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Friday, February 25, 2022

Falling in love with writing again

This month we’re exploring the topic of love, which is something that feels totally appropriate considering that I’m loving my current work-in-progress. 

But what does that mean? 

 

Not that the words are just coming. 

 

Not that my characters are telling me the story and that each chapter is just falling into place. 

 

It doesn’t mean I don’t have days where I want to start anew and/or abandon the project altogether. Nor does it mean that I’m not paining over every word and phrase; that I’m not considering and reconsidering each plot strand and detail and how they ultimately work into the overall themes.

 

What it means is that I’ve come to a place in my career where I’m writing for myself again. I haven’t shared this work with anyone. It’s totally mine, where I can make mistakes and try things out as I get closer to where the work needs to be. There’s no one telling me the work is too overdone, or too edgy, or not edgy enough, or too unrelatable, or too young, or too old, or that I should make my character(s) more “x” and/or less “y.”

 

There’s just me at my computer, figuring things out, fixing them along the way, deepening my understanding of the characters and their journey.

 

Writing under contract is wonderful in so many ways. It’s job security, and continuity, and the confidence in knowing that a team of people are invested in your product. But it can also put a lot of pressure on the writer to produce an approved product for said team, guessing and trying to predict what others want in that moment/on that given day. And, in so many ways, that idea makes so much sense. As writers, we’re writing for clients. But, as a writer, I’m also a creative, and I often need to have creative license to figure things out along the way. The vision I promise in the beginning of a project, before it’s written, may not be the end result – and that’s hard for both sides. 

 

Do I want a product at the end of my process that will sell well? Yes, absolutely. But that takes time and my messy process of trial and error, deepening my understanding of the psychology of my characters and their actions. I love that process. It’s how I wrote my first novel, Blue is for Nightmares. I also wrote Bleed and Jane Anonymous that way. All of those have been my most rewarding writing experiences. 

 

So, now I’m writing this one the same way – messy and imperfect – but also a labor of love. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

How do I love writing teen fiction? Let me count the ways! (Brenda Hiatt)

 I’ve talked before in this space about the burnout I suffered several years back, after traditionally publishing over a dozen historical romance novels - and how pivoting to writing YA brought me back from the creative abyss. For that, I’ll always love and be hugely grateful to young adult fiction. YA fiction is what revived me, first as a reader then, months later, as a writer.  

This month’s topic forced me to really think about why I love teen fiction - especially writing teen fiction - so much. One biggie, I realize, is the intensity of emotion. No one feels emotions, all the emotions, more deeply than a teenager. Do you remember? I do, though when I first started, I had to dig into my memory until it came more naturally. That was absolutely necessary for writing my teen characters believably. Now, I find it hugely fun to write emotion with such abandon, something I really couldn’t do (realistically) when writing adult fiction. As part of that “digging,” I ended up putting more of myself into Marsha/M than any other character I’ve ever written. Is it any wonder I love my Starstruck books—and that character—so much?


Something else I love about teen fiction is the newness of everything. YA characters get to experience things, lots of things, for the Very First Time, which lets us relive those early epiphanies and revelations. And characters, like real people, typically undergo significant personal growth during their teens. It’s during those years that they/we start becoming fully-formed people, with strengths, weaknesses and personality traits that will likely last a lifetime. Exciting stuff! 

 

Finally, I love the freedom of writing young adult fiction, which seems far freer of genre restrictions than just about any other genre I can think of. Teen fiction encompasses everything from romance to mystery to thriller to paranormal to metaphysical to horror…and everything in between. Genre mashups are common here, which often results in enormously enjoyable stories!

 

What do YOU love about YA books? Tell me in the comments!



Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning Starstruck series. With the recent release of 
Unraveling the Stars, there are now ten books in the series - eight full-length novels and two novellas. Plus a couple of short stories that are free to newsletter subscribers! 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Books Are Not the Enemy by Patty Blount

February is all about love and as I write this, it appears to be all about book banning, which I hate with every fiber of my being.




