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About Theresa Nichols Schuster

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Theresa Nichols Schuster is author of "Brittle Silver" and "We Are the Warriors" a 2015 USA Regional Excellence Book Award Finalist. She currently lives in southwest Montana where she appreciates the wonders of nature, family, friends, a bit of pottery.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pain and Prejudice

We Are the Warriors, a novel set on a fictitious Indian reservation, is almost ready to go public. My editors and proof readers have provided insights and suggestions, the cover is almost completed, and Blake's story about life in Powder River is about to unfold, first as an ebook the end of December, and in paperback after the first of the year.

We Are the Warriors’ main character, Blake, is a seventeen year-old—a white kid and avid snowboarder— who is thrust into the middle of a plains Indian reservation. Blake's story is a story of his fears, his search for friendship, and his gradual understanding of those different from himself. It is a journey through his own experiences and changing perspectives.

Living for thirty years on the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation, the images and persona of "warrior" for me have been multifaceted. One of my early introductions to the cultural life of Wolf Point was attending the Wild Horse Stampede, a rodeo well respected by the cowboys and cowgirls across the West.

My first trip to the Stampede, sitting in packed stands as the blue smoke-haze rolled by and beer amply flowed, I encountered an event that surprised and shocked me. It began with an auctioneer leading the bidding, the Calcutta, for the wild horse teams while standing in the back of a pick-up in the dirt arena. As the auctioneer's voice spun by, like a train on a track, the bids went up by hundreds of dollars, some even reaching over a thousand. The Jackson name brought the bids in higher and higher. Later I learned the Jackson "boys," men from the small tribal town of Frazer down the road, were highly respected for their ability as wild horse racers.

The Wild Horse Race that occurred after the next event was the most insane, wildly dangerous event I had ever witnessed. About eight unbroken broncs were pinned in chutes, while three men, on the inside of the arena, stood in front of each horse. Two men grasped a lead rope attached to the bronc, typically very large and strong guys, and the third held a loose saddle, usually a smaller, light-weight man.

At a signal, all eight horses are released into the arena as the gates fly open and twenty-four men attempt to subdue the wild blood and muscle before them. Hooves fly everywhere, men are tossed in the air, horses run into one another. It is not a matter of if someone will get hurt, just how badly. Some teams manage to get a saddle on their horse. The rider, clinging on however he is able, attempts to ride the horse to the other side of the arena.

By now, half the horses have broken away from their supposed masters and run wildly around the arena, their ropes dragging behind them. The few horses that are saddled up with a rider, buck or run randomly. If a rider is lucky or skilled enough to get to the other side, past the white chalk circle, he pops off the cinch on the saddle midstride, flies through the air, hoping to land without damage, then hauls the saddle back to the chutes.

The pandemonium in the middle of this race is hard to describe. The sheer magnitude of possible injury unbelievable. It reminds me of the Running of the Bulls, but ten times more unpredictable. I was shocked by the crowd's enthusiasm and enjoyment of the event—like those waiting for a NASCAR crash or watching those high-risk-taking videos. Many of the teams were tribal, although not all. The most skilled and admired apparently were the tribal teams. Rodeo is a dangerous enough event. Cowboys take on one horse, one bull at a time and usually can see what is coming at them. This was by far more hazardous.

As the years went by, I would at times walk out to the concession stands during the Wild Horse Race to protest what I saw as a macabre, violent fascination. I did not want to be part of seeing others beat up, hurt and possibly killed. At other times I would sit there with the rest of the crowd, relieved when it was over. One year a young tribal man, saddled up, sliding sideways off a horse galloping around the arena at about thirty miles an hour approached, from the opposite direction, a pack of wild horses, running equally fast, their ropes dragging on the ground. The man, hanging sideways, his head at the level of the horse's chest, met the chest of one of the horses charging the opposite direction. Not good.

I'm not sure how long he was in regional medical centers dealing with his head injury. A couple of years later I crowded into a spot in the stands as the Calcutta for the teams began. Huh, what? His name was read as a member of one of the wild horse teams! I don't get it. He's going out there again!

