By Published: March 25, 2024

The Angel of Indian Lake, book three of CU Boulder Professor Stephen Graham Jones’ Indian Lake Trilogy, comes out Tuesday.

Stephen Graham Jones is no stranger to fear. The Ineva Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder has been dishing the stuff out for decades, with prize-winning rippers like The Only Good Indians, Night of the Mannequins and Mapping the Interior.

But while writing his latest novel, The Angel of Indian Lake, which will be published Tuesday, he became acquainted with a fear even he hadn’t imagined: the “abject terror” of finishing the third book in a trilogy—the Indian Lake Trilogy, to be exact.

The trilogy follows horror-flick superfan Jennifer “Jade” Daniels as she fights to stop the real-life slashers wreaking havoc in her home of Proofrock, Idaho, a small mountain town snuggled up against the cold, ominous waters of Indian Lake.  

Indian Lake trilogy book covers

Stephen Graham Jones, a CU Boulder professor of English, closes out his Indian Lake Trilogy with the release of The Angel of Indian Lake Tuesday.

Jones assumed writing The Angel of Indian Lake would be just like writing any other book: “Have fun and see what happens. Maybe we’ll break everything, maybe we won’t.” But he quickly learned otherwise. It wasn’t like writing any other book. It posed a distinct set of challenges.

One had to do with how he treated his protagonist, whom readers had grown to love in My Heart Is a Chainsaw and Don’t Fear the Reaper, books one and two of the trilogy.

“I suddenly had a responsibility to both handle Jade Daniels with a certain amount of care but also put her through the meatgrinder,” says Jones. “I had to be mean to her, but do it in a way where the audience didn’t feel betrayed.”

Another challenge was tying up loose ends.

“I had to answer all the questions I’d been intentionally not answering in book one and book two, and I had to do it in a way that didn’t feel mechanical. Man, it was tricky.”

A change of plans

Jones admits that he never intended to write a trilogy. My Heart Is a Chainsaw was meant to be a standalone novel. But a meeting with his editor, Joe Monti of Saga Press, changed that.

“What if everybody didn’t die at the end?” Monti asked him after reading an early draft of the book.

Jones laughed. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Not everyone dying at the end? In a slasher? Was he serious? “Come on,” he told Monti. “This is Hamlet. They’re all dead on the floor.”

Jones then opened a file on his computer and cobbled together an ending where not everyone died, just to prove to Monti how ridiculous the idea was. The result knocked him for six.

“I was completely floored,” he says, “because it absolutely worked.”

And thus, a trilogy was born.

But that didn’t mean Jones knew exactly how the next two books would unravel. The ending of Don’t Fear the Reaper surprised him as much as it would his readers. And although he had a vague idea of where The Angel of Indian Lake would go, it was only a vague one, like driving to Chicago without knowing the cardinal directions.

“I just put my tires on the road and thought, ‘Well, I’ll go really fast, and eventually Chicago will appear on the horizon.’”

Reflections and ripples

Jones has said that horror “functions as a funhouse mirror that distorts the anxieties of the time back at us, partially so we can process them. … We're screaming, we're laughing, we're having fun, and our defenses are down, and that’s when we can accidentally think of something that we need to be talking about with the world.”

I had to answer all the questions I’d been intentionally not answering in book one and book two, and I had to do it in a way that didn’t feel mechanical. Man, it was tricky.”

One talking point dredged up in Indian Lake is gentrification, which Jones calls colonization at the neighborhood or city scale.

The depiction of Terra Nova, for example—a shiny new development of ticky-tacky houses carved out of the National Forest of Indian Lake by Proofrock’s uber-rich—calls to mind the exploits of a certain Italian explorer.

“That feels very much like Christopher Columbus seeing this pretty place across the water and saying, ‘Hey, that’s mine,’” Jones says.

Another issue all three novels raise is trauma—something the slasher rarely addresses but that Jones takes seriously. No one, not even Jade Daniels, can live through a slasher and then carry on as if nothing’s happened. The experience, says Jones, will have lasting emotional and psychological effects, and those effects will ripple outward, from the individual to the community to the whole world.

A final girl like no other

For Jones, one positive ripple effect of writing the trilogy has been a deeper, fuller understanding of the final girl, a trope common to the slasher genre.

The final girl, Jones explains, is the survivor girl. “She’s the one who makes it through the night of violence and comes face to face with the slasher and puts him down. She’s the antidote to the cycle of violence, and she can teach us how to push back against our bullies.”

Most final girl arcs, Jones adds, follow a pattern of retreat and renewal. “Through all the terror and violence, the final girl withdraws into a cocoon or chrysalis from which she’s reborn into a warrior princess, scholar, athlete, supermodel—everything good.”

Yet this goodness can present a problem, particularly for the reader, Jones believes: The more perfect the final girl becomes, the more difficult she is to emulate.

That’s why Jones wanted Jade Daniels—“the town reject,” as she calls herself—to be different. “I wanted to make someone who was decidedly imperfect and resistant to her own good attributes,” he says. “Jade thinks she doesn’t have what it takes to be a final girl, because she doesn’t resemble the final girls she sees on screen.”

But what Jade slowly learns over the course of the trilogy is that, although she may not resemble the final girls from her favorite movies on the outside, she’s without a doubt a final girl on the inside.

Sure, she may be abrasive at times, says Jones. She may back you into a corner and give you a six-minute lecture on Jamie Lee Curtis. You may not always like her or find her easy to be around. “But when the chips are down and there’s someone in the room with a blade, that’s when you want Jade Daniels.”

The Angel of Indian Lake will be available in print, e-book and audiobook (a selection of which is narrated by Stephen King) on Tuesday.

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