Books are uniquely portable magic, said Stephen King. There is no friend as loyal as a book, said Hemingway. A book is a dream you hold in your hand, said Neil Gaiman. The more you read, the more you know, the more places you'll go, so says Dr. Suess. 

And yet...school districts across this country are banning books in numbers not seen since World War II, when Hitler tried this same tactic. Extremists are concerned that certain books are indoctrinating their children into lifestyles and choices with which they do not agree. 

Let that sink in for a minute. Book-banning was something Hitler did. 

I cannot and will not entertain the notion that banning books is good for children. In fact, I believe just the opposite is true. In books, authors like me present real issues teenagers are likely facing right now, allowing readers like you to experience those issues within a safe and secure context. Concerned parents, teachers, and librarians can use books like mine to start difficult conversations with the teens in their lives to teach and support these kids. 

Indoctrinate? Since I was a child, I've read books about all manner of subjects. Reading Flowers in the Attic did NOT compel me to enter into an incestuous relationship. Reading Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys did not transform me into a sleuth. Reading With Love From Karen did not suddenly produce cerebral palsy. Reading Forever did not make me lose my virginity. Reading the award-winning Maus did not scar me for life because of nudity and swear words. 

It did, however, instill a deep disrespect for anyone who believes Nazis are good people. 

Reading novels like Speak did, in fact, compel me to write my own novels about sexual assault. Reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda did not "turn me gay." Reading the Hate U Give did not make me hate police or support efforts to defund police departments. Rather, it opened my eyes to the sort of microaggressions people of color face every day and helped me understand how I can be racist even though I did not intend to be. It also shed light on how justice in this country is too often not determined by the law. 

I do not see any of this as indoctrination

Rather, reading books develops empathy and respect. It offers teaching moments and ways to improve and change problematic behavior. 

Books have never murdered classrooms full of children. Books are labors of love to be celebrated, respected, held in the highest regard. To all those who think their children should not read a particular book, I say, "Great! You're parenting your child as you see fit." 

But moving to ban that book so all kids must abide by your rules is un-American and just plain wrong. When considered in the context of social media, it's just plain stupid to ban books while allowing access to TikTok, SnapChat, and YouTube, where all manner of perversions can be accessed. 

I leave you with one last quote:

Readers are not sheep and not every pen tempts them, said Nabokov. No parent, no politician, has the right to decide what's acceptable reading for all children. Books are love. 


Monday, February 21, 2022

Lovin' Laughter (Holly Schindler)

Sooo...it's not purely YA, but one of my newest loves is humor. 

I mean, that seems like a no-brainer. Everyone loves to laugh, right? 

Most of my work has been pretty serious, though. Oh, sure, there have been light moments in all my books. But a flat-up humor book? I never would have tried it.

Well. Until the pandemic. That changed everyone's perspective, didn't it? 

I put up a collection of short stories (some of the main characters are young, others aren't so much). But the one thing they all have in common is that they're meeting for the first time. That's all they do, in fact--it was the one thing we were all so hungry for, right when we first went into lockdown. Wasn't it? just a chance meeting, a new face:

 


 

I put up a second installment a few months later, this time about a bunch of luckless small-towners on the day of the biggest state lottery drawing:

 


 

And at the end of the '21, I released my favorite humor collection--a little bit satire, a little bit parody, a little bit fable, a little bit allegory—and a whole lot of laughs, all aimed at poking fun at the silliness in this era of life called…adulthood. Some characters (like those in any YA) are coming into adulthood for the first time. Others are far older. "Princess Karen" has a showdown with an ogre, a young man makes his first trip to Toxic Masculinity, and Frank finds out what it means to be "over the hill":

 


 

I love writing humor. I mean, I love it. It just plain makes me feel good. It makes me feel lighter, happier. Writing humor feels like telling a friend a funny story and hearing them laugh. 

After all, connecting to someone through humor--why, that's the deepest connection, isn't it? Doesn't it mean that you agree, on a fundamental level, on so many things--politics or world views or outlook? 

I can definitely see more humor writing in my future...

GIVEAWAY ALERT!

Subscribe to my Humor Newsletter. New subscribers will be entered into a drawing for a free e-read! Giveaway runs through March 31.

