Announcing the Winners of our 2017 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2017 ONE TEEN STORY Teen Writing Contest! We received hundreds of entries from teen writers across the globe, and narrowing it down was no easy feat. Each of our three winners will receive $500 and publication in a forthcoming issue of One Teen Story. Here are the winners and runners-up in each age category:

Ages 13 – 15

Winner: “Toby” by Lily Boyd

“He wanted to run, and I let him, anything for him. He took off down the street and I followed, the leather of the leash pressing into my palm. The wind whipped at my cheeks, the snow swirling around me as my lungs battered for breath.” (excerpt from “Toby”)

Runner-up: “Pretty Close to Perfect” by Jordan Fong

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Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “Bulletin Board Dragon” by Lilly Hunt

“His full name is Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre—you know, after the dude who overthrew the French monarchy—but I call him Max. He’s the size of a small human, can’t breathe fire, and is horrifically ugly, but I’m okay with that. I share those traits.”  (excerpt from “Bulletin Board Dragon”)

Runner-up: “The Dinner” by Isabel Lickey

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Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “Our New Lives” by Helen Coats

“I pulled out my sketchbook and started drawing Jeremy. He was running toward or away from something, I hadn’t decided which.” (excerpt from “Our New Lives”)

Runner-Up: “The Observations of a Big-Eared Girl” by Rebekah Anne Craggs

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Congratulations to all our participants for writing and submitting such wonderful work. It was a pleasure to read each entry!

Subscribe to One Story or One Teen Story in print or on your mobile device to read the winners’ stories.

 

Issue #229: Goodnight Nobody by Sarah Hall

Dear Reader,

Meet Jem, an eleven-year-old girl who is leaning forward toward adulthood with all her might. She has, as the author describes it in our Q&A, “an elastic, skipping-ahead brain” that doesn’t necessarily want to focus on the little brother she’s often charged with watching, but would much rather be investigating the bloody incident that has taken place down the street—an incident that’s left one person dead and put another person in jail. (Her brain would also like to be watching Thundercats, but that’s not an option at present.)

Sarah Hall, the author of “Goodnight Nobody,” is one of the most careful writers I know. Her word choices, narrative pacing, and sentence rhythm are the result, I suspect, of a great deal of hard, obsessive work. And yet none of that calls attention to itself. The nuts, bolts, and machinery are all hidden away, and her work is a pleasurable breeze to read. One of the great achievements of this particular story is the fact that its voice is so intimately attached to Jem, it feels as if it’s written in the first-person. I find “Goodnight Nobody” to be an addictive read, and I hope you do too.

If, by chance, you haven’t encountered Sarah Hall’s work before (she now has two story collections and five novels under her belt), I’m all the happier to be introducing you to her. Her new story collection is called Madame Zero. She’s a treasure, and we’re honored to have her in the One Story family.

Issue #228: The Third Birdhouse by John Biguenet

One of the many things I admire about our new issue is the way it sweeps through time with the subtly of a light breeze. The narrative voice is subtle, as well — subdued, even, and remarkably commanding. Contributing Editor Will Allison brings us “The Third Birdhouse,” so the honor of introducing if is his. — PR

In one of the Old Testament’s more unsettling tales, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The devout Abraham takes Isaac to a mountaintop, builds an altar, and binds his son to it. Just as Abraham raises his knife, though, an angel intervenes. “Now I know you fear God,” the angel says, “because you have not withheld from me your only son.” Abraham ends up killing a ram instead, and as a reward for his obedience, God blesses Abraham’s family.

Things don’t work out quite so well for Abraham in “The Third Birdhouse,” John Biguenet’s contemporary retelling of Isaac’s life: it’s not okay in twentieth-century Brooklyn to try to murder your son with a hatchet, even if you think God told you to. But things do work out for the narrator, who—like the biblical Isaac—goes on to lead a long and prosperous life, with twin sons of his own.

The question is what kind of dad this modern Isaac will be, given the poor role model of Abraham. Isaac’s big test comes when his younger son, Jacob, swindles his twin brother out of his inheritance, just like in the Bible. How will Isaac respond? Raise the hatchet? Bury the hatchet? Hatch a compromise? His solution surprised me, and it’s one I’m still grappling with, which is partly why I love this story: like all good literature, it challenges the reader, posing questions rather than answering them.

