Skip to main content
  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. Books

In short: David-Michael Harding on 'The Cats of Savone' (Q&A)

See also

Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes David-Michael Harding.

Harding is the author of The Cats of Savone: 8 Short Novels for Busy People (Q&CY Books, $9.99). He is a life-long writer whose work has appeared in national publications and been recognized by the international writing community. His novel, How Angels Die, continues to receive critical acclaim—and has been known to outsell Ken Follett in the UK. Harding is a collegiate writing instructor and former semi-professional football player. His experiences provide readers with well researched, crushing fast-paced action. Most of his days are spent writing from the cockpit of his sailboat, Pegasus, somewhere off the Nature Coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico

The Cats of Savone was published in November of 2013; the title story won the PEN International Award. Gary Severance, Mobile Perceptions, noted, “David-Michael Harding’s collection of short fiction offers the reader one good story after another, producing some regret for the end of each one. As with his other published work, each story is well-written and focused on interesting people. The historical fiction pieces have footnotes explaining some of the terms and events lost to time that help to keep the narrative close to the record of the eras.”

From the publisher:

“Most novels begin their lives as short stories. Writing, much like any gift, skill, habit, or hope, is strengthened through practice, training, and exercise. The short story is the stretching and dedication to a running regime long before the marathon. It is the repetition of scales on the piano, years before the recital.” – David-Michael Harding

The Cats of Savone is an exemplary collection of stories from the pen of historical fiction author David-Michael Harding. Eight short stories and novellas make up his first installment in The Completely Abridged Series – Short Novels for Busy People. The title story is the PEN International Winner, The Cats of Savone, which follows a pregnant cat beneath a mammoth steel gate into the exercise yard of the Savone Correctional Facility. The hardened convicts in the maximum security prison adopt the cat as much as she adopts them. But an accident in the prison leads to murder and a host of tough choices for tough men – inmates and guards.

Black Men in Bright Blue traces the steps of ten-year-old Rachel Justice in 1864 while she explores her father’s plantation in South Carolina. As she learns of slavery beneath the shadow of the Civil War, her secret knowledge of the underground railroad pushes her family and her young mind into decisions none are ready for. Eavesdrop on the captain and crew in Forever Beneath the Celtic Sea as the story follows in the cold wake of the World War I German submarine the U-20, and its deadly encounter with the luxury passenger liner Lusitania in 1917.

The History of West Texas According to Henry Brass sits beside the bed of a of an old soldier, trapper, and patriot who is dying from consumption. He hasn’t lost his sense of humor however as he relates story after story to a young man who cares for him in his last days. Henry lived under most of the six different flags that flew over Texas and weaves wonderful tales for his caretaker whose own agenda is taken up by the old man. Then move from West Texas in the 19th Century to another continent and another time in St. Alden’s where a classic fight between good and evil comes to life on a university campus. An aged Guardian of the campus needs to pass down the secrets of a mysterious silver and the power of goodness to his grandson before night demons put an end to a magical spring and its unique life giving water.

Additional stories provide glimpses into the life of a man who has gone through a lifetime of labels – retarded in the 50’s, handicapped in the 70’s, and now with special needs – Jonny Archer finds himself on an unlikely trip in The Junket. The Jazz Bridge chronicles the history and anniversary of an ordinary bridge in an ordinary town as something extraordinary happens. The collection is rounded out by My Boo Radley and the high school baseball pitcher who learns lessons from an old fan who the world viewed as a monster.

For fans of David-Michael Harding, these shorts and novellas are glimpses into the stories, talent, passion, and personalization his rich characters are layered in. Readers care about the people in a Harding story. You’ll cheer and jeer – laugh and cry, and then VOTE for the one that becomes the next NOVEL!

Read, enjoy, and VOTE at DavidMichaelHarding.com.

Now, David-Michael Harding offers readers a glimpse into his creative process …

1) What inspired you to publish THE CATS OF SAVONE collection – and how do you feel that short stories are unique in their appeal?