~Holly Schindler is the author of books for readers of all ages. 


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Love Has Many Iterations

 

I walked 47 miles of barbed wire
I got a cobra snake for a necktie
I got a brand new house by the roadside
Made out of rattlesnake hide
I got me a chimney made on top
Made from a human skull
Come on, take a little walk with me

Who do you love?-Quicksilver Messenger Service


More importantly, WHAT do you love? The answer for me can change from one day to another. That’s the beauty of life, particularly when you have plenty of time to meditate upon ‘stuff.’


 

I definitely love my three grandchildren, Piper, Reid and Gemma. Piper and I love to fish and go critter hunting. She’ll pick up anything but spiders and we’re working on that. Reid is a passionate truck dude and loves joining us for open swim in the heated pool at the Alfond Center. Gemma, not yet two, loves board books, blowing kisses and silly songs-I taught her Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer at Christmas time.

I love synergistic people, those folks who spark new enthusiasm and story ideas. My late Mother, A. Carman Clark was such a person. Out shared recovery in AA, coupled by both being careful observers of nature, made us both better writers. My friend Dr. Dave who also swims at the Alfond Center, is another such soul.

I love opening a new book and the next thing I know, I’m 100 pages in and have discovered a new world.


 

I love coming back from a day trip to find I took an almost perfect photo.

I love kind, graceful and patient people. They’re in short supply these days and we need more.

I love having a chance to do a good deed, preferably anonymously.

I love timeless music that makes me want to sing and dance-think Satisfaction by the Stones, or Light My Fire by the Doors.


 

I love being the humorist for my fellow swimmers five mornings a week.

I love places of power-those spots where one can feel extra spiritual and creative energy pouring into me.

I love extra fat snowflakes, taking a new road, and wind whispering through pine trees on a summer day.

I love finding myself coming back to the moment with a new story idea in my head and then letting it germinate until it’s ready to be written.

I love new challenges.

I love watching flowers dance in the breeze.

I love snow-covered mountains, finding rare-colored bits of beach glass, and computer role-playing games.

I love writing a good book review so others can discover it.


 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Why I Love the YA Fantasy Genre by Allie Burton

 

1.      1. I get to make stuff up. Sure, there’s real research but if I can’t find what I’m looking for I create the device or the magical power or the world.

2.     2.  I get to combine different characters, genres, and anything else I want. For example, A Glass Slipper Adventure series is based in a made-up kingdom in a futuristic world. I’ve twisted fairytales, which usually take place in medieval times, and put it in modern time. I’ve filled my stories with witches and fairies, giants and werewolves, trolls and banshees. Most of these usually don’t go together.

3.     3.  I get to take a fantasy quest and turn it into an adventure. Hiking a mountain, swimming in a dangerous lake, competing for a magical artifact, and meeting fantastical creatures and interesting challenges.

4.     4.  I get to write about romance and friendship. My books are about a quest, but also coming of age. Discovering ones’ place in whatever world the characters find themselves. Making friendships and finding that one special person.

5.     5.  I get to create scenery, setting, and the world the characters live in. If I need a volcano, I add it. If I need a waterfall, boom, it’s there. While I do start with a real location, I can add or takeaway items that don’t fit with the plot. For example in Snow Witching White, the next book in A Glass Slipper Adventure, I based the location on 10,000 Smokes in Alaska. But my version leads to the gates of the underworld.

6.     6.  I get to write fun things. My books do have serious themes underneath but nothing that hits you over the head. My stories take on social injustice but instead of what we have in the real world, mine are the magical vs. the unmagical, technology vs. powers, and stereotypes.

My hope is that readers will enjoy the adventure, the romance, the scenery as much as I do, while soaking in the lessons buried deep.

*One more thing: I get to celebrate release days! Snow Warrior White released yesterday and I’m so excited it’s finally out in the world!




Friday, February 11, 2022

Whole Lotta Love (Letters) | Sara Biren

Hi! I’m Sara Biren, author of three YA contemporary romances from Amulet Books (learn about my books here) and one of the newest bloggers here at YA Outside the Lines. A lifelong Minnesotan, I recently moved with my husband and two teenagers to the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.


