Historical Fiction from a First Time Author
by Vali Benson
History is the world’s greatest teacher. It also creates a perfect launch point for a writer’s imagination. Historical fiction is my genre of choice because it combines the majesty of an author’s imagination with the beauty of the past. My name is Vali Benson and I am a writer of historical fiction.
My debut novel, Blood and Silver, was released in April of 2020. It was inspired by my many visits to Tombstone, AZ. I live less than an hour away and I became increasingly curious about the tiny, dusty tourist spot. Today it is a town of thirteen hundred people but in 1884, Tombstone was a roaring metropolis and was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. I’m sure it was a spectacular scene and grand time. The activity and splendor must have been all encompassing and I could not get it out of my head. I knew I wanted to make this infamous place the subject of my novel but first I had to learn my subject.
Any writer of historical fiction is obligated to do copious amounts of research. They should feel obligated anyway. Research will be the heart of your story; the building blocks of your narrative. It is also essential to any quality piece of historical fiction. If research is done correctly, it should be a rewarding but grueling process.
One needs to scavenge unusual places, not just the top three Google hits. Try not to settle for strictly names and dates. If you invest in the research phase, it will pay your final product off significantly on the back end. Dig beyond the numbers and you just might uncover something someone had overlooked or never found before. 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, it is not interesting.
One tip that I would like to emphasize to a burgeoning writer of historical fiction is to seek out the 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.
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 bustling population of 15,000 with over 100 saloons and every sort of vice imaginable. The locations were the same but the places were very different. In the course of my research, my story emerged.
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 interesting but also historically accurate. Researching my topic well enough so that I could accurately write about it was my biggest challenge. I drowned myself in the time period and when I felt I had enough of a foundation to build my historically fictitious setting, I applied my plot and inserted my characters.
Historical fiction is a beautiful genre when it is executed properly. What I love most about it is being able to craft a story that involves imaginary characters set against a real time and place. This is why research is so important, because if I can understand the period in which my characters live, I will shape their circumstances and attitudes into the narrative. With Blood and Silver, because I had taken the time to insure 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.
Happy historical writing everybody!
Sincerely yours, Vali
Why is your featured book a must-read?
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 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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