Today I am delighted to hand over my blog to Vali Benson who published her debut novel Blood and Silver in April 2020. YA historical fiction, Blood and Silver is described as ‘a story of the best and worst of human nature, the passion for survival and the beauty of true friendship’. In June of 2021, Blood and Silver won first place in two categories at the San Francisco Book Festival. In the months since, Blood and Silver was named a winner at the New York Book Festival, the Arizona Literary Awards, the Paris Book Festival, the Moonbeam Book Awards, and the 2021 American Fiction Awards.
‘Blood and Silver is a clever page turner with a witty young heroine set against an actual place and time in history. Dripping with suspense, charm and perseverance, Blood and Silver has been described as “both heartbreaking and heartwarming”. The narrative also features very identifiable issues. As opposed to so much Y/A fiction, my book is entertaining in a very relatable way with the benefit of a historically accurate perspective. According to Rabia Tanveer of Readers’ Favorite, it “is the kind of young adult fiction that needs to become more popular”. With a host of colorful characters and meticulous attention to period detail, Blood and Silver is a story of the best and worst of human nature, the passion for survival and the beauty of true friendship.‘
– Vali Benson
Vali is sharing a really fascinating piece today about the importance of research for writers. Vali was inspired by the words of a teacher who told her to “write about what’s in your own backyard”. Vali took that advice on board, which took her down a rabbit-hole of research surrounding Tombstone, Arizona, where she met China Mary. China Mary was a Chinese immigrant who arrived in Tombstone in 1877, following the first silver strike by Ed Schieffelin. ‘In addition to operating a gambling hall behind her general store, she was also the preeminent broker for opium, laudanum, and Chinese prostitutes.’
I do hope you enjoy Vali’s piece and thank you for reading!
[ About the Book ]
What is a twelve year old girl to do when she finds herself in the silver boom town of Tombstone, Arizona, in 1880, and her only home is a brothel and her only parent is a drug-addicted mother? If she is Carissa Beaumont, she outsmarts the evil madam and figures a way out.
After tricking the madam, Miss Lucille, into summoning a doctor for her mother, Lisette, she discovers that Miss Lucille has been drugging her. She and the kind doctor make a plan to try to save Lisette by dosing her down on the drug.
Doctor Henderson tells Carissa that the only source for the drug is a Chinese immigrant named China Mary, who lives in Hoptown, at the other end of Tombstone. Carissa has no choice but to go to the powerful woman for help. Many say that China Mary is the one who really controls Tombstone.
China Mary admires Carissa’s brave spirit, and uses her influence to get her a job at the new Grand Hotel, which will free Carissa from her many duties at Miss Lucille’s. She will work along with Mary’s twelve year old niece, Mai-Lin. The two girls become fast friends.
Then, disaster strikes, and the two girls must work together to stay alive.
With a host of colorful characters and meticulous attention to period detail, Blood and Silver is a story of the best and worst of human nature, the passion for survival and the beauty of true friendship.
Guest Post – The importance of research for writers
Hi, my name is Vali Benson, and I am a writer of historical fiction. Today, I would like to talk about the importance of research. Once when I had severe writers block, a great teacher told me, “Write about what’s in your own backyard”. I took my teacher’s advice and turned in an award-winning essay. That was the inspiration in writing my 2020 book; a young adult historical fiction novel called Blood and Silver. The story takes place in Tombstone, Arizona. For thirty years, I have lived in Tucson, Arizona. Tombstone is only forty-five minutes down the road, practically backyard distance.
Most people associate Tombstone with the shootout at the O.K. Corral but, as I found out, that one event hardly defines the place. Tombstone was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco in 1884, with over 150 businesses, including 100 saloons, and a thriving red-light district. Apparently, this arid little tourist trap, only forty-five minutes from my hometown, was more important than I thought! This information began to spin my inquisitive wheels. I began to wonder what it would have been like to live in this obscure place in 1880. I had a premise that sparked my interest. Now, it was time for the part of the writing process that gives life to the story, research.
Research is pivotal no matter the genre. It allows the author to properly prepare the reader so that they are engaged in the narrative. One needs to look in unusual places, not just the top three Google hits. I love sourcing museums, libraries, newspaper archives, and even historical homes. Don’t rely on your computer only. Everyone can get that information. Not only is it not original, but it is also not interesting. One tip that I would like to emphasize to a burgeoning writer is to seek out primary sources whenever possible. If you can work from the original source, it falls on you to interpret the story. This allows you to not have to depend on someone else’s version of the truth.
As I began to delve deeper into the true story of Tombstone, I also uncovered unexpected angles. The most prominent of which was the effect of the Chinese population. The result of this research led me to a real person whom I could never had made up, a woman named “China Mary”. This woman lived in Tombstone from 1879 – 1906 and essentially ran the town. In addition to operating a gambling hall behind her general store, she was also the preeminent broker for opium, laudanum, and Chinese prostitutes. After I discovered the real-life splendor of China Mary, I made her one of my central characters and twisted my fictional story around her actual exploits. None of that could have been possible without an extensive research period.
It is important to realize that research is a never-ending endeavor; one can’t ever learn everything there is to know. However, at some point, you just have to make up your mind that you have enough to craft the story you want to tell. This is why research is so important. When I can understand the period in which my characters live, I can shape their circumstances and attitudes into the narrative. With Blood and Silver, because I had taken the time to ensure that every aspect of my world would be historically accurate, the attitudes and tones of my characters occurred organically. I simply placed my fictional characters into actual settings and let them take me where they wanted to go.
Thanks for reading!
All the best, Vali
Purchase Link – Blood and Silver
[ Bio ]
Vali grew up in the Midwest. She now lives in Tucson with her husband, two sons and grandchildren.
After graduating from the University of Illinois, Vali started and sold two successful businesses before she decided to pursue her real passion of writing. She published several articles in a variety of periodicals, including History Magazine before she decided to try her hand at fiction.
In April of 2020, Vali published her first novel, “Blood and Silver”.
That same month, she was also made a member of the Western Writers of America.
Twitter – @BensonVali