John Biguenet, on the other hand, was more than happy to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his author interview to learn how birdhouses found their way into this retelling of Isaac’s story and to get John’s distinctive take on the reading habits of Donald Trump.

One Story Literary Debutante Ball 2017: The Pictures!

Angela Flournoy & Mentor of the Year Lan Samantha Chang

Thanks to everyone who came out and sponsored our Literary Debutante Ball in Brooklyn on May 12th. We heard inspiring speeches by Angela Flournoy and Mentor of the Year Lan Samantha Chang, ate delicious food, mingled with publishers, editors, readers and writers, toasted with beer from Brooklyn Brewery and cocktails from Tito’s Vodka, and danced the night away with the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn and DJ Reborn. Most important, we celebrated the first books of One Story’s 2017’s Literary Debutantes: Sam Allingham, The Great American Songbook (A Strange Object), Angelica Baker, Our Little Racket (Ecco), Clare Beams, We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout Books), Julie Buntin, Marlena (Henry Holt), Anne Corbitt, Rules for Lying (Southeast Missouri State University Press), Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, The Sleeping World (Touchstone), Lisa Ko, The Leavers (Algonquin Books), Emily Ruskovich, Idaho (Random House), Melissa Yancy, Dog Years (University of Pittsburgh Press). Here are some pictures to remember that special night. A play by play of the evening was also featured in LitHub.  Enjoy!

 

 

Q&A with One Story’s 2017 Mentor of the Year: Lan Samantha Chang

At One Story, we believe that being a part of the literary community should include helping others. In that vein, each year at our Literary Debutante Ball we honor one established author with a “Mentor of the Year” award for their extraordinary support of fellow writers. This year, our Mentor of the Year is Lan Samantha Chang.

Mentoring is the kind of work that happens behind the scenes, but is vital to keep the literary world alive and kicking. It comes in all forms—from teaching, to blurbs, to recommendation letters, to late-night reads, agent advice, one-on-one conferences, career guidance and inspiration. Behind each book on the shelf is an unseen mentor, giving an author the help they need to make their work better, to keep writing when they are ready to quit, and eventually give them a boost over the publishing wall.

Lan Samantha Chang exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring her, along with our Literary Debutantes this Friday May 12th at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn.

In today’s post, Sam kindly took time from her busy schedule to talk with One Story about writing and teaching, the importance of being a mentor, and what she’s looking forward to the most at the big party this coming Friday.

  1. You’ve been a great supporter of emerging writers. But who were your mentors and how did they help you along the way?

I was fortunate to work with extraordinary teachers when I was starting out.  At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I studied with James Alan McPherson, Frank Conroy, and Marilynne Robinson—all famous to the world for their writing and, to their students, for their presence in the classroom.  Each of them made at least one remark about my work that I will remember forever. But the special person who has read my work the most, and whom I turn to when I want to shed a tear, is the wonderful novelist Margot Livesey, who was a visiting professor at the Workshop at that time and is now on the permanent faculty there.

After the Workshop, I had the very good fortune to receive Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote Fellowships at Stanford University, where I studied with John L’Heureux, Nancy Packer, and Elizabeth Tallent.  They were all very generous with me, and Elizabeth, who is still at the program, remains vibrantly in my mind as a writing professor who somehow, by her presence, taught me the possibilities of life.  Eavan Boland, as well, gave me unforgettable guidance about what it means to be a writer in the world.

  1. Any words of advice for our nine Debutantes as they start their literary careers?

My one bit of advice is to keep hold of that part of you that first compelled you to start writing through the vicissitudes of “career.”  A writing life and a writing career are two separate things, and it’s especially crucial to keep the first.

  1. For the past twelve years, you’ve been the director of the Iowa Writing Program. How do you find a balance between teaching and writing?

