Writing and Researching Historical Fiction

by
Vali Benson

Historical books have always provided a sanctuary

for me. They allow me to escape into any piece of the

past that I desire. I am fascinated with history; from

fiction, to non-fiction, to textbooks, to mythology. The

more I learn about any bygone era, the more I want to

learn because the present is truly the residue of days
gone by. 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 new book, “Blood and Silver”, 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 never found before or
overlooked. 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.

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. As a writer of

historical fiction, historical accuracy is the most

important component of the piece to me. It is even more

pivotal than the narrative. I cannot tell you how many

times I have quit reading a book that claims to be factual

because the information and events are incorrect. It truly

annoys me! This began my on-again, off-again process to
complete my book. It would last ten years. It was here

when I made the transition from a creative person who

writes to a writer.

The actual “writing” was the easy part. Researching

my topic well enough so that I could accurately write

about it was my biggest challenge. I drowned myself in
research and when I felt I had enough of a foundation to

build my historically fictitious setting, I applied my plot

and inserted my characters.

It is also important to realize that research is never

ending because you can’t ever learn everything there is

to know. At some point, you just have to make up your

mind that you have enough to craft the story you want to
write. Then start writing! I begin writing using my

research as a reference and don’t worry if I have a fully

formed concept. I believe in the Jodi Picoult approach,

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank

page”.

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 times 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!
Warmly, Vali

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.

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.
Links:
Website:http://valibenson.com/
Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Silver-Vali-Benson-ebook/dp/B086R4RBF3
Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53167218-blood-and-silver

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Twitter:https://twitter.com/BensonVali@BensonVali