C.K. Donnelly used to think she didn’t like science fiction or fantasy. But then a little movie series called Star Wars came along, and her life was never the same. Eventually Donnelly decided she wanted to create an immersive, fantastical world of her very own. In Book 1 of the Kinderra Saga, Trine Rising, Donnelly unveils her creative universe by taking the reader along on a hunting trip with her young protagonist, Mirana:
Mirana Pinal curled her fingers around the hilt of a long knife, the blade an extension of her hand, the gnawing ache of hunger chewing her stomach. She had let one of the animals go and stayed on the trail of the other. He was dark, smaller but still of good size. She had missed him twice. She didn’t know why she felt it was a “he.” It could be a female. It didn’t matter. Her prey would not escape her again. His mind held fear. She advanced, making less sound than the evening breeze through the tall grass of Sün-Kasal province. She slipped through the dense growth closer to her quarry and licked dry lips as she moved. The Healing Aspect gave her impressions of hunger and exhaustion. She pulled her lips tightly against her teeth in a sneer. That made two of them. She was close now, almost upon him. In a single, fluid movement, she rose to her feet, parted the grass, cocked her arm to thrust the long knife—and froze.
The story may start in this close, personal setting, but Kirkus Reviews praises Donnelly’s “well-calibrated tension in the run-up to a single battle that begins in the minds of psychic characters long before the first sword falls.” Readers who agree with Kirkus that “the finale promises a grand, devastating sequel” can look forward to two more books in the series that are out now, with even more to come.
Donnelly, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, describes her childhood self as a “total, all-in Star Wars fangirl.” She was so enchanted by the movies that she dove headfirst into Star Warsfan culture, writing fanfiction where she created her own original characters within the rich fictional world from the movies. As Donnelly continued to develop as a writer through working on fanfiction, she took note of how that established universe was structured. What was it about Star Wars that made it so engaging for her? How did those stories help her understand the world those characters lived in?
Keeping those lessons in mind, Donnelly went back to some characters she’d already created and decided she wanted to give them an original universe of their own, and thus the Kinderra Saga was born.
Donnelly imagines eight or even nine books total in the Kinderra Saga, which started out as just one story. But that expansion isn’t the only thing that has taken her by surprise as she’s written her books; she had no idea that almost 20 years would pass between the first spark of inspiration for Trine Rising and its actual publication.
A large part of that gap can be attributed to Donnelly’s thorough and professional approach to writing. She took the job very seriously and hired professional developmental editors in order to ensure that her indie-produced book would be at the same editorial standard as any traditionally published novel. As a result, Trine Rising and its sequel, Trine Fallacy, have won or been nominated for a total of 10 literary awards.
But other than working with a team of skilled editors, Donnelly had to do the work of constructing her own fantasy universe. She says that worldbuilding was the hardest part, “not creating a character or character arc or anything like that. I spent a good couple of months creating what I like to call my fantasy toolbox.” Donnelly filled her toolbox with the nuts and bolts of how her magic system worked, what was possible and what was impossible, and then the layout of the physical map and the different cultures of people who would live there.
When it came to her heroine, Mirana, she says she knew she wanted someone who had a good heart but had their own flaws to overcome. “You want to see some progression in their story,” she says, “you want them to grow and change.” Meanwhile, she wasn’t interested in a villain who is “evil for evil’s sake” and instead says she wanted to write her villain as someone who’s “not necessarily wrong, he’s just not right. I really wanted to make someone that you could almost identify with.”
Mirana starts off as a young woman in Trine Rising, so much of her character arc is coming-of-age, while Donnelly’s villain is a man in his 50s with all the baggage and knowledge that comes with time and experience. This wide range of ages, character motivations, and roles in the story allows the Kinderra Saga to spread from young adult to adult fantasy genres. Donnelly is a firm believer in “interesting storytelling no matter what age you are” and wrote her older characters in a way that younger readers would find compelling, and vice versa.
Most of all, Donnelly wants the Kinderra Saga to bring her readers as much joy and inspiration as Star Warsbrought to her all those years ago. “I’m hoping that when people read my books, they read them as a participant, not just a spectator,” she says. “I want them to be viscerally and spiritually invested in the story; I want them to be so consumed by this world that they don’t want to leave it.”
For now, readers who want to live in the world of the Kinderra Saga can read Trine Rising, Trine Fallacy, and the third book, Trine Revelation, which just came out this summer. Then there will be at least a few more books to come in the series as well as two origin trilogies and hopefully more sequel stories and maybe even some graphic novels. With all of Donnelly’s plans, it seems as if now is the perfect time to get in on the ground floor of an immersive fantasy world.
Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.