Monday 24 January 2022

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Vali Benson, as she talks about the inspiration behind her multi award-winning novel - Blood and Silver @BensonVali


Blood and Silver

By Vali Benson 

Publication Date: 3rd April 2020
Publisher: Tellwell Publishing
Page Length: 142 Pages
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

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.

"Blood and Silver is an absolute treasure, packed with a wealth of inspiring characters!" - Indies Today

"Blood and Silver is entertaining and heartbreaking. This is the kind of young adult fiction that needs to become more popular". - Readers' Favorite

“This was the western I have been waiting for!... This story was captivating, full of adventure and emotion, and completely unable to put down!” – BreeAnn for

“Blood and Silver by Vali Benson is a remarkable historical fiction story. I could not put it down! Benson’s ability to grasp the heart of her readers is exceptional. I was desperate to know what would happen next…I give it my highest recommendation”.  – Gina Rae Mitchell for Gina Reviews

“What an incredible adventure this book is! The story of Carissa is fraught with emotion, drama, suspense, intrigue, mystery, danger, and fun. Part a little girl, part super-girl for the work she can do and part Lara Croft – this girl is a heroine every reader can root for! This book is a great book for kids and adults alike. My Rating: 5+ stars”. – N.N. Light’s Book Heaven

Accolades for Blood and Silver:
2xWinner – 2021 San Francisco Book Festival
Winner – 2021 New York Book Festival
Winner – 2021 Moonbeam Book Awards
Winner – 2021 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards
Winner – 2021 Paris Book Festival
Winner - 2021 American Fiction Awards
Winner – 2021 Arizona Literary Awards
Winner – 2021 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards

Hi! My name is Vali Benson and I have been a writer all my life. I can also now call myself a published author. It still seems like a dream, but it’s true. Ever since I can remember, I have had a book in my hand. As a lifelong reader, I often thought, “I could do better than that”. So, I decided to finally do something about it. People have asked me to explain the writing process, but I can’t. I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way to write a book. But I do know what works for me.

The first step is to come up with an idea. It must be something that interests you, or that you feel strongly about. If you don’t care what you are writing about, nobody else will either. 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 motivation in writing my book, Blood and Silver. The story takes place in Tombstone, Arizona. For over thirty years, I have lived in Tucson, Arizona. Tombstone is only forty-five minutes down the road, practically backyard distance.  

Blood and Silver is my first book. It is a young adult historical fiction novel about a twelve-year-old girl in 1880’s Tombstone, AZ who runs into all kinds of trouble trying to save her mother’s life. I like to think it has an entertaining combination of history and heart. The inspiration for Blood and Silver was formed from family outings. When our boys were little, my husband and I used to take them to Tombstone for the Wild West show. I was amazed when I learned that this arid little tourist town had once been an amazing boomtown of incredible riches. I couldn’t imagine it, but I knew there had to be a great story there.        

Tombstone is one of the most revered locations of the old west and is known as “The Town Too Tough to Die”. When Ed Schieffelin drifted into Arizona Territory in 1877 with the idea of prospecting in Apache country, the soldiers at a nearby fort told him that the only stone he would find out there would be his own tombstone. A month later he hit his first strike and the silver rush was on. Schieffelin named the strike “Tombstone”. By 1880, there were some 8,000 people in Tombstone. It featured over 100 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and the first real “red light” district in the American Southwest. It also had 4 churches, 3 newspapers, 2 banks, a school, an opera house, an ice cream parlor, and a bowling alley, the first in what would become the state of Arizona. By 1884, Tombstone was a bustling frontier metropolis and the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.  

Silver was the lifeblood of Tombstone. In fact, due to the unprecedented silver production, the town of Tombstone grew in population from 100 to around 14,000 in less than seven years. During that time, it is estimated that miners extracted between $40 and $85 million in silver; comparable to a modern-day value of between $1.7 and $2.42 billion. There was a lot of blood spilt over that silver which serves as the inspiration for the title of my novel. When the mines quit producing, Tombstone by all rights should have been absorbed back into the desert. It should share the fate of so many other ghost towns of the American West. However, as we’ve already established, Tombstone is too tough to die. 