Since taking on the directorship I have published one novel, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost.  Frankly, I lost the balance for a few years there, but I am regaining it now.  I’m not sure how writing has come back to me, but I’m very grateful.  I don’t know if I have any advice about keeping balanced.  It’s a challenge and being a parent on top of it is perhaps more challenging.  I’m lucky that my partner is a wonderful, deeply understanding father and husband.

  1. Your work has appeared twice in Best American Short Stories. Can you talk a bit about what you think makes for a great piece of short fiction?

People try to find rules for short story writing, and there are none.  Greatness is indescribable—you know it when you see it.  But I do think that a great short story is both ruthless and complete.  I also think that a great short story clearly belongs to only one author. 

  1. What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on May 12th?

Discounting a couple of award ceremonies, the One Story Literary Debutante Ball will be the first bona fide New York Literary gala event I’ve flown East to attend for since I moved to Iowa.  So there’s something exciting about looking forward to the experience. I anticipate with great excitement the “coming out” of the debut writers. I’m also looking forward to seeing former students and colleagues.  I’m thrilled that Angela Flournoy will be there, and I can’t wait to see Michelle Huneven and Emily Ruskovich.

Introducing 2017 Debutante: Lisa Ko

On May 12th, at our 8th annual Literary Debutante BallOne Story will be celebrating nine of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Lisa Ko, author of One Teen Story Issue #14, “Proper Girls” and the novel The Leavers.

The Leavers is a story about family and identity, spanning nearly twenty years. Eleven year-old Deming Guo lives with his mother Polly in the Bronx. One day, Polly goes to her job at the nail salon and never returns. When Deming is adopted by a suburban white couple in upstate New York, he becomes Daniel Wilkinson, beginning the arduous journey to discover not only his true self but the fate of a mother long lost.

Wynne Kontos: Where were you when you found out The Leavers was going to be published and how did you celebrate?

Lisa Ko: I lost my phone while I was on vacation. I hadn’t been able to get my voicemail or email all week because there was no reception, and when I got back to New York I checked my email and found a message from Barbara Kingsolver saying she had been trying to call me for days and to please call her immediately. It was about the PEN/Bellwether Prize, which Barbara established and funds, and which comes with a book contract with Algonquin Books. I’d submitted my manuscript months ago and promptly forgotten about it. When I called Barbara with my boyfriend’s phone, she told me I’d won. I was too jet-lagged for it to really sink in — I think I celebrated that afternoon by drinking coffee and then passing out— but the next morning I woke up at five in the morning and was like, OH MY GOD!

WK: There seemed to be a parallel between Deming’s biological mother Polly and his adoptive mother Kay when it came to the concept of “motherhood.” Both have very different journeys that lead them to being Deming’s mother. Both women are not without faults, but feel real love for the same child. Can you talk more about your exploration of motherhood and its variety of roles?

LK: Polly and Kay are both imperfect women doing the best they can. They also want the best for Deming, or what they feel is the best for him. On a more thematic level, they are inseparable from larger forces of class, race, language access, and citizenship status, and this impacts their parenting and expectations. Kay and her husband Peter can provide Deming with economic resources, but Polly can provide him with connections to culture, family, and identity. I wanted to explore the differences between the two.

WK: Deming (later Daniel) performs poorly in academics, which causes him to struggle as a child. Being a bad student is an example of how Deming’s life and family defy cultural stereotypes we see about the Asian community. Did you intend to confront these racial stereotypes?

LK: I didn’t set out to strategically write against stereotype—I just wanted to create a fully developed character. Deming’s poor academic performance is tied to the upheavals in his childhood, some uninspiring teachers, and his interests being more in art and music than in the traditional academic areas that his adoptive parents value and pressure him to pursue. I do hope my characters reflect the full diversity of Asian Americans. There are definitely plenty of Asian kids who are terrible students!

WK: Deming/Daniel also struggles with a gambling addiction. The addiction seems to come out of nowhere, though it’s obvious he is incredibly isolated without a lot of support systems. What role did the gambling addiction serve in exploring Deming/Daniel’s character?

