one character describes Browning — are typified by mundane boredom and oblivion: elders in a section of the reservation known as “Death Row” spend their time watching a televised 24-hour video feed from a security camera in the parking lot of an IGA.

People (including myself) enjoy having items in their homes that are facetiously referred to as “Indian junk,” or not; reading science-fiction, horror, and fantasy novels along with comic books; breaking dance in parking lots when there is music coming from a Sony Walkman’s foam covered headphones; bundling up inside Star Wars sleeping bags on a cold day while cooking meals of canned chili mixed with macaroni and cheese topped off by hot dogs grilled together.  And last but not least they might take part in ceremonies inside a sweat lodge made of steel rebar being played from an old blanket through the PA system of tribal police car. 

The contemporary native people in the story get around by using trucks or an odd Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This is something that can’t be found when looking at paintings like Charles Marion Russell, Alfred Jacob Miller and Frederic Remington because they all show saddleless horses.  The author of this article overwrites a space so often used in Westerns through resourcefulness with indigenous horror; meanwhile, he changed it to one where heroes are not always white men on horseback but rather displaced women driven mad by violence who shoot their abusers dead right off their bikes before heading back down the highway for more revenge against other terrors threatening their way of life. 

Ricky’s violent death in Williston becomes the opening strike in a cascading chain of calamitous events that starts with an elk hunt. The novel begins by telling readers about Ricky, who was killed during this event. We are not given any details until more than 50 pages into the book which is when we learn he died from being shot 10 years ago on “the last Saturday before Thanksgiving.” Jones further connects this incident to colonialism-he frames it as Ricky trying to bring meat back for his tribe but later reveals through other characters’ reflections that they hunted on land set aside for elders and did not follow Blackfeet traditions or modern tribal norms and laws.The implicit and explicit abuses perpetrated by the four friends explain why the elk hunt had gone “pretty much straight to hell”, as Ricky put it. The shame these men feel for their involvement becomes clear as we see them react so awkwardly when they speak of it as ‘the Thanksgiving Classic’. It is hard not to notice how this phrase has been used repetitively, alluding to its ironic association with a holiday that whitewashes colonial violence and oppression in early New England.  This sense of disgrace and guilt can be seen through their justification for trespassing onto a section of land reserved only for elders: an excuse invented after the fact- just like any other hunter would come up with if he was caught hunting illegal game on someone’s property.  And that’s what leads me here: retribution meted out.

Jones weaves together an intricate layering of motives and historical effects to build a story highlighting the insidious impacts of colonialism. These repercussions are portrayed as both external forces and internalized hegemonic effect, serving as the source for horror and ghoulish tropes. For many contemporary Blackfeet characters, these ideas also echo those noted by Anishinaabe scholar Lawrence W Gross in his characterization of Euro-American colonization that caused “the end” to our world.  Given its catastrophic nature on personal, social, institutional levels because it is grounded in settler history–Gross’s candid description–that can be described as apocalyptic if you will. br>br>Jones weaves together an intricate layering…

Output: Jones reinforces the context found within these details through her careful use of motives with various implications which builds up a story that highlights how colonization has impacted certain aspects in society at large so much so they have become devastatingly gruesome.  The pervasive force embedded deep into one’s psyche or even external factors like education can serve well enough to illustrate this point (and all negative attributes) without further elaboration necessary; however there are other examples which not only highlight but reaffirm her thesis statement found throughout this text about colonial nations’ impact on The effects of colonization, then, also create natural associations with the genres of horror and science fiction dystopias. One example is that of disruption to society caused by deprivation, alcoholism and substance abuse. Another would be the visible results in crime and violence seen throughout The Only Good Indians novel-within this native-centered context can be read as responses to traumas or resentments endemic to cycles of mourning an loss.  But they can also be read as psychological reactions to cultural knowledge lost or interrupted spiritual practices which can exacerbate feelings guilt at victimization during Manifest Destiny time periods. The worst of this includes a grisly death and an attack on a sweat lodge. There appears to be ghostly figures such as the appearance of elk seen in living rooms and mysterious girls we see walking down roads alone, wearing basketball jerseys. As you read more into these narratives it becomes clear that there is something sinister going on in Ricky’s home town, or at least that is what his killer believes originated there. 

Let’s go to Great Falls, Montana. This is the town Jones takes Lewis and the rest of his elk hunting partners too. It’s close to Blackfeet lands, is situated just east of a site identified on contemporary maps as “First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park,” and it has its share with entanglements of time, space, place-and history!  The locals call this area Ulm Pishkun which means Kettle Of Blood – named after what happened here centuries ago when buffalo were hunted by merely stampeding them over cliffs or creating an enclosure where they would be chased towards sharpened stakes set in front so that they could all fall over together at high speeds. American Indians rely on buffalo jumps for hunting. They have a Blackfeet orientation to the natural world while emphasizing traditional practices through accounts of those selected to drape a calf robe over his shoulders and run out in front of all those buffalo so that they can be drawn towards the jump.  It may seem harsh, but it is actually an efficient way for these large dangerous animals to be killed-providing food as well as hides, horns, bone and other items from which cultural or sacred items are made. Our four friends were incapable of following the customs that are usually observed during an elk hunt. For instance, they indiscriminately fired upon the herd in a way more akin to buffalo hunters depicted in Western histories such as Buffalo Bill or Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams.  These stories tell tales about men who left most of their prey for waste and rot like these mythic frontier figures did.

