Cari Noga’s debut novel, Sparrow Migrations, makes the case for reading more, and maybe even writing contemporary fiction. She makes multiple narratives and difficult stories look much easier to tell and enjoy than we’ve known them to be in the past. Get a taste of Cari’s carefully chosen words at her blog–we like this post about signs and her son, check out our Book Review in Brief or just ask Amazon for a free sample of the new edition of Sparrow Migrations. Trust us–it’s worth a read or few.
What’s the last thing you read? (It doesn’t have to be a book, could even be the label on your breakfast cereal, I suppose). After a long wait on my local library’s reserve list, I’m gobbling up Pioneer Girl, the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series.
I must write on a naked computer.
Do you have any unusual writing rituals or habits? (Must write from exactly 10:34-12:56, for example). I must write on a naked computer. In other words, a computer dedicated only to writing. I don’t pay bills, send email or use social media on my writing computer, currently a tablet. It does have an Internet connection, for research only. Quiet and focus are necessary for me to write, so I’ve found this technological nakedness important to productivity.
What book could you read over and over and never get bored? Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger.
I’d like to learn how to create an indelible character who grows and changes but whose appeal endures over generations
If you could be mentored by any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why?I’m going to pick one of each:
Dead: Lucy Maud Montgomery, also known as L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series. I’d like to learn how to create an indelible character who grows and changes but whose appeal endures over generations.
Living: Stephen King. While not a fan of the horror genre, his book On Writing has fabulous advice to writers of all stripes. Also, as one who aspires to be prolific and have readers awaiting the next book, I can’t think of a better role model.
What genres do you read for pleasure and what genres do you avoid like the plague?Contemporary fiction, including mystery. I generally avoid fantasy and romance.
What books would you put on a required reading list for humanity? Wow, that’s a tall order! Here are a few:
- Room, Emma Donoghue & The History of Love, Nicole Krauss-Both stories of the triumph of the human spirit.
- Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, Ellen Notbohm-I’m always an advocate and this nonfiction book presents Autism 101 in layperson language.
- Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, Geraldine Brooks & Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer-Both of these nonfiction works show the powerful force religion plays in many people’s lives.
- Ramona the Pest (and all Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus novels)-Growing up, family dynamics, siblings.
Read, write, repeat.
Do you have any advice, or reading suggestions for your fellow writers?
Read, write, repeat.
I took to heart the advice to write the book you want to read
Your book, Sparrow Migrations, uses multiple narratives to describe the lives and experiences of five characters affected by the Miracle on the Hudson plane accident. Was your writing influenced or inspired by any particular books or authors?
When I planned Sparrow Migrations I took to heart the advice to write the book you want to read. I made a list of books I had recently enjoyed and then looked for what they had in common. Those books were:
- The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
- The Man From Beijing, Henning Mankell
- Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
- Unless, Carol Shields
- Ursula, Under, Ingrid Hill
What I found they had in common were mostly contemporary settings, third person voice (exception: Racing in the Rain), fallible but likeable characters whose conflicts intersect with each other, and what I call the omniscient reader, a style in which the reader can foresee things happening that the characters cannot, because the reader is aware of all the plots. I incorporated all those aspects into Sparrow Migrations.
The conundrum of fiction is that it doesn’t have to be true, but it does have to be credible.
How much truth and how much tweaking goes into the writing of a book based on a real-life event? Some of both. The conundrum of fiction is that it doesn’t have to be true, but it does have to be credible. The facts of the Miracle on the Hudson actually helped me make some early decisions. For example, the flight path from NYC to Charlotte, N.C. to Seattle dictated that if I were to have characters as passengers, they’d need a reason to be headed to one of those cities. Deborah and Christopher thus do have a reason to go to Seattle, which comes back to be relevant near the end. The crash itself doesn’t figure much in the novel after Chapter One; however, I did wrestle with other realities, notably the habits of the piping plover, a bird which protagonist Robby Palmer becomes fascinated with later in the book. The truth was inconvenient for me as a writer, but I hewed to it because otherwise I risked losing my credibility with readers.