Later, that next summer my husband and I went to the Red Bottom Pow-wow. We wandered towards one of the benches, hoping to blend in. Fat chance. But we did see a few familiar faces.

A young man, dressed for the grand entry, came up to us and welcomed us to the pow-wow. He reminded us of who he was, a fellow student of our older son, now in his thirties. As he spoke I began to recognize the face and build from years ago. I could again picture him as the athletic, point guard he was years ago for the Wolf Point High basketball team. As he walked away, feathers swishing and metal jingling, I felt happily surprised to be so welcomed by the young man.

As the grand entry got underway, the tribal members with military service were asked to lead the entry. The drums and voices surrounding them in respect. The warrior as always, is highly regarded in tribal circles. Next, to my amazement, the caller announced the honoring of the wild horse racers, with their entrance into the arena. These men, who tackled horses in a wild, free-for-all, are highly regarded by the Assiniboine Red Bottom Clan. I couldn't believe it. My mind had to make a cultural U-turn to see the Wild Horse Race from another viewpoint, one foreign to me. Obviously there was something powerful being said here. The ancient, and yet still current role of warrior emerged as vital to tribal life. I still ponder and process this perspective, one that challenges my way of seeing, of admiring participants of a wild, dangerous, even deathly event.

I still cringe when I hear that one of my son's classmates has chosen to be on a wild horse team for the Stampede and will to participate in this unpredictable, uncontrolled and dangerous event. I wonder how his parents or family members feel about it. I pray they stay safe.

My novel, We Are the Warriors is fiction. The amazing thing about fiction is that it can often tell an even more powerful story than true life, because with fiction there are no specific apologies needed and no permissions required to share the whole story. A fictional account speaks for itself and its characters have a life of their own.

Even before I moved to Wolf Point I had often reflected on my family ties to Native Americans. I knew my dad had graduated from St. Labre Indian School. I grew up visiting my grandmother in Lodge Grass on the Crow Reservation. I was also aware there were some family members with darker skin and hair. I wondered if I had American Indian ancestry. For years I searched, asked questions of older family members, checked family lines, but never did find a connection to American Indian ancestry. Even as a young kid I knew that "white folk" would hide that kind of information—and I knew that was wrong.

Will I ever see life exactly as a Native American, First Nations or indigenous person who grew up and lived on an Indian reservation? No, I can't. But I can listen to my stories and the stories of those around me. I can process and see as one of European ancestry, white and female, who grew up on the banks of the Yellowstone River and  lived for most of her adult life on a reservation—a place of unique experiences, a place of complexities and conundrums. My experiences on "the rez," those of the warmth of family care and concern, the shock and tears of sudden death, the gut-wrenching results of teenage decisions, and the comradery of working together for common goals, are all a part of me.

I present Blake's story as one individual's story, from his limited and changing perspective. We all have a story to tell—uniquely ours, unrepeatable, worth telling and ever changing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Almost Over the Edge

Am I being dragged, sucked and propelled toward the edge of a thundering waterfall? This past April, after years of writers' conferences, meetings with agents, query letters, and buying, begging or borrowing writing books from which to study, reflect on, and hone my skills, I decided to self-publish. To go from the excitement of having a literary agent ask for my manuscript, then making major changes, to never hearing from them again, was probably the proverbial "last straw" or possibly "the last entire log"...(Yes, I did use a clique′.)

As far as my writing goes, you know how it is—one day I feel like my writing is magnificent, the next day I feel the same writing is a pile of shit. My son once aptly told me, "Some people will like your book and others won't. You can't appeal to everyone."

With some kindly recommendations, I found a professional editor this spring. Honestly, I didn't expect to work so hard after years of editing my young adult novel...His eye for detail was astounding! I received my second edit this past month. Now onward with the self-publishing journey.

No matter how high the bar feels like it has gone, it still goes higher. Reformatting my novel for Smashwords so it can also be distributed to Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony has been a challenge. Next task is reformatting for Kindle. I think my brain is going to split with analyzing it all.

