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How 2 Women Teamed Up To Write ‘Sister Of The Chosen One’

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Erin Armknecht provided by the author; Colleen Oakes by Cynthia McCulley
Friends Erin Armknecht, left, and Colleen Oakes co-authored "Sister of the Chosen One."

Erin Armknecht and Colleen Oakes were college friends who stayed in touch, even after Oakes transferred from their small school in Nebraska to one in New York City — and adult jobs sent them to different cities all over again. When Oakes wrote her first book, “Elly in Bloom,” she paid Armknecht to do an initial edit. “I think she paid me $100 and a Starbucks gift card,” Armknecht recalled.

Oakes later became a bestselling young-adult author, with HarperCollins snapping up her “Queen of Hearts” series and the books earning placement not just at Barnes & Noble, but Target as well, which is huge for sales.

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"Sister of the Chosen One" was released Sept. 22.

But when Oakes dreamed up the idea for her latest novel, “Sister of the Chosen One,” she didn’t want to do it alone. She pitched Armknecht on the idea of writing it together — and for four years, the two swapped chapters and shared drafts even as they each raised a young son, bringing to life a book that combines the magical boarding school of the Harry Potter series with the complex sister dynamics of “10 Things I Hate About You.”

Oakes (a former St. Louis resident who now lives in Denver) and Armknecht (who’s lived here since 2007) discussed their unique collaboration on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Oakes said she’d long wanted to write a story about two sisters — and alternate their narration from chapter to chapter.

“I wanted them to have very distinct voices,” she said. “And I also wanted to write a book with Erin, who was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”

Armknecht previously worked at a small newspaper and taught English in Indonesia. She’s never really thought of herself as a novelist, so Oakes’ entreaty left her with “serious imposter syndrome,” as she acknowledged. But writing the chapters from the point of view of Grier, the often-overlooked sister, soon felt natural.

“She was a lot of fun to write,” she said. “I could kind of fall back on my own insecurities, that darkest voice in your head that says you’re not good enough and tells you terrible things about yourself and draw on what it’s like to feel so unsure and on top of normal worries, every day of being a teenager, which is difficult in and of itself. She was pretty easy to get to know.”

Both women said they see the appeal of young adult fiction during a time that feels horribly uncertain.

“It’s fun to be in a world where there are imaginary monsters you can fight for awhile rather than the ever-present real ones we’re dealing with right now,” Armknecht said.

Added Oakes: “I love that in this world, there are very clear lines between heroes and villains. … It’s a hug for a teen, and it will make them feel good and laugh and it’s fun, but also has a lot of depth in it, and it talks about important things.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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