It was intimidating to start, since I had attempted NaNo twice before but had not succeeded in achieving the 50,000 word goal. It was exhilarating and exhausting to finish it. I cried when I finished it at about 11:45 p.m. Nov. 30, 2010.
You wrote Sparrow Migrations during NaNoWriMo. What was it like to write a novel in 30 days? After writing the book in a month, how long did it take you to revise and publish it?It was intimidating to start, since I had attempted NaNo twice before but had not succeeded in achieving the 50,000 word goal. It was exhilarating and exhausting to finish it. I cried when I finished it at about 11:45 p.m. Nov. 30, 2010. What I realized when I read it during December was that I didn’t have a book; I had a first draft. For almost two more years I continued to revise the manuscript, based on the input of beta readers. During that time it went through eight additional drafts and gained another 36,000 words. Simultaneously, I was querying agents in an attempt to publish via the traditional route.
In August 2012 I reached a crossroads: I’d been rejected by every agent I’d queried. My choices were 1) query a new batch of agents, 2) give up, or 3) self-publish. I had zero enthusiasm for option one. Based on the feedback I’d gotten, I knew that the book had potential, I just hadn’t found the right match. So I wasn’t ready to give up. That left Option 3. Self-publishing has been gaining legitimacy and is vastly more affordable than in the old days when it was considered vanity publishing. I did some research, talked to other authors, and learned the importance of hiring editors and a professional cover designer. I set a budget, and self-pubbed in April 2013. It was immensely gratifying to scale the huge learning curve and achieve on my own what I’d believed only a publisher could provide. Still, my reader reach was limited. About 18 months later (October 2014) I was approached by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, to re-release the novel. As an author, I think I’m in a perfect sweet spot now.
Writing the autism story line was in fact therapeutic. I wrote the first draft six months after my son was diagnosed with autism, and it allowed me to process my own emotions.
Your book addresses some very delicate themes such as children with autism, living with Huntington’s disease, coming to terms with homosexuality as a pastor’s wife, and the negative effects in vitro fertility treatments can have on a romantic partnership. Was it difficult to write about these subjects? Was raising awareness one of your goals writing the novel? It was not at all difficult. Writing the autism story line was in fact therapeutic. I wrote the first draft six months after my son was diagnosed with autism, and it allowed me to process my own emotions. The choice of whether or not to have children, and the relationship between one’s actions and one’s religion have always interested me, so the other plot lines came naturally, too. Raising awareness for any one of those issues was not a goal. Had it been, I think the novel would have come across as preachy. Rather, I wanted the characters and their reactions to the themes to resonate with readers. In each plot, there is one character agitating for change, and one clinging to the status quo, which sets up the conflicts. I find that’s frequently the case in real life. So regardless of the specific conflicts the novel’s characters face, my hope is that readers see their own challenges reflected authentically. The ultimate satisfaction is when readers find fortitude through the resolution of Sparrow Migrations.
Cari Noga is a writer, reader, mother, bicyclist and wine lover, sometimes up to four out of the five all at once.
She grew up in the Detroit area and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1991 from Marquette University in Milwaukee in. For 10 years she covered everything from politics to pigs and school boards to soybeans at daily newspapers in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. In 2001 she began a freelance career based in Traverse City, Michigan, and expanded her genres to include books, radio and online publications. Her first book, Road Bicycling: Michigan, a guidebook to bicycling in the state, was published by The Globe-Pequot Press in 2005.
After aspiring to write fiction for many years, she wrote her first novel, Sparrow Migrations, as part of National Novel Writing Month in 2010. A tale of five characters connected by 2009’s Miracle on the Hudson plane crash, Sparrow Migrations was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest (top 1 percent). Publishers Weekly described the manuscript as “brimming with humanity and grace.” Sparrow’s protagonist, Robby Palmer, a 12-year-old boy with autism, and his parents, Sam and Linda, embody many experiences Cari and her husband have had as parents to a son with autism.
Cari self-published the novel in April 2013. It was acquired and re-released by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, in June 2015.
Cari lives in Traverse City with her husband and their two children. In her spare time she enjoys writing haiku on Twitter.