CATS came together as a result of my teaching writing. I reference it on the back cover, but I tell my students, most of which walk in day one ready to write the proverbial next Great American Novel, that they would not embark on running a marathon without doing the necessary training. They would need to run one mile first. Build up slowly. Run two miles. Then three. Enter a 5K. Eventually a half marathon and so it goes until the big race. Writing is the same. It’s a muscle. It needs to be strong to craft a novel – characters, dialogue, plot, layering - that sustains itself through 100k+ words. So we start with the short story – honing, crafting, tweaking through a dozen re-writes. Then you lengthen both the story and the hours spent alone in your chair watching your words spill out your fingers onto the screen. CATS contains eight short stories of mine that have been examples for my students – different lengths, genres, techniques, etc. They are pieces that people have repeatedly commented on. We thought it was time to share beyond the classroom.

2) You write both novels and short fiction. What are the challenges and joys unique to each format – and how do you decide which treatment an idea gets?

My novels often began life as a short story. It doesn’t always happen, but if you’ve developed a character with several layers, he or she may not be done interacting with the world you’ve dropped them in within that 10k word short. For the most part, I don’t write from an outline nor do I limit or stretch a piece. It’s done when the characters show me as much. I am just the note taker. As an example – I wrote a WWII piece called “Silk Girls” as a short story 17 years ago. It was “finished” and used as an example (see question 1J) until the characters started to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey! What if I did this? Or went here? Met this person? Had a sister?” “Interesting,” I said. “Go ahead. I’ll eavesdrop and write down what happens.” 117k words later, my novel, How Angels Die was published. Both the short and the novel are wonderfully rewarding. The novel can get tough on the senses in the re-write re-write be-right stage! After so many readings and revisions it becomes physically taxing. This is especially true if a deadline looms or the next project, idea, or set of characters is clamoring in your head to get out on the page.

3) Many of your works incorporate historical components. How do you endeavor to both bring the past alive for readers and balance fact with fiction?

That is the challenge for all historical fiction writers. A number of people are still plagued by nightmares of ‘History Class Past.’ Indeed, reading a history book can be boring. “George Washington crossed the Delaware.” Yea? So? I would take that same event and leave the Father of Our Country pretty much out. Who’s that guy in the back of the boat? The one in the dark in the famous painting? His hands wrapped in rags? How did he come to be there? I’d explore the story of that (likely) impoverished, (certainly) cold, poorly clothed, and all but invisible colonial soldier who is now crossing that same damned river for the third time. He’s been trounced by General Cornwallis’s well maintained professional British regulars three times already. His friends are getting killed. Others are deserting. The ones that are caught are being shot by that, “six foot three inch General of ours who cut his teeth as a British officer and now thinks he can whip ‘em…” And we’re off! The history MUST MUST MUST be accurate or the writer loses credibility. This translates to research research research. The story will present itself – just like with our soldier – as the writer peels back the history and shows the reader the conflict. For our soldier, he’s torn between his willingness to fight against tyranny, but “damn I could use a decent meal and a pair of boots. Chuck in an officer who can steer both this boat and this war and I’ll show you a fair piece of soldiering…” Good story, in any genre, is about conflict.

4) They say that “those who can’t do teach” yet you do both. How do the disciplines influence one another – and what do you find to be the key(s) to bringing out the potential that exists within others?

You can count the Hemingways that have come along on one hand – make that less than one hand. The millionaire Grishams on two. But students of all ages CAN be published. More importantly, they can write well-crafted stories that are worthy of being read. They may not garner a multi-book deal and sell the rights to Hollywood, but they can produce fine storytelling that entertains – be it for hundreds or thousands of people, or perhaps a million. The latter can be attributed to timing, genre twisting, promotion, or outstanding writing – though unfortunately ‘outstanding writing’ is not a prerequisite of commercial success. For those learning the craft it is important they know their stories can make it to the published page. Both by my example and instruction in fundamentals, they see it can be done.

5) Leave us with a little teaser: what comes next?

Check the website DavidMichaeHarding.com for upcoming releases! Here’s a solid insider lead – contemporary thirty-somethings use their considerable computer skills to dole out a smack in the tech face of a local corrupt politico. It works like a charm. But the charm wears off when they escalate to the National headline makers and someone trades a computer virus for a baseball bat. It’s a great story you won’t be able to put down! Look for it under your tree for Christmas 2014!

***

With thanks to David-Michael Harding for indulging our curiosities and to his assistant, Kate, for her help in facilitating this interview.

Advertisement