Update: Author Next Door Spotlight: Cari Noga

Cari Noga
May 2015 Update: Noga was lucky enough to be discovered and picked up by an acquisitions editor at Lake Union, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Her novel Sparrow Migrations, was re-released by Lake Union Publishing on June 23, 2015 with manuscript revisions which deepen character relationships, a new cover and an audio edition (CD and mp3), as well as paperback and Kindle editions. Click for more info

Cari Noga — 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 from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1991. For 10 years she covered everything from politics to pigs and school boards to soybeans at daily newspapers in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan, winning awards from the Michigan Associated Press and the Michigan Press Association in 2000.

In 2001 she began a freelance career based in Traverse City, Michigan, contributing regularly to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan’s largest daily paper. She also expanded her mediums to include books, radio and online publications.

Cari’s first book, Road Bicycling: Michigan, a guidebook to bicycling in the state, was published by The Globe-Pequot Press in 2005. Her essay, “All The Comforts of Home,” was selected for publication in Chicken Soup for the Wine Lovers Soul, published in 2007. After aspiring to write fiction for many years, she wrote her first novel, Sparrow Migrations, as part of National Novel Writing Month in 2010.

In addition to writing fiction, Cari now works part-time in the public relations office at Northwestern Michigan College. She lives in Traverse City with her husband and their two children. In her spare time she enjoys writing haiku on Twitter.

How did you become a writer?
It started with a love of stories. As a preschooler, before I could actually write, I started in the oral tradition, making up stories using Christmas tree ornaments as characters. My oldest written piece is a script written in 1980, at the age of 11, for a puppet show I put on with my neighbor friends. “The First Thanksgiving in Space” (yes, really) closed after one performance. My confidence as a writer took a giant leap in high school when an English teacher took me aside and told me my journal, kept for a class assignment, showed I had writing potential. I joined the high school newspaper staff, went on to major in journalism in college, and then worked for 10 years as a newspaper reporter. Skills I cultivated as a reporter—listening, observing, meeting deadlines—I still use today.

How do you write? What is your process?
I definitely fall more into the “pantser” camp—someone who writes by the seat of her pants, vs. a planner who outlines and plots the whole story before writing a word. That process is the result of three National Novel Writing Months, where participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel during the thirty days of November. At that rate (1,667 words/day) you have to be prepared to follow your story wherever it takes you. That said, in my pre-writing phase I do create brief character sketches, as prescribed in Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict. For my next book I also intend to make more deliberate, advance choices about character point of view and tense. Writing in present tense, as, for example, Emma Donoghue does in Room, makes a book so much more powerful and I’d like to try that.

Who are your favorite authors?
I tend to favor contemporary authors like Barbara Kingsolver, the late Carol Shields, Jane Smiley, Jane Hamilton, Lisa Genova, Henning Mankell, Pam Houston and Geraldine Brooks, another journalist-turned-novelist and past NWS guest. I look forward to introducing my children to enduring authors like Beverly Cleary, Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) John D. Fitzgerald’s Great Brain series, Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series, and Judy Blume.

What authors have inspired you?
Audrey Niffenegger (Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry) whose answer to my question at the NWS in 2009 allowed me to approach novel-writing in a new way.
Ingrid Hill, author of Ursula, Under, a historical novel set in the Upper Peninsula. She wrote it while raising twelve kids, and points out how much the two endeavors have in common. That led me to realize parenting didn’t have to rule out writing. Lynne Rae Perkins, the children’s book author from Suttons Bay who won a Newbery while her kids were still at home. Ditto Ingrid Hill. Carrie Bebris, a college friend and the author of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy series, mysteries based on Jane Austen’s characters. She was the first published novelist who read my novel and was able to tell me how to fix what wasn’t working. I hope to be able to pay back her generosity with some other writer. Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Written in the voice of its autistic protagonist, it was a watershed book for autism awareness when published in 2003.

What books are on your bedside table?
Two literary novels: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw, and The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. Also Left Neglected, a more commercial novel by Lisa Genova, and Wild, a memoir by Cheryl Strayed (who I’d love to see as an NWS guest!) on my Kindle. As a good-luck charm I also have Chickadees at Night, a very successful children’s book self-published by TC author Bill Smith.

What’s the next writing project?
The next novel is just barely begun. It also deals with issues spawned by autism, but I envision it as more commercial than Sparrow Migrations – maybe a legal thriller. In the meantime I enjoy blogging whenever current events or the muse move me, and writing haiku on Twitter.

What advice do you have for young writers?
Read. Read, read, read, read, read. Then write, then read some more, then write some more. Publish something—maybe a letter to the editor, a school newspaper piece, or on a blog. Trust your voice as a writer. Understand the value of a day job, in stability, and in exposure to potential characters and stories you’d never find at home.

Sparrow Migrations by Cari NogaHer latest book
Sparrow Migrations (CreateSpace, 342 pages, $14.95 paperback, $2.99 e-book) is a tale of five characters connected by 2009’s Miracle on the Hudson plane crash. 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.

It was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest (top 1 percent) and Publishers Weekly described the manuscript as “brimming with humanity and grace.” The book is available at Horizon Books and Brilliant Books in Traverse City and on Amazon.com. An excerpt, (CreateSpace, 50 pages, $2.95 paperback, $0.99 e-book) illustrated by local artist Glenn Wolff, is also available.