Of course, I am required to have a cover for my ebook or novel before publishing through most outlets. Thankfully, I have found expert help to design my cover.

Turning my novel into a tangible paperback is another hurdle. I'm slowly working my way that direction. It is all a bit intimidating. I want to do it well, as good as possible. There is so much to keep track of as I work toward self-publishing, a steep learning curve.

This all said, I haven't even begun to touch the awesome task of marketing in our age of technology and social media. Meanwhile, I hope there are still young people who enjoy reading.

The question I ask as I rush headlong is, "Will I become one with the water as it sparkles, glitters and bounces playfully over the precipice, each tiny droplet set free? Or will the encounter be something else? Not nearly so pleasant, but still an adventure?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bright Blooms in Winter

The time has arrived. Pot up your bulbs and enjoy the beauty of indoor flowers during the frigid months of January and February.

All you need is a bit of garage space that goes down to at least 40 degrees for several months, a few old pots, potting soil, and some early season spring bulbs, and you are good to go.

Following is a step-by-step introduction to growing or "forcing" your own bulbs to bloom in the winter. It is a delightfully fun and mystifying project.

1.  Select some early-season "hardy" bulbs such as crocus, tulip, narcissus (daffodil) or hyacinth. Early-season instead of mid-season or late-season bulbs have a better chance of blooming with the forcing method. Hyacinths are beautiful, but for me, the long bloom time seemed to put a lot of perfume and pollen into the house. So now I usually plant crocuses, tulips and daffodils.

2.  Old interesting pots discovered in the shed, at garage sales or at second hand stores can add a spark to your planting. It helps if the pots have drainage holes, but if you find some you like without holes, just add gravel to the bottom or be very careful not to over water. I also use a lot of the old thin plastic pots that bedding plants come in and then when I am ready to bring the bulbs in the house, I slip them into a nicer looking flower pot. You can use small pots, except for the daffodils bulbs which are usually quite large and will need more space and depth.

3.  Select some potting soil. If you can find some heat-treated soil it minimizes the chance of having knats or other insects hatch out from the soil when it is brought into the warm house. Unfortunately most name-brand potting soil is not heat-treated. Some greenhouses carry shredded coconut potting soil which is finer, has fewer large sticks and usually has less insect problems.

4.  If you can find a few old large plastic buckets or bins these are helpful to put the potted bulbs in while they are chilling in the garage. The bins keep rodents away from the bulbs and the few times you water the bulbs they will keep water from running over your garage floor.

5.  Now to get started potting up the bulbs...I usually try to find a warm fall day I can work outside in the driveway and not worry about the mess. Sometimes I settle for a cool day. Don't worry about the directions for depth and spacing of the bulbs. When you force bulbs, you get to break all the rules. Usually forced bulbs are only good for one season, but sometimes I've dumped the old bulbs in garden spaces and they have bloomed in a year or two.

6.  Fill your pots half full of damp potting soil. Arrange your bulbs, tips up. Crocuses will end up one inch below the soil height, and tulips, daffodils and hyacinths tips will barely be under the soil or only slightly sticking up. I usually place the same type of bulbs in one pot due to the varieties of bloom times, but sometimes it is fun to mix them up and see what happens. Fill in damp soil nearly to the top of the pots, leaving a half inch below the rim to hold the water when you need to dampen the soil. If the soil isn't too wet, you may water the bulbs in. Just be careful not to over water, especially if you use pots without drainage holes.

7.  Stack the pots in your large plastic buckets or bins, cover them with newspaper and place in a cool, dark place. I usually put mine in the garage. If you are in very cold northern climates, place them against the interior, back wall of the garage to minimize extreme freezing.

8. Now you wait—creatively, doing other fun things, of course. Forcing bulbs works best with a dark, cold period where the temperature is at least as cold as 35-48 degrees. My bulbs have often been in unheated garages when the outside temperature was often 25 below zero or colder. They did fine. This dark, cold period is usually followed by a shorter cool, light period of optimally 55 degrees. At one time I had an unheated room in our house that was perfect for the cool period. But now I just place the pots in the coolest place in the house, out of direct sunlight for the few weeks of cool temps.

