Author Spotlight: Mara Rutherford talks Crown of Coral and Pearl
I'm so happy to welcome the wonderful Mara Rutherford on today's blog! Mara began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, she has since lived all over the world along with her Marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a Master's degree in Cultural Studies from the University of London. When she's not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. She is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.
Her debut YA fantasy CROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL is out now from Inkyard/HarperCollins. Check out the synopsis below!
For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine.
TNor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.
Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen…and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.
In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie.
And now, here's my chat with Mara!
Hi, Mara! Welcome and congrats on Crown of Coral and Pearl. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hi Megan! Thank you so much! CoCap is the story of twin sisters Nor and Zadie, who live in a small ocean village called Varenia. Once a generation, the most beautiful maiden is chosen to marry the prince of the ruling kingdom, Ilara, and due to a childhood accident that left a permanent scar, Nor has spent most of her life knowing Zadie will be chosen. Through a twist of fate, Nor ends up going in her place and quickly discovers that the world she longed to see is nothing like she expected, and the people she loves are in far greater danger than she could have imagined. The story came to me in pieces, actually. I knew I wanted to write a book about twin sisters, based (obviously loosely!) on my relationship with my own twin. I knew I wanted to turn the trope of the “most beautiful maiden” on its head a bit. And I knew I wanted to play with duality. But where exactly the blood coral and pearls came from, I don’t really know! Once I had that idea, though, the world of Varenia sprang up around it.
What was your favorite thing about writing (and exploring) the sister relationship between Nor and Zadie?
I loved using bits of my relationship with my own sister, Sarah, in the novel (I’m guessing even she won’t recognize all of them!). But Nor and Zadie also represent two different aspects of my own personality, and exploring that was also really interesting.
How did you approach your magic system for Crown of Coral and Pearl?
I didn’t necessarily set out with a magic system in mind, and I certainly wasn’t planning on basing it on poisonous coral! I suppose the idea of people’s stewardship¾or abuse¾of the environment being the source of their magic could have been influenced by my own beliefs, but it wasn’t deliberate. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, however, and I plan to explore it a lot more in Book Two.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Revision has always been my biggest challenge. I enjoy drafting and would happily finish one first draft and move on to the next idea entirely. I’ve learned to enjoy revision more over the years, particularly if I’m working with an agent or editor. It’s more frustrating when you’re revising on your own, not really sure if you’re making your manuscript better or worse. Thank goodness for smart critique partners!
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Crown of Coral and Pearl teach you?
I agree! CoCaP taught me so much! First, that I do have what it takes to create my own worlds. This is the first “high fantasy” novel I’ve written – the rest were contemporary or contemporary fantasy. I never thought I was creative enough for world building, and I proved myself wrong on that front. I also learned to trust my gut. I parted ways with my first agent over this novel after the book he signed me with didn’t sell. It was terrifying starting over after spending ten years searching for my first agent, but everything worked out for the best. And in the end, I’m glad this is my debut. This book isn’t perfect (no book is!), but it means a lot to me.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I just finished SORCERY OF THORNS and omg, I ADORE it! I wish I had written it! I loved AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS too. Margaret Rogerson has a fan for life in me.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
I could write a book (maybe I will!) on what I’ve learned over the past fifteen years pursuing a career in publishing. For one thing, I have always treated writing like a job, just a very badly paying one! I created my own deadlines when no one else would. I interned for a literary agent for a long time when I first started writing to learn the business. I attended conferences and workshops. I blogged (because that was what you did back in the day, when people said you needed a platform *insert eye roll*). I wrote my butt off while my babies napped and during lunch breaks and into the wee hours.
But more than all that, I got rejection after rejection after rejection, and through it all, my desire to be published never once dimmed. I always said “I love writing but I hate publishing,” and that’s still true. Publishing is glacially slow (unless it wants something from you) and rarely rewarding and there is no such thing as “fair” or “deserve.” It’s a combination of luck, perseverance, of talent, and your special combo won’t be the same as anyone else’s (mine is mostly perseverance, I think). But if you want it badly enough, your time will come. In the meantime, here’s a hug.
Many thanks go out to Mara for taking the time to tell us more about CROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL as well as sharing a bit about her own writing process and journey! Be to sure to add this gorgeous YA fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!.
And, as always,