Blood and Silver, Guest Post by Vali Benson

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.

Author’s Inspiration

My name is Vali Benson and I have been a writer all my life. I can also now call myself a published author. It was always a dream to publish my own work. I still can’t believe it, but it’s now a dream come true. I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way to write a book, but I do know what works for me. 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 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.          

 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 like so many other ghost towns of the American West. However, as we’ve already established, Tombstone is too tough to die.

Tombstone in 1881 by C. S. Fly (Wikipedia)

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 1880 in Tombstone. 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 emerged.

As I began to delve deeper into the true story of Tombstone, I 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 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 my central characters and twisted my fictional story around her actual exploits. None of that could have been possible without an extensive research period.

The actual “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. Earlier this month, Blood and Silver won First Place for fiction in the Arizona Literary Awards. Both are true honors, and 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!

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Meet Vali Benson

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.

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