In Jones’s The Only Good Indians (Saga, May.), four friends from the Blackfeet Nation, who have moved away from the reservation, fight an elk-shaped entity that wants revenge for something they did during a hunt before they left.
What inspired this story?
I’ve been hunting since I was a kid and the idea of ethical hunting is always a thing. Your conception of what constitutes an ethical hunt can be compromised at the last day or two of the hunt.
The characters are hunted by an elk-headed demon. Why this particular animal?
When we go out hunting, we usually go out for elk. Elk, to me and to most of my family as well, just tastes the best, so the elk is always the goal. I guess moose would probably be good too, but on the reservation it’s hard to get a moose tag. It’s a lottery and only a few people get that every year. But there’s plenty of elk, and if you get an elk then you’re eating good for a good long while.
The novel has a wonderful mix of darkness and humor. How did you balance those elements?
I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with one of the slasher genre’s many roots, which I would consider to be Scooby-Doo. The spooky parts are always counterbalanced by Shaggy and Scooby doing ridiculous stuff. Horror, in a larger sense, needs to have those little punctuation points of humor. What they are is release valves. Horror is always scarier, scarier, scarier—but if you don’t allow the reader a release valve to reset, then the horror gets screechy and just kind of plateaus. So the audience needs to climb and climb, then reset with a laugh, then climb and climb, then reset with a laugh.
What insights do you hope readers come away with?
That we all think we can outrun our past and that the things we did in our 20s aren’t going to hit us in our 30s or 40s, but they do. Once you’ve compromised yourself in whatever way, it’s hard to outrun that. In the world of the slasher genre, all bad deeds are punished. [The characters] aren’t really bad guys; I kind of like them. Nevertheless, they made a mistake years ago and that tab is coming due.
What advice would you give to budding Native American writers?
I would say don’t write for the critics; it’s too easy. Don’t write for the classroom necessarily. It’s great if your stuff finds the classroom, but if you let the critics and the professors be the gatekeepers, then they’re only going to validate and ratify stuff that fits a mold they already have. If you want to be doing new stuff, you’ve got to ignore all of that. You’ve got to jump that gate and go directly to the market.