LK: There’s a certain obsessiveness about Daniel’s character, as well as a desire for risk-taking. That, and his perfect poker face—a skill honed from having to pretend, to hide his true feelings in his new adopted family and town—make him susceptible to succeeding as a gambler. The theme of gambling is also prevalent throughout The Leavers. Chance, luck, the arbitrariness of immigration policies, and even being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time affect my characters’ lives in pivotal ways. From a storytelling point of view, Daniel’s gambling addiction is something he needs to face as part of his character’s journey. He treats others poorly because he’s not being honest to himself, and he has to learn to make decisions for himself rather than doing what others want him to do, whether it’s his parents or his friends.  

WK: In conversation with Barbara Kingsolver, you mentioned getting inspiration from the New York Times reports about women who were separated from their children and imprisoned in immigration camps. Immigration has been a growing cultural and political issue in recent years, but it has taken on new meaning after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. This just four months before the release of your debut novel about how unethical immigration practices can cause enormous harm for families and individuals. What role do you hope your novel has had and will continue to have in this growing conversation?

LK: By personalizing one fictional family’s story, I’d love for The Leavers to clear some misconceptions about undocumented immigration, as well as raise awareness about the for-profit prison system and its ties to U.S. immigration policies. These policies have been in place for years, and didn’t start with the Trump administration. There are “bed quotas” that mandate that a certain number of immigrants need to be imprisoned at any given time—during the Obama administration it was 34,040 immigrants per day. Trump would like to double it. Private prisons are profiting, big time, off of xenophobia, racism, the criminalization of immigrants, and the separation of families like Polly and Deming’s.

WK: The concept of “identity” is at the forefront of this novel in almost every way. Deming/Daniel and his mother both explore dual Chinese-American personas, the Wilkinsons learn what it means to be an individual versus a parent, even Deming’s best friend Michael uses academics to reach a new phase of adulthood. Each character in the novel is searching for their truest meaning, either because they have yet to find it or they feel it has been lost. Why is identity such an important concept for you as a writer and what does it mean to you?

LK: American culture in general has always been obsessed with identity and the right to define ourselves—self-determination, right? If we’re referring to racial and ethnic identity, I think that Asian Americans are often so invisible in media, and when we are visible, we’re often being defined by others. So to define ourselves and center our stories is to assert our own humanity in a way, and that can be critical. Polly and Deming deal with this, too: their own search for belonging is also a desire to be fully seen, understood, and to be able to define themselves on their own terms, rather than to be forced to fit the more limiting definitions that are placed upon them.

WK: What are you most looking forward to at the Debutante Ball?

LK: Having my story “Proper Girls” published in One Teen Story was a big turning point for me during a time when it felt like nothing was going well with my writing. I’m so excited to celebrate with One Story and the other authors!

One Story authors win a Pushcart & the Rea Award for the Short Story

One Story is proud to congratulate two of our authors, Jim Shepard and Jason Zencka, who have received prestigious recognition for their work.

Jim Shepard has won the Rea Award for the Short Story, following the publication of his celebrated new collection, The World to Come. The title story of this collection was first published in One Story, and went on to be included in Best American Short Stories 2013. The Washington Post writes, “Established in 1986, the Rea Award is given to writers who have made a ‘significant contribution’ to short stories. Prize judges cited Shepard’s ‘prodigious research’ into history and science and ‘X-ray vision of the soul.’ ” The Rea Award provides $30,000 to the recipient.

Shepard has taught for many years at Sirenland, an international writing conference co-founded by Hannah Tinti, Dani Shapiro, Michael Maren and Antonio Sersale. In 2016 he was honored with the Mentor of the Year Award at One Story’s Literary Debutante Ball. He’s an important member of the One Story family and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see him recognized for his long commitment to the short stories.

One Story is also thrilled to announce that Issue #216, “Catacombs,” by Jason Zencka has won a Pushcart Prize! “Catacombs” was Zencka’s first publication. The Pushcart Prize has been honoring writers published by small presses since 1976.

Join us in applauding both writers on these exciting awards!

Introducing 2017 Debutante: Anne Corbitt

On May 12th, at our 8th annual Literary Debutante BallOne Story will be celebrating nine of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week we’re chatting with Anne Corbitt, author of One Story issue #129, “The Tornado Bandit”. Her debut novel, Rules for Lying, was released last September from Southeast Missouri State University Press after winning the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel.