Lewis has also left the reservation, but not to go on a tragic 19th-century life as an Indian. Instead, he now lives in Great Falls and is married to a non-native woman there. He breaks from clichéd associations which typically seem fixed in this past for Native Americans and instead expresses modern sensibilities and his love of genre fiction – books “about wizards or druids at the mall, or werewolves being detectives” – all things we may never have thought about before.  His role with the infamous elk hunt is revealed following a DIY attempt to repair his light that hangs above his fireplaceStanding on a ladder, Lewis looks down through the spinning blades of a ceiling fan and sees an unsettling figure from “a past he recognizes.” The spectral presence on the floor below has the shape of “a young cow elk”, one that “he knows” is dead […] because, ten years ago, he was the one who made her that way. Although Jones doesn’t narrate this hunt until later in his novel, he reinforces its menacing nature through repeated associations with transgression.

The storied world of the novel is given added emphasis by the unspoken completion of the sentence that makes up its title, The Only Good Indians… This statement evokes genocidal logic through its well-known conclusion in which acts and their consequences are not joined to arbitrary or abstract conceptions of agency.  They are also not defined by inflexibility with categorical imperatives either, since this larger story is one about change and adaptation rather than anything else. The crucial hinge within ‘The Only Good Indians’ turns on disregard for cultural knowledge and practices designed to allow Blackfeet people to help sustain balance in this world. As Lewis hears the echo of his assertion that buffalo jumps “are fair and square” killing, he knows no such consideration was given to elk in their encounter. In walks Jones with a slasher who is both monstrous and terrifying but also deeply sympathetic: Ponokaotokaanaakii or Elk Head Woman. This vengeful spirit returned during troubled times–to close “a circle” while standing at the center of numerous scenes of horror including a game of 21 and a chase that for once led to an ending other than death’s trail.  For Jones, encountering this slasher in her traditional role as an avenging force meant retribution took shape akin to being haunted by animals–like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary story about ghostly black dogs known as gytrash appearing on English legends.

Jack Jones draws on the tradition of Blackfeet and Native American culture for this haunting story. He uses the reflections of an indigenized perspective, as well as land transmotion, to illustrate that colonialism is a major concern in society today. The blending of horror with these existing issues- along with themes about identity formation and social concerns (and even politics)-gives it a sense urgency not found in other texts like King’s.  It is unafraid to tackle complicated tensions between tradition and change that many other Native writers have also called out- compelling us all to reconsider imposed constructs about selfhood or identity commonly tackled by others before him. 

Lewis recognizes the visitation as a haunting that makes him call up Cassidy, another member of the elk hunting party. With Jones’s words, he conveys how this experience binds these friends together in subtle ways like when Lewis ominously ​breathes out “those elk.” This conversation and another with Gabe following form a connective tissue extending from 10 years ago’s event which haunts them all to Ricky’s death nine years prior and an appearance of ghostly elk in his home-the shock of which causes his near-fatal fall from ladder.  The strange encounter reminds Lewis about an old hide buried at back side of freezer hidden away as memento mori connecting these four friends to time break by hunt ten year before. 

As the story unfolds, a host of spine-chilling images are unleashed by the elk hunt that would transform the elder section into what is described as “killing field up on the reservation.” As a result, this harsh retribution visited upon Lewis and Peta, Cass and Gabe–and others connected to them–derives from tangled web of cause and effect. Such are consequences Jones devised in abject scenes raised almost to sheer incomprehensibility. Things become clearer with introduction of Gabe’s daughter Denorah who fights back not just “for her tribe, her people,” but for every Blackfeet from before or after” — an idea at heart narrative.Alongside scenes of supernatural terror, monstrosity, and carnage Jones offers us flashes of stirring empathy, humor and courage. He reminds us that his is a world that functions outside our Western knowldge. And beyond the tragedies we associate with end-of-the-trail colonial nostalgia and its binaries (good versus evil), he conjures up forces in between spaces (chance) where the struggle of good against evil has been replaced by uncertainty – chaos – chance.  This rebuke springs from responsibilities not kept or simply forgotten.Jones warns readers: “we are living lives on borrowed time” because such energies will soon return to reclaim what they deserve–a warning for any reader who believes themselves exempt from these dangers. 

Jones reminds us that “monsters” exist beside him, as well as scenes of supernatural fear; he opens doors into worlds we don’t generally see or think about, but should be aware of their existence—reality that operates outside our Western knowledge space and time constraints.  Beyond tragic conclusions at end-of output colonial nostalgia she laughs at binaries sustaining it self as good over bad luck instead there’s no knowing what lies ahead just chance happening now trying to stop things before they. 

If you’re reading a book and the images feel like they might literally fall out of it if the angle isn’t right, that means the story is exceptionally vivid. All The Good Indians by Sherman Alexie is one such story. You may find yourself catching or making effort to bat away what was thrown in your face in one scene, or flinching at descriptions of gunshots and trains; this feeling can carry on into other scenes without warning after exposure to certain words.  Occasionally when reading a novel-like prayer-there are times where you know for sure something will happen before it actually does because there’s some kind of medicine contained within its words which can mend past mistakes or change future outcomes while also indicating reverse is not an option.The novel intricately

intertwines native storytelling with contemporary supernatural horror. Jones accomplishes this by summoning the dreadful figure of Elk Head Woman who emerges out of the past to “reckon dues and divide the world”. Yet, what returns as a dealer of retribution is one that retains our capacity for sympathy and understanding-despite terrifying readers in her wake. This unique take on slasher narratives succeeds not only in scaring readers but also stirring their hearts with tales that will leave them wondering where history ends and storytelling begins, or even if these narrative forms can ever really be separated from one another at all… maybe they should just stay together after all?

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