The population of Tombstone today sits at about thirteen hundred. On the weekends, many of the residents dress up in western garb – as cowboys, sheriffs, frontier gamblers, proper matrons, and saloon girls. At first glance, it seems as though this may be a retirement community designated for extras of John Ford films. But Tombstone does have one enduring claim to fame - the shootout at the O.K. Corral.  It is called “the most famous thirty seconds in the history of the American West”. The legendary incident is a gunfight that occurred in 1881. The shootout involved Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp and two Earp brothers against a gang of outlaws called the Cowboys. Three men were killed, all of them Cowboys. The Earps and Doc Holiday were already famous in the west.  The gunfight made them infamous.  

Blood and Silver tells the tale of a young girl who finds herself in trouble and alone in Tombstone in 1880. My heroine uses her wits and charm to carve out a new life for herself and her sick mother. I had a premise but was immediately confronted with a classic problem of the historical fiction author; my inspiration had little to do with my subject. The little town that I was familiar with had about 1,300 residents. The town that I was writing about, Tombstone, AZ in 1880, had a rapidly growing population with over 100 saloons and every sort of vice imaginable. The locations were the same, but the places were very different. During my research, my story began to reveal itself. 

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. I personally made over ten trips to Tombstone to investigate the actual places I was writing about and walk in the same footsteps as my characters. More importantly, I was able to absorb the time period. This not only aided my inspiration, but it also fueled my creativity.       

As I began to delve deeper into the true story of Tombstone, I uncovered unexpected angles. The most prominent of which was the impact 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 only source for opium, laudanum, and Chinese prostitutes, all of which were in high demand. After I discovered the real-life splendor of China Mary, I made her one of the central characters and twisted my fictional story around her actual exploits.  

The writing was the easy part. Putting compelling sentences together was not my problem. The difficulty arose when I needed to create a vibrant world for my characters that was not only captivating but also historically precise. Researching my topic well enough so that I could accurately write about it was my biggest challenge. I drowned myself in the era and when I felt I had enough of a foundation to build my historical setting, I applied my plot and inserted my characters. 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.   

Blood and Silver is my debut novel. It was released in April of 2020. I was inspired to write it by my local surroundings sparked by advice I was given in grade school. Last June, the book won First Place at the 2021 San Francisco Book Festival, in two separate categories. Since then, Blood and Silver has won first place awards at the New York Book Festival, the Arizona Literary Awards, the Moonbeam Book Awards, the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards, the American Fiction Awards, and the Paris Book Festival. When I decided to write this book, awards were the last thing on my mind. To me, the recognition serves as proof that it is never too late to pursue one’s dreams. I may have waited awhile to pursue mine, but now they are coming true!  
Happy writing, Vali Benson.

The girls enjoyed exploring the hotel when they could. The only place they didn’t like was the damp, dark basement, but occasionally they were asked to go down there to fetch something from the supply room.

The handyman, known only as Joe, had his bedroom down there. Unlike most of the nice people who worked at the Grand, Joe was a strange fellow, secretive and surly. He told the girls several times that they were not to go near his room in the basement, which of course stirred their curiosity.
One day when they were especially early, the head housekeeper asked them if they would go down and bring her more linen.

“I wonder why he forbids anyone to go in his room,” Mai-Lin wondered.

“Let’s find out,” Carissa suggested.

“Oh no, Callie, I am too frightened!”

“Okay, you just watch the stairs and let me know if he comes down.”

Before Mai-Lin could stop her, she picked up the lantern and ventured in.

With Mai-Lin watching the stairs, Carissa checked the room. The man’s bedroom was little more than a hovel. A quick glance told Carissa that there was nothing exciting about his spartan quarters. But as she turned to leave, she noticed that he had a curtain on the back wall. That’s odd, she thought. Why would he tack up a curtain on the wall? She touched the curtain and, feeling only empty space behind it, moved it aside. Her breath caught in her throat.
Old Joe had dug a tunnel from his bedroom into the silver mine! Carissa looked into the tunnel, which was about fifteen feet long. Shaking off her fear, she peered into the tunnel and discovered that there was a shiny stripe down the wall that could only be silver. Someone, most likely Joe, had been digging it out. It was horribly dank and it stunk in there. Suddenly, her fear at being found was so great, she nearly dropped the light.