In suburban Atlanta, Georgia, high school sophomore Langley accuses her classmate Kevin of sexual assault, which he denies. Rumors swell and the entire town forms their opinions on who’s telling the truth in the face of a stalling police investigation. The novel follows Langley, Kevin, and the people closest to them as this incident wreaks havoc on all of their lives. Rules for Lying makes us question the truth in situations, while Corbitt’s vivid prose and masterful cultivations of suspense make this small town come alive with intrigue.

Kaitlin McManus: Where were you when you found out that Rules for Lying was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Anne Corbitt: As anyone who’s sent out a manuscript will tell you, for a few months there, I got in the habit of answering any unknown number that popped up on my phone. Friends I would send to voicemail, my mom would get a text back, but if it was an area code I didn’t recognize, I’d take the call in the shower. One night, though, I missed a call from a number that Google told me meant Missouri. It was too late to call back, so I spent the night telling myself that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, that it was almost definitely a bill collector or a limited-time offer for a timeshare.

Then I got an email from Susan Swartwout at Southeast Missouri State University Press asking to schedule a phone call. It wasn’t the call, I told myself. There was no way.

When you’ve only ever really wanted one thing, it feels impossible to imagine a future past that wanting.

So the next afternoon, when I got on the phone with Susan, I didn’t even understand what she was telling me. “We picked your book,” she said.

“For what?” I asked.

Thankfully, Susan is kind, so she didn’t groan as she explained it all again. I remember crying. I remember trying to catch my breath.

“I don’t know if you’re a drinker,” she said, once I gave her the chance to talk again. “But you should go pop a bottle of champagne.”

We got off the phone, and I immediately drove to my parents’ house. They were having a new oven installed, so there were workers everywhere, but I made them sit in the living room, and then we were all crying. We Skyped with my sister in Philadelphia, who joined us. (My family is, obviously, way awesome.) I remember what I kept saying, out loud and in my head: It’s happening. It’s actually happening.

Then we went to dinner where I ordered a giant beer and sweet potato fries. It was perfect.

KM: You employ half a dozen narrators in this novel; all so distinct and yet each of their voices is so genuine. Was any one voice your favorite? Did you struggle with a particular character?

AC: They say first novels are often autobiographical, but mine definitely (and thankfully) was not. Still, I had some threads of connection with each character. Langley, for instance, became far easier to write once I realized she loved swimming at the same time that I was learning how to (in my thirties). That was our first bond.

Kevin was the hardest to write, and, even now, I feel like I wrote him from the outside. By that I mean I wrote him as a mix of all the boys I loved in high school. It’s hard to feel as connected to someone who never loved you back.

But hands down, throughout the entire eight years I worked on this thing, Eleanor was my favorite. She still is. She is so much stronger than she thinks she is, so much wiser too. Despite the bad choices she makes (and, boy, does she make some stinkers), she seemed the most grounded to me, the most likely to come out the other side with both feet firmly planted. I’d love to think I was like her when I was fifteen (I did have a picture of Edward Furlong in my locker), but really, she is so much cooler than I’ve ever come close to being.

KM: One of the things I loved most about this novel was that we don’t know until nearly the end if Langley is telling the truth. You just push on, and tell us how all the characters are trying to get on with their lives. What challenges did this present as you were writing?

AC: From the novel’s inception, I knew I wanted to keep readers guessing. The biggest failure I could imagine was a story that came down strong and loud on either side. So I didn’t let myself “decide” the outcome. That old adage about no surprises for the writer meaning no surprises for the reader definitely cycled through my mind. If it didn’t know, I hoped that readers wouldn’t either.

That said, it was consistently challenging to write Langley’s and Kevin’s chapters without knowing the answer—especially any scenes that recalled the event. That’s where my love for murder mysteries became an asset. I’ve annotated dozens of pages of P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Tana French, trying to figure out how they write crimes and crime scenes without ruining suspense. I’m still not entirely sure how they do it, but I tried to follow their lead as much as I could.