9.  Recommended cold periods are 10-12 weeks for crocuses, and 12-15 weeks for most other bulbs. Cool, light periods are 2-4 weeks to encourage gradual root growth and blooming. So if I plant in October, I can bring the pots into the house in January. I usually bring in several pots every couple of weeks to extend the bloom time for a couple of months. If you stack your pots in the garage you may have to keep an eye on them as temperatures warm so they don't sprout crooked under the weight of the other pots.

10.  Water your pots only lightly in the winter. Most winters I only water the bulbs twice. You only want them damp, not soaking wet. Drier is better.

Then enjoy—flowers in January and February—what fun!

For more information see Forcing, etc. by Katherine Whiteside, Workman Publishing, New York or your favorite gardening website.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

To Leap or Not to Leap - aka - Comma Confusion

That tenuous perch we cling to—Should we go forward?—Shall we act?—Or should we stay put and not take the leap into the unknown?

The questions at times leave no clear answer. Is it time to quit that unsatisfying job? Is it time to go back to school? Is now the time to communicate difficult feelings?

We lean over a precipice not knowing what result our future actions may bring. What chain reaction, ripple effect or consequences will happen from our choices?

We realize that we don't totally understand our situation, other people, or the challenges a new environment may evoke. How can we decide with such imperfect information?

We do have an option to do nothing new or different—that is also a choice—to let things remain the same. In some circumstances that is not always bad. Time itself is a great changer. It has a way of altering either the situation or how we see it.

As I worked my way through the last edit of my novel, I was faced with questions of what to change or leave the same. Would modifications to my phrasing, changes in plot or cuts in content, make the story better or bog it down?

A seemingly simple but continually confusing issue while editing was whether to add or remove commas. Not a huge problem compared to life questions, but vexing for a writer. Commas are, as Jim Whiting, children's book author and editor, says, "Probably the most difficult form of punctuation to use correctly."

The rules of when to use commas are many and often free-flowing. Where one inserts a pause or a comma can change the meaning of a sentence. Such as, "My husband, said the cop, was in big trouble." versus, "My husband said the cop was in big trouble." Big Difference!—Although not nearly as entertaining as some of the autocorrect texts that we send each other! (Who was it last week who texted me that she was "looking forward to getting back out in the yard and making 'thongs' pretty?" I'm sure she meant "things," but I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.)

It is interesting to note that depending on where we "pause" in our lives, where we stay or move forward, can change who we become and many of our circumstances.

It turns out some comma "rules" are not clear and are open to interpretation. Like whether to put a comma before an "and" or not. Too many commas or commas placed in simple, short sentences can interrupt the reading and not give the reader credit for understanding the flow of the story and plot.

A great resource for punctuation, including comma punctuation, can be found on-line at The oft' remembered quote of Oscar Wilde, "I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out." is mentioned in the article. I too go around in circles about the need or not for a comma.

To pause or to leap forward? To give the reader more cues or to assume their intelligence or ability to interpret well?

Is that not our life challenge? To give it a break or to advance? A bit of "comma confusion" is normal. For we never totally know the mind of our reader nor the personalities and inner workings of our friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances.

Sometimes we ride on the flow of the waves, not questioning much, just letting ourselves be one with the movement. Other times a decision is called for, or an action required. How will we punctuate our lives? Where will we linger? Will we be understood or appreciated? Will we decide to leap—accepting our inability to fully know the consequences of our choices?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Seven Years!?

It is with a bit of trepidation I have begun another edit of my young adult novel, We are the Warriors. This time I have the unique advantage of working with a professional editor. My family and friends had assisted often enough, until I think I wore them out. Their assistance over the past seven years of my novel has been very valuable. It was time to get some additional, experienced advice.

So I have my first copy from my editor in hand...Suggestions to cut 9,000 words, reflections on lapses of time or skips in relationship development, corrections as to terminology...all very good.

The challenge is to get creative again about a text I really want to be done with.