I’ve been writing for as long as I could string words together into sentences. My first stories were copy-cats of some of my favorite books, B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood and my beloved Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say, and that’s how I started to learn the craft of writing. I’ve been learning ever since.


We’re eleven days into February, a month filled with love, which happens to be the blog’s February theme. I’m a big fan of love (I write romance, after all) and I believe that the world could always use more of it. Love songs, rom coms, HEAs, Valentines, cinnamon jelly hearts. Love, love, love.


I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics–stay with me here to see how this relates to the topic of love–and as much as I enjoy the competitions, I’m a sucker for the stories about the athletes–their sacrifices, their challenges, their wins, their losses. I usually end up in tears. 



Sometimes the losses cut much more deeply than a fall or failing to medal. One of the stories that has really hit hard for me this year is the story of US alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who recently lost her father in a tragic accident. My heart aches for her as she returns to the Olympics without her dad. If you watch the piece, it’s clear how much love Mikaela and her dad shared, and the world is a better place for it. 


Let’s put more love out into the world. As this is my first blog post for YAOTL, I’m not sure if I’m doing this right, but I’m going to put out a challenge. Sometime in the month of February, write a love letter to a person who has made a difference in your life. It could be a letter to a parent, thanking them for their love and support. A teacher who encouraged you to follow your dreams. A childhood friend who believed in you and tagged along on all your wildest adventures. The love of your life who puts up with having the Olympics on in the background all day and all night. Someone who has inspired you. Someone you’ve lost, as a way to tell them the things you wish you had when they were still with you. 


Or maybe you want to turn this assignment toward your current writing project and pen a letter from one character to another. A letter to a character who’s been giving you, the writer, some trouble.


A letter to yourself, as a love-filled reminder of why you create, why you do what you do. 


Maybe you’ll send the letter. Maybe you won’t. Either way, you’re writing a love letter and putting more love out into the world. Your words matter. The love you share with others matters. 


Don't wait. Write it today.


Thursday, February 10, 2022

If You've Lost That Loving Feeling (Sydney Salter)

One of my longest writing friends recently confessed that she had lost the passion for writing--and she was letting it go. 

A writing life is so tough. Years of effort, countless rejections, little understanding from non-writerly family and friends. Sometimes the whole endeavor feels like one never-ending struggle--for what?

Sometimes it's hard to find that loving feeling towards our work.

I recently read Passing by Nella Larsen, a Harlem Renaissance author who wrote in 1929. The story has been made into a film streaming on Netflix, and while the movie is good, the book is SO MUCH BETTER. I immediately sought out her other book--Quicksand--published in 1928. The main character struggles to find her place in a world that wants to create strict definitions--she's neither black, nor Danish. I finally understood the term intersectionality in a visceral way. 

Nella Larsen didn't publish any other books. As she struggled to complete a third manuscript, she instead focused on her nursing career. Saving lives is noble, of course. But making people think in new ways a hundred years later? Oh, how I wish I could read more of her perspective on life and people. The stories aren't perfect, but that doesn't diminish the power of her perspective.

Writing is hard. Often unrewarding. And it takes so much self-motivation to keep on keeping on. But each of us who is so inclined to take up a pen and tell a story has something important to say. So if you're losing that loving feeling toward writing, please find a way back to the joy. 

The world needs the stories that only you can tell. 


Tuesday, February 8, 2022

When Love Is Complicated: A Review of The Convincing Hour

This is the second of three YA book reviews I'm posting here. Each is a 5-star read that explores interesting, original and complex themes with memorable characters from diverse backgrounds.


Why I Loved This Book

Author Ann Roberts has an impressive back list of books in two genres--romance and mystery. This is her first Young Adult novel told from the point of view of her main character, teenage Story Black. But Roberts' experience with other genres is put to good use here. The Convincing Hour is a well plotted novel with an important twist toward the end and with all the heart and soul you'd expect from a solid romance. 

