Debut of the Week: Mara Rutherford

Welcome to Debut of the Week, our series celebrating some of the most exciting new voices in YA. This week we welcome Mara Rutherford, author of Crown of Coral and Pearl. Since being scarred as a child, Nor has known her twin sister was the one destined to marry the crown prince of Ilara, one in a long line of royals to choose their brides from the sisters’ ocean village. But when her twin is struck down by an accident, Nor must go in her place. Her new home and intended husband are chilly and unwelcoming…and soon she learns there are darker things afoot, including a plot against the home she abandoned.

Here’s Rutherford on what she was like as a teen, the books that inspired her, and her most surreal author moment.

Please pitch your debut in one sentence. 

Identical twins Nor and Zadie live in Varenia, an ocean village that provides the Kingdom of Ilara with two rare exports: pink pearls and a bride for the Ilarean prince. But when Zadie is chosen against her will, the sisters devise a plan that will change not only Nor’s fate, but that of an entire kingdom, forever.

What was the spark that became this book?

The main spark for Crown of Coral and Pearl was my relationship with my own identical twin sister, combined with moving abroad for my husband’s job in the Foreign Service. But it really coalesced for me when I came up with the idea of blood coral and Ilarean pearls. The ocean world of Varenia grew from there.

What were the books you had to read throughout your life in order to write it?

I grew up reading a combination of epic fantasy, like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and thriller/horror novels, including a lot of Stephen King, and I aspire to write novels that are a combination of compelling plot and immersive world building. I also tend to include darker elements in my books, which probably comes from my love of authors like Neil Gaiman and Victoria Schwab. But the author who made me fall in love with young adult as a genre was Laini Taylor, and she’s still one of my main sources of inspiration.

What were you like as a teenager?

I grew up in Southern California, so the ocean was nearby, but that’s probably as close as I ever got to my main character, Nor. At seventeen, my self esteem was extremely low and the pressure to succeed felt unbearable. If I wasn’t studying (which seemed like ALL THE TIME), I was probably riding horses with my sister or going to one of my brother’s ska shows. I did share Nor’s desire to see the world, and I was fortunate to get to travel often with my family.

A YA book you’re really looking forward to?
I’m completely obsessed with Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy and can’t wait for The Queen of Nothing. She got me hooked with the enemies-to-lovers trope, and I’m dying to see how she pulls off lovers-to-enemies in book three. (Though I’m still hoping for a happy ending!)

What has been the most surreal part of your debut experience?

The most surreal part of my debut experience so far was signing at Book Con in June. I’ve spent so long writing for a very limited group of readers that meeting complete strangers who are excited about *my* book was both thrilling and extremely humbling. Now I’m just hoping I don’t let them down!

Crown of Coral and Pearl is on shelves now.

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