Seven years. I keep saying seven, I've worked on this novel, but I'm afraid to go back and count, it may be more...

Three writers conferences, three meetings with literary agents, suggestions to improve, query letters sent out to agents, finally a request for my manuscript from a literary agent at a conference. That was an exciting day! Later, the email back, suggesting changes to improve the novel, and a request to resubmit if I make substantial changes.

Between moving and closing offices for a year, I finally had a new version. I cut characters, dropped scenes, added more dramatic tension, sent it off to the literary agency. No response. No response. Ask for an acknowledgement. No response. Has the publishing industry changed so much that it no longer has basic courtesy when it has an author's manuscript?

So now the question remains, as we work toward a fresh polished copy, whether to continue 'cold' query letters to agents or to self-publish in some fashion. Whatever happens, I intend to have the best novel that I feel I am capable of at that time...and one that is actually finished!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting Started...

This last fall I took on the task of refinishing an old desk. First I stripped the old finish, then sanded again and again, finally I carefully laid the new coats of finish on one at a time. I focused on each small section of the desk; the scroll around the desktop, the drawers, the back, each leg, bit by bit, piece by piece. When I eventually finished the desk, it was beautiful, but it took me four times longer than I had guessed.

As I was working, I'd go out to the garage, saying, "I'll sand one layer and be back in two hours." Three hours later I would come in, only half way done with one layer of sanding. I was continually underestimating the time and effort for each section of the refinishing project.

Whether it is writing or some other creative task or project, sometimes the endeavor seems way too huge and even beginning it is a challenge.

At least two things vex us as we set out on a new activity; one, our desire to do something well and two, a fledgling appreciation of what a daunting task our project may be.

I enjoy the author of Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott's explanation of a method to start an undertaking, in this case a writing project. She uses the term "one-inch picture frame." This is all you need to write about, what you can see through a one-inch picture frame. It may be just one paragraph describing a setting or a short physical description of a character. Don't think about the entire novel, a competed short story or your entire autobiography—only one small, short piece of it. Just focus on that little bit. This simple, small type of attention can energize many different endeavors.

The plus of this technique is that you can see movement, progress. You can wrap your mind around a reasonable goal. The joy of accomplishing a portion of your plan gives you more energy to continue it.

The minus is that you really don't know the magnitude of the entire project until you are done. You get sucked into a gradually expanding vortex, always meeting small goals, moving forward, deeper and deeper into the enterprise, not realizing the entire cost.

I provide one caveat when you embark on a creative venture or writing project, one-inch frame at a time, or as the cross country kids use to chant, "An elephant—one bite at a time!" WARNING:  This undertaking will probably take more hours, cost more money, require more sweat and more determination than you had ever guessed. This direction will take more out of you physically and mentally than you ever imagined. You will not be the same person you were because of this path you chose. Hopefully you will be a richer, deeper, more grounded person.

Who will judge the "worth" of your project or your effort when you have "completed" it? Hopefully your heart and soul will be the judge, maybe not without questions and doubts along the way, but the sole assessment is largely with you. That is the GLORY and the BITTER-SWEETNESS of it all, YOU get to determine the value of your efforts, not anyone else.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring! Green with Envy?

Emily Danforth, the author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, made a humorous mention at a recent writer's workshop of the veiled or not so veiled envy among writing friends about each other's "success" or lack thereof. I couldn't help but laugh about the true chord she had struck.

If we as writers, artists or simply human beings have not experienced envy—I wonder whether we have been attentive to our inner voices and tumultuous feelings regarding the often challenging path of creating and attempting to share our creations. Envy is that emotion that bubbles up when a person wants or desires what another has; seeing another's achievement, recognition or success and wondering, "Why not me?"

The world and work of writers and artists is ready soil to allow envy to spring up. How does one judge the quality or value of a written piece or artistic endeavor? We all like different types of writing, different types of art. How do you determine the worth of something? Does its price reflect value, the quantity sold or actually getting published, or are these just measuring stones based on what a few people like, what the gatekeepers want or what popular opinion is—made popular by whom?

Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, mentions "green-eyed jealousy." Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably, each associated with the color green. In past history, green complexion, such as when one is pale and sickly was associated with fear, ill humor and illness. Envy can at times cause emotional pain, lack of self-worth and lower self-esteem. Some have described two types of envy; malicious and benign. Benign envy has been proposed to be a positive motivational force. An envious person can become unhappy or as Bertrand Russell suggested, envy can be used as a driving force to create a more just social system.

An interesting, related topic is a study about gender norms and modesty which inhibits women from promoting themselves or their accomplishments. A published study noted in a recent issue of the Bozone newspaper (Feb. 1, 2014, Vol. 21, No. 3) by Jessi L. Smith, professor of psychology at Montana State University and Meghan Huntoon, MSU student, looked at cultural norms regarding women promoting their own accomplishments and the discomfort they experience in expressing their abilities.

"Society disapproves of women who are perceived to be bragging about themselves," Smith states. Conversely men who brag about their accomplishments are perceived as confident and capable. The study authors suggest that people in authority positions need to create environments that enable women to promote their talents as a normal action. Since cultural shifts take time, Smith suggests that meanwhile people should emphasize the abilities of their female friends and colleagues to other individuals or groups.

Unfortunately, women who speak about their abilities are seen as arrogant and domineering and men are seen as confident and experienced. Is this a hidden barrier to sharing our artistic potential?

Our choice, even when we experience the twangs of envy, is to follow our art, our craft, our passion - giving it our best, growing and learning to be better at what we choose to do, and also encouraging others on their path, with their successes, striving to help create a more just and favorable climate to recognize the talents of a variety of people. Greater freedom can be created when we have an eye to the inequitable norms and expectations we put on women and develop avenues to support the wellspring of each other's gifts.

We are always left with the old meditative wisdom; feel it, recognize it, name it, let it be, and not react based on our feelings, neither physical nor mental, but still act. In this we become one with wu wei, the non-doing action of the Tao itself, the source of all good.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Patience or Perseverance?

Some time ago I was in a coffee shop, bent over my laptop, busy working on yet another edit of my young adult novel. A person I knew wandered by and upon hearing about my current rewrite, remarked, "You really have perseverance!" I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or if it reflected a certain unwillingness to quit or give up in the face of what could be mediocre ability or skill.

This last month my journal had an interesting page heading, (to whom it would be attributed, I don't know), that read, "Patience is a skill, perseverance an art."

An interesting reflection. What is the difference between a skill and an art? Between patience and perseverance?

I envision a skill as that which can be practiced, studied, learned over time, somewhat perfected, fine tuned. Now, an art? That seems a little more complex.

Art is a mixture of gift, time, attention, inspiration, and also skill. Art can only be somewhat taught or learned; much of it is an expression of the self, different from the performing of a skill, although it can be practiced, it is unfettered, free, a gift of the muse.

So where does that leave perseverance? Is it an art or a skill or maybe both?

Patience seems to allude to an attitude toward things we cannot change, circumstances we face, often without choice. Is this where a “learned skill” is helpful and necessary, as we learn to better undertake certain tasks or situations thrust upon us?

So then, is perseverance a creative choice and a type of drivenness? Is it at times valuable or desirable? It is nice for me to think of my sticking to the process of novel writing as an art. I also hope I have developed more skill in telling an engaging story over the years. The act of setting thoughts and dreams into words, and editing and re-editing has sharpened my skills as a writer.

Is perseverance a gift? Or a curse of sorts? Hard to say. I know people I would call good writers. But many of them don't often write to be published. Are they smarter than me as to the true time and challenges of writing and being read? Are they more realistic? Or do they have other projects they'd rather pursue?

I'm not sure if the answer is obvious. But those of us engaged in writing to be read and/or long term writing projects or other consuming projects cannot but occasionally stop and wonder if our time and effort is well spent. We see many around us who stop, don't start or do other things with their time. How do we answer the riddle, "Is our time well spent? Is the art of perseverance well directed or are we pulled forward by an artistic muse that does not count the cost?"