Exploring the art of prose


Author: Amber Blaeser-Wardzala

Author’s Note

I’ve always been fascinated with people who unabashedly profess a love for cowboys and old westerns. It’s one of those things that I can’t imagine telling people without adding an addendum. But considering people also still profess a love of Pocahontas and Peter Pan and cheer for the Chiefs and the Braves, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that cowboy movies aren’t a red flag to most people.

Still, it’s something that’s always bothered me, because often those same people who love westerns are the ones handing out microaggressions like they have a lifetime supply of them gathering dust in their basement. I decided to do something with the trope of cowboys and Indians, to write a story of how the normalized caricatures of Natives cause real harm and lead to the fetishization of culture and, ultimately, violence toward Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women.

According to the NCAI Policy Research Center, Indigenous women are ten times more likely to experience violence than the national average. Four in five Native women have experienced violence in their lives, and more than half have experienced explicitly sexual violence. We’re two-and-a-half times more likely to be raped or sexually violated than any other group of women in the United States. Ninety-six percent of the perpetrators of these sexually violent crimes are non-Natives. It all comes back to the portrayal of Native people in the media. If we’re depicted as animalistic, savage, oversexualized “creatures,” then people believe they can treat us that way.

I wrote the initial drafts of this story in first person. Eight months later, I realized the story needed to be in third person. “Costumes” became my first experience with completely changing the point of view of a story. During my first attempt at this major edit, I worked in the same document and just changed all the I’s to she’s. I quickly learned that changing point of view is more than just pronouns. Key parts of the story relied on that first-person interiority that weren’t conveyed with third person. I scrapped that entire draft and waited a week before trying again. I ended up rereading the first-person version in the morning and then, that afternoon I rewrote the story from memory, following the narrative arc of the piece and allowing myself to find new details and images that better served my third-person narrator.

I had decided to change point of view after I received feedback that there was a distance from the narrator and a lack of emotional expression that wasn’t typical of first-person narratives. My professor wanted me to flesh those parts out, but I wanted to lean into that distance, that dissociation. I wanted to mimic that sense of numbness BIPOC people can develop to micro- and macroaggressions, the way those aggressions pile on top of each other. In rewriting the story in third person, I wanted my readers to feel that dissociation. I wanted them to sit with the understanding that the fetishization of BIPOC women is an everyday occurrence and we as a society need to stop normalizing the racism that causes this violence.


AMBER BLAESER-WARDZALA is an Anishinaabe writer, beader, fencer, and Jingle Dress Dancer from White Earth Nation in Minnesota. A current MFA Candidate in Fiction at Arizona State University, her writing is forthcoming from Passages NorthTahoma Literary Review, and a Penguin Random House anthology. Her work has appeared in Ruminate MagazineJet Fuel Review, and others. Blaeser-Wardzala is a 2022 Tin House fellow and a 2021 fellow for the inaugural Women’s National Book Association’s Authentic Voices Program. Her novel-in-progress was shortlisted for the 2022 Granum Foundation Prize. She is the current nonfiction editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Find her on Twitter @amber2dawn.