If that isn't enough, the book tackles so many important issues--poverty, addiction, homophobia, economic inequality, education, and privilege--without being heavy-handed about any of them.

What The Book Is About

Story Black lives in a trailer park with her meth-addicted mother, a genius who hasn't been able to use her impressive brain to benefit either her or her daughter. When Story learns that Char Barnaby, a local billionaire, has created a special high school called Tabula Rasa for intellectually-gifted teens caught up in the juvenile justice system, Story holds up a store in order to get thrown into juvenile detention and get a chance to leave her middling public high school for something better.

When Story eventually comes to the attention of Char, who invites her to the school, it's Story's mother who becomes an obstacle, objecting to Char's insistence that Story (and all other students at Tabula Rasa) live apart from their parents permanently until they graduate. Thus begins an ongoing struggle between Patty (Story's mother), Char, and Story herself.

Why I Recommend This Book

Income inequality in the US has enabled a tiny group of billionaires to dictate the terms of public education systems. Their "solutions" backed by their enormous resources have pushed and pulled teachers, principals, students and their families in many directions, from charter schools to smaller high schools to principal training to endless testing. Very few of these so-called innovations have had a positive impact, and none have not come from the "users" of the system. 

Char Barnaby is just the latest entrant into this field, a well-meaning philanthropist whose vision drives her efforts. It's not that she's wrong per se, it's just that her power and privilege bulldoze past any dissenting voices. That is, until she meets Patty Black.

So where does love fit into all of this?

As I mentioned above, love in The Convincing Hour is complicated. In the mother-daughter relationship between Story and Patty, love is bound up with guilt and dependency. In the mentor relationship Story develops with Char, love shows up as the interchange between the savior and the saved. In Story's relationship with her girlfriend, Bertie, love is about finding that first person who is your temporary safe harbor but knows when it's best for you that she let you go.

Love in The Convincing Hour is messy, complex, and very real, as it is in our own lives.

There's so much here to recommend this book, but the highlight is Story Black herself, a teenager caught up in so many personal and systemic challenges, but yet determined to emerge as the hero of her own story.  And she does.




Sunday, February 6, 2022

I Read Books I Love, Banned or Not (Mary Strand)

The theme at our YAOTL blog this month is LOVE. Being the sarcastic person I am, though, I want to spell it WUV. As in, TWU WUV.

(If you don’t know which movie that comes from, I don’t know that we can be friends.) (But I digress.) (As I often do.)



Since this is YAOTL, I’m going to write about books I love, especially YA books. This isn’t to say that I don’t love a million other things, such as (in no particular order) my Converse Chucks, my zippy little convertible, my zippy scooter, alfajores, mini M&Ms, Minneapolis bands like the Melismatics and the Belfast Cowboys and Trailer Trash, Chris Hemsworth, Juanes, South Beach in January, playing basketball, skiing in Vail, fruity cocktails, guitars, macarons, whichever great movie I saw most recently (A Little Chaos; highly recommend; thanks for asking), warm sunshine, and, yes, Twu Wuv.

So. YA books I love.

As a reader, I mostly read for comfort, and I won’t apologize for that. (You do you.)



As a YA author, I mostly read either to keep me rock solid in my YA voice or to keep me (at least somewhat) up to date on the other YA books being published right now.

I write fairly light and funny stuff, and I like action, and one or the other (or sometimes both) means that I often reread books by authors including Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson, etc.), Meg Cabot (Avalon High, Teen Idol, etc.), Niki Burnham (Royally Jacked series), Brenda Hiatt (Starstruck series), and Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls series) whenever I’m about to start writing a new YA book.

New-to-me YA books that I read and LOVED in 2021 included To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Red, White & Royally Blue. (Yeah, yeah, two of those were published AGES ago. Dude! I’ve been VERY busy rereading Georgette Heyer’s historical romances! No judgment!)

But everyone’s been talking lately (yet again) about banned books, because there are (unfortunately) TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD people in the world who are ignorant, mean, judgmental, and insecure and who want to make the next generation just like them. Not that I have any opinion about this or anything.

Then I noticed that one of my 2021 reads, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is on the lists of banned books being circulated.



