Nami Mun is the author of Miles from Nowhere.
From a Q & A at the Penguin website:
Q. Your novel has many autobiographical elements. Like Joon, your main character, you're a Korean–American from New York City who was a teenage runaway, a dance hostess, and an Avon Lady who sold cosmetics door to door. Joon is also at times a drug addict, a sex worker, and a petty criminal. How closely is Joon's story based on your own?Read the complete Q & A.
Not very. If I had to put it in numbers, I'd say maybe one percent of the book is autobiographical. Yes, I left home at a young age but I chose not to write about the actual events of my own life as a runaway. I kept those actual events in a "reserve" of sorts and used my knowledge of them to strengthen the narrative artifice I was creating.
Take the chapter "Avon" for example, in which Joon sells cosmetics door–to–door. I once had a job selling jewelry out of a briefcase door to door. I think I was maybe fourteen or fifteen then. I would walk down streets and enter businesses and do my best to get someone, anyone, to buy a gold necklace or what have you from me. One place I went into was a Chinese restaurant. It was completely empty of customers, so I walked to the back, into the kitchen, and mimed and gestured my sales pitch to a staff of Chinese men who spoke little English. I held a necklace out for them to see. One of them took it from my hand, looked at it closely, and without much warning, tossed it into a sizzling wok. I was stunned. The man said to me, "Fake? Turn green," again and again, while stir–frying the necklace with these very long chopsticks. They all stood around the stove and watched the oil bubble, and I think I prayed to every god I knew back then, begging for that necklace to stay gold. After about a minute or so, the man plucked the necklace out, studied it again, and said words to his co–workers, who nodded in agreement. Luckily, for me, it didn't turn green.
I'm pretty sure it was my one and only sale, but when that man paid me money, I remember feeling proud of myself for having rolled with the punches—for having kept my cool about the stir–frying thing. For a split second I thought I could make it. That even though I had a few things stacked against me, I could work and make money and eventually make it off the streets.
That was a really good day, and that moment has stayed near me for decades. But I didn't write about it in the book. Instead I contained the moment and wrote completely fictional events and dialogue to better explore and express just how complex a feeling like pride and hope can be for someone who's on the verge hopelessness as Joon is in "Avon." Incidentally, I also didn't write about actual events that occurred while I sold Avon door to door either. Basically, my approach to this material was inspired by Hemingway's iceberg principle: for every part of the iceberg we see, seven–eighths of it is underwater, strengthening the iceberg.
Visit the Miles from Nowhere website.