Vali Benson had her first novel, Blood and Silver, published in 2020. The book has won awards at the San Francisco Book Festival, the New York Book Festival, the Arizona Literary Awards, the Paris Book Festival, the Moonbeam Book Awards, and the 2021 American Fiction Awards. Phew – that’s a lot of awards! Blood and Silver is young adult fiction and I invited Vali to chat about writing for young adults.
As a lifelong reader, I often thought, “I could do better than that”. So, I decided to finally do something about it. The problem was I wasn’t sure what demographic I wanted to pursue. Then I remembered how important reading was to me as a teenager. It provided acceptance when I couldn’t find any in the real world. So, I decided to craft a story that featured a resilient young character who is forced to deal with issues that far surpass her age. And since I have always loved period pieces, I decided to set my story in the old west. It is called Blood and Silver.
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 little town of just over thirteen hundred residents had once been a boomtown of fifteen thousand. I couldn’t imagine it, but I knew there had to be a great story there.
I was shocked when my book started winning awards. I’ve won several in the “young adult” category which confounded me a bit because I was not sure if it fit the traditional definition of the genre. I wrote Blood and Silver thinking of a twelve-year-old girl because that is the age of my heroine. I thought about myself at twelve. I had just finished reading Gone with the Wind for the third time (I was obsessed!). My mother had not thought it appropriate for a twelve-year-old due to the subject manner. I fell into the same quandary with Blood and Silver.
My twelve-year-old heroine lives in a brothel with her mother, who is addicted to opium. Sadly, many children these days are facing a challenge similar to this, especially teenagers. When I thought about my demographic with that perspective, it eased my reservations. Like my heroine, Carissa, many children today are living lives where they are forced to be the adults. Their parents are drug addicted or alcoholic, or simply unable to raise their children. Yes, there are young people who might be confused about Carissa’s situation, but I think that most teens today know much more than we adults did at that age.
I was concerned at first about the “young adult” label. However, I have received numerous comments praising my handling of very delicate subjects. I remember one early review in particular which stated, “Blood and Silver by Vali Benson is entertaining and heartbreaking. This is the kind of young adult fiction that needs to become more popular.” Feedback like this helped validate my belief that my story fits nicely within the young adult category. The main reason I believe is because Blood and Silver grants the young adult reader the respect to deal with mature issues while not subjecting them to the explicit details.
It is very important to write with your audience in mind. Writing for young adults can be tricky because certain concepts and notions will not resonate although they can be vaguely understood. The author must remember that the readers are not fully formed individuals yet. But they are not kids either. Give them credit for knowing what’s what in the world. The genre of young adult does not have to be dumbed down simply because the target demographic does not have as much life experience.
Many thanks, Vali and congratulations for writing this award-winning novel. Hopefully, you will soon have another one ‘out there’.
Blood and Silver 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.
“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, it has been described as “both heartbreaking and heartwarming”. The narrative also features very identifiable issues. As opposed to so much Y/A fiction, “Blood and Silver” 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.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available for pre-order on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.