KM: Rules for Lying takes place in suburban Atlanta, where you currently reside. What was it like writing a novel that takes place in your own backyard?

AC: I actually don’t live in suburban Atlanta. I’m a city girl, through and through. (The distinction matters in Atlanta, though to anyone else, it’s precisely as unimportant as it sounds.) And that’s why I created the fictional suburb of North Oak. I wanted a place close to me, in a region I understood, but I wasn’t ready to write my city, at least not overtly. So I tucked Fulton High School about 25 minutes from where I grew up, which felt a safe distance.

To the question of writing about the larger Metro Atlanta area, this aspect of the novel was another one I knew from the start. I love Southern literature—Faulkner, O’Connor, Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Eudora Welty—but I’ve only rarely read fiction about my South, the urban/suburban South. It’s a complex, dark, beautiful, conflicting, confusing place. I can’t imagine a better setting for fiction.

And just to say it: I wasn’t ready to write Atlanta then. I think I am now.

KM: Rules for Lying examines situational and emotional truths, even while the characters search for a more literal truth. What was it like, creating this balancing act?

AC: This question is the trickiest to answer because, truly, I don’t know. Because writing a novel is hard. Like, really hard. And it also feels ridiculous and foolish most of the time. So the short answer is this: it was tough. I cried some. I got really good at staring out the window.

But that’s just writing a novel. To the more specific question on balancing truths, I have to cite my two biggest literary influences: Southern fiction and mysteries. William Gay and Tom Franklin in one ear, Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott in the other. I wanted to do both traditions proud. I wanted a story that allowed characters to interact with their histories, to reach for the lost, to feel out of place, somehow, in the world where they’ve always lived, all while crafting a plot to keep them moving, to keep them uncomfortable, to give them a forward momentum that would propel them somewhere new and strange and not innately bad but not obviously good either.

In short, I wrote a lot of crap. Then I made it better.

KM: What are you most looking forward to at the One Story Debutante Ball?

AC: Writing fiction can be such a lonely vocation. You spend hours alone, working with characters no one else can see, constructing scenes that have never happened. Even when you emerge from your desk, you interact with such a noisy world, one that often undervalues the necessity of what you do. A good group of friends, particularly writers, can help. Other people’s books can too. A fully-stocked liquor cabinet. A dog. But nothing quite beats the high of standing in a room of people who share your passion for and belief in the written word. It’s a rare and thorough joy. It’s life-giving.

Also, I get to wear a fancy dress.

OTS #50: Guts by Gnesis Villar

As you may know, at the beginning of this year One Teen Story became a quarterly magazine focused solely on the writing of teens. Along with how wonderful it is to work with young, emerging writers, I’m excited that we’ll now be putting their stories into the hands of over 10,000 readers (which is a huge circulation increase from what OTS was able to boast of in the past). To start us off on this new venture, we present you with “Guts,” a story written by Gnesis Villar. “Guts” is several things at once: it’s a story about courage and self-respect, it’s an endearing portrait of a friendship between two teenaged girls, and it’s a chilling tale of a dangerous world that looks a lot like ours. Read what Gnesis has to say about how the story came about in our Q&A. She’s a remarkable talent. I feel certain we’ll be reading more of her work, and I envy readers who get to experience “Guts” for the first time.

Issue #227: What Is Behind by Tomiko Breland

We at One Story aren’t in the habit of publishing stories that directly relate to current events—not because that’s our policy, but because such stories usually take a long time to dream up, percolate, and write. When Tomiko Breland’s “What Is Behind” came to us, we were captivated by the writing, first and foremost, and we were blown away by its immediate grasp of an ongoing, tragic, and very widespread current event: the plight of the Syrian refugees. The story follows nine people, inviting the reader into each of their heads as they emerge from hiding and make a run for safety. It’s a remarkable piece of political fiction—in no small part because its emotional impact is not just the result of the subject matter, but of the way it’s rendered. To read more about how the story came into existence, take a look at our Q&A with Tomiko Breland, where she reveals why the form she wrote in was the only one that allowed her to do justice to her characters.