She rushed out, her heart pounding. Mai-Lin, watching the stairway, asked her what happened. Carissa grabbed Mai-Lin’s hand and pulled her upstairs and then up the back stairs to the third floor and their little room before she was even able to speak.


“He is in Hoptown now to get the opium to smoke,” Mai-Lin said. “They will keep him for some time, but we must work quickly!”

The girls grabbed a lantern and walked through the kitchen to the basement door. Before they went down, Mai-Lin stopped and announced, loudly enough for all of the Chinese workers to hear, that they had been asked to count the linens in the storeroom downstairs.

Carissa smiled when Mai-Lin told her what she had given as their excuse. As they descended the stairs, she wanted to think good things, because she was frightened out of her mind.

“I think we both should do,” Mai-Lin told her. “Two times as fast.”

“Mai, remember what your aunt said? One should watch.”

“Then, Callie, you watch. I go in. If someone finds us, China Mary … the Tong will protect me.”

“They will also protect me,” Carissa said. When Mai-Lin looked at her, she realized that her friend was right. China Mary would protect Carissa as one of her own. She already had. And Carissa was the stronger of the two girls. She nodded.

“Okay, Callie,” she agreed reluctantly. “If you hear me very loud on the stairs with my feet, you come out right now.” The stairs were about thirty feet from the entrance to old Joe’s bedroom, but the silver was another fifteen feet inside, down the tunnel.

Carissa reached out and squeezed her friend’s hand. “I’ll be fine. You will know what to do.”

With that, Carissa headed into the little bedroom and pushed back the cloth that covered the opening of the tunnel. She pulled out the tool that China Mary had given her and, unconsciously, rubbed it between her fingers. It was kind of creepy that, beyond the tunnel old Joe had so painstakingly carved, she could actually hear the activity of the miners in the tunnels on the other side. She heard a constant clink-clink-clink of the pick axes. It was comforting in a way. Perhaps her efforts wouldn’t be heard.

The dark stripe gave way, and some of the metal fell into her hand. Suddenly, Carissa was manic. She gouged and gouged in a frenzy, not even bothering to pick it up after a bit. It seemed only a few minutes, although it had been nearly an hour, when Mai-Lin called out from nearby.

“Callie? We need to be upstairs soon. Did you find anything?”

When Mai-Lin saw what lay on the ground, she exclaimed something in Chinese. Carissa looked at her, half-crazed.

“Callie, this is much! Help me pick this up, and we are finished!”

Carissa held her little pick in mid-motion.

“Callie! Come! Help me!” Mai began to fill her pockets with the dark gray metal at her feet.

Carissa realized that every stroke she had made was a strike in the heart of Miss Lucille. She had been completely lost in her mind, and, in doing that, she had endangered herself and Mai-Lin.

Suddenly, Carissa was afraid.

“Mai, I’m so sorry! Go back and watch. I’ll get it.”
As Mai-Lin backed out of the tunnel, Carissa knelt to pick up the rest of the raw silver, stuffing it in her big pockets. She froze as she heard Mai-Lin scream. Screaming had not been in the plan.

She ran out of the tunnel and saw old Joe lurch into his room.

“What the hell, girl? I have to kill you too?”

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.

"Blood and Silver" has been well received since its release. On November 6, 2021, it won first prize for fiction at the Arizona Literary Awards. In addition to winning in the Arizona Literary Awards, the book won two awards at the 2021 San Francisco Book Festival. It was the only book to win two awards, taking home top honors in the History and the Young Adult categories.

Since July of 2021, "Blood and Silver" has also won at the New York Book Festival, the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards, the Paris Book Festival, the Moonbeam Book Awards, the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards and the 2021 American Fiction Awards.

Vali grew up in the Midwest. She now lives in Tucson with her husband, two sons and grandchildren.

Connect with Vali:



  1. Thank you for sharing an excerpt of your book, it sounds amazing!

    1. Thank you so much!
      I appreciate you taking the time to read my post.

  2. Thank you for the fantastic feature Mary Anne!


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx