Miya T. Beck is the author of The Pearl Hunter, a Winter/Spring 2023 Indies Introduce Kids selection.
Beck is a native Californian who always had a deep interest in the Japanese side of her heritage. Though she tried and failed to become fluent in Japanese, her studies did introduce her to the myths and fairy tales that inspired this novel. A former daily newspaper reporter and magazine writer, she lives in Brooklyn with her family.
Gabriella Crivilare of Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa, Illinois served on the panel that selected Beck’s debut for Indies Introduce. Calling the book “A captivating adventure with a beautiful historical and mythical backdrop,” Crivilare said, “The Pearl Hunter is an exciting tale of resourcefulness, inner strength, and the bond between sisters. It’s impossible not to get swept up in Kai’s journey across the empire — from the belly of a ghost whale to a magical fox den — to rescue her sister.”
Here, Beck and Crivilare discuss The Pearl Hunter.
Gabriella Crivilare: What was the first piece of The Pearl Hunter that came to you, and how has it changed on the road to publication?
Miya T. Beck: The Pearl Hunter started off as a bedtime story told by a character in another novel that I had been working on. Several writer friends who read those pages said they wanted to find out what happened to the two sisters. So I knew then that I’d come back their story some day.
During the pandemic, I needed a new project and decided to write more about Kai’s quest to save her twin sister Kishi. Not knowing the book market, I initially set out to write a YA novel for tweens and younger teens. I was thinking about my daughter in her middle school years. Once I started pitching the manuscript, I learned that what I’d written fell between YA and middle grade. My agent Victoria Wells Arms saw great potential for a middle-grade novel. In the rewriting process, the structure and major plot points stayed the same. But I toned down certain elements. For instance, the relationship between Kai and Ren went from a teen’s first romance to a tween’s first crush.
GC: Kai’s journey across the fictional Heiwadai Empire introduces plenty of mythological figures, mystical locations, and magical items for the reader to get excited about. Are there any that insatiable readers won’t be able to find in books of folklore, and which were your favorites to invent?
MTB: Japanese folklore has an astonishing array of mythological figures and monsters, including the Dragon King, the ghost whale, and the shape-shifting foxes. I rarely had to invent anything, though sometimes I tweaked the details to fit the story. I did create the Crows of the Eternal Night, who guard the feather cloak that Kai takes in order to fly across the empire.
GC: In your letter to the reader, you mention that like Kai, you had to leave home in order to learn how your differences could be strengths. Aside from your Japanese heritage, which ultimately inspired the book, what pieces of yourself did you bring to this story and to Kai and the other characters?
MTB: I tend to be a rule follower and I’m not a person who jumps into action, at least not in the physical sense. So I probably have more in common with Kishi than with Kai. That said, I enjoyed writing from the perspective of a character who reacts to situations in a very different way than I would.
GC: Though The Pearl Hunter ends on an almost dreamy and beautifully bittersweet note, I have to ask: are more adventures in store for Kai, or does her tale end here?
MTB: I do think Kai has more adventures ahead. She’s going to feel restless and I can’t see her returning to a quiet life as a pearl diver.
GC: If Kai, Kishi, and Ren were dropped into your hometown and you had to give them a tour, where would you take them, and what would they be most excited by?
MTB: I grew up in Ventura, a beach town midway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Though I’ve never surfed, I’m sure I could find a friend willing to give Kai, Kishi, and Ren a lesson. Then we’d drive east along the foothills and into the canyons so that I could show them where I took horseback riding lessons for all of a minute. We’d finish our tour downtown, which has always been a popular spot for thrifting and where they would no doubt discover some hidden treasures.
The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck (Balzer + Bray, 9780063238190, Hardcover Middle Grade, $17.99) On Sale: 2/7/2023.
Find out more about the author at www.miyabeck.com.
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