So, being the sort of person who flings herself down rabbit holes for sport, I studied the banned-books lists. Wow. Harry Potter! (People who ban books are morons, seriously, and are probably lousy kissers, too. I would avoid them if I were you.) Here’s just a small sample of banned or challenged YA books that I’ve personally read and LOVED:

            - Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

            - Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

            - The Outsiders - S. E. Hinton

            - Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

            - Forever - Judy Blume

            - The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

I also noticed that two of the books I’m about to read have been banned and/or challenged, which only makes them more intriguing:

            - The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

            - Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami



So here’s to reading books you love. Banned, challenged, and/or simply wonderful.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

All's Fair in Love - And Upping the Stakes (Janet Raye Stevens)

It’s February and that means love is in the air, especially here at YA Outside the Lines. With love as this month’s theme, I thought I’d go all meta and write about writing about love.

You know that old saying, I hate to write, but I love having written? Yeah, well, I’m kind of that way about love. Writing relationships can be awfully tricky. Writing an action scene is easy in comparison. Joe walks down street. Joe slips on a banana peel. Whoops, *bang.* He’s on his butt. Simple, moves the story along, all external.

But a love story, that’s pretty much all internal. It intertwines with, and is an integral part of, the character’s journey, changing and progressing as the character changes and progresses. So, there’s that trickiness to deal with, the believable evolution from the first meet and the blossoming of attraction to the “do they just like me or do they *like* like me?” to the emotions engendered by the first kiss and the realization that this could be the real thing, and finally, the happy ending.

The external stuff is also tricky, but more fun to write because you get to torture your characters. Seriously, we can’t just let our characters sail off into the heart-shaped sunset after the first kiss. We need to hit them with roadblocks and obstacles to impede their journey. There’s a reason “their eyes met across a crowded room” doesn’t just jump to “and they lived happily ever after.” That would be boring (and an exceedingly short book). Their eyes meet, they get together, smooching occurs. Something busts our lovers apart (sometimes several somethings) before the final smooch and “I love yous.”

This obstacle-throwing can be done in a million ways, some creative and unique, some trope-y and cliché, but most of them will work for your reader (with the exceptions of maybe amnesia and the plain old misunderstanding that can be cleared up in a five second conversation or text).


I threw in a lot of roadblocks to happily ever after for the hero and heroine of my WWII-set time travel BERY BLUE, TIME COP. Modern day librarian Beryl meets a time cop from the future, who sends her back to 1943. Her mission? Stop a time traveling assassin from killing seemingly random GI Tom "Sully" Sullivan and messing up the timeline forever.

Beryl’s frantically trying to figure out the external stuff: how to stop the bad guy, why she’s the only one in all of time who can do this job, and how to protect the gruff, stubborn Sully, who clearly doesn’t want to be protected. Her internal struggle is equally challenging. She has trust and abandonment issues that keep her from letting anyone in. Now, for the first time in her life, she’s fallen in love—pulse-pounding, dizzy-making, irrational-thinking, happily ever after in love (Beryl’s words, not mine. Well, okay, kind of my words.). The problem? If she can save Sully's life, if she can keep the timeline from being completely screwed up, she’ll have to return to her own time and will never see him again.

*Sniffle...* Will those crazy kids find a way to bridge time and be together? Well, of course, but there will be a lot of misery before that happens.

So, I guess you get the idea. Throw it all at your lovers, make them clear the road of those roadblocks and obstacles, make them work for that happy ending, but give them that heart-shaped sunset. Your characters may not love you for it, but your readers sure will.

Derringer award finalist and Golden Heart Award winning author Janet Raye Stevens writes about love and all kinds of other mushy stuff. 

Connect with Janet at janetrayestevens.com

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

YA Outside the Lines News

Our regular bloggers share their latest news:

Allie Burton has a new release in February. 



Snow Warrior White is available at the preorder price of .99 cents on Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble with more retailers coming soon. It's the fifth book in A Glass Slipper Adventure series including Cinderella Assassin, Cinderella Soldier, Cinderella Spy, and Snow Wicked White.