Bill Finley special for the Arizona Daily Star
Predictably, perhaps, since her mother taught English, Vali Benson has always enjoyed reading and writing. “I won a writing contest in third grade,” she laughs proudly. She was still writing short stories and long letters to college. But just when she moved on from tie-dye fashion and big hair, Benson ended up moving away from her prose too.
She got married, moved to Tucson and started a family. Vali and her husband, Jon, ran a local jewelry store for 20 years. She then opened Ship and Mail Xpress on West Grant Road.
So imagine his surprise when the writing bug returned 10 years ago.
“I’ve always liked to write,” she explains. “Even after I quit, I still had stories swirling around in my head. When I retired, I realized some of them wanted out.”
If we could cut to the chase here, one such story came out. He came to be called “blood and money” and is now available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The book was self-published two years ago by Tellwell Talent in Victoria, BC.
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Self-published literature is booming now — half of all titles published in the United States last year were self-published — and every author has a story to tell. Benson goes like this:
“I don’t know exactly when it started, but every once in a while I would read a book and be like, ‘I could do this,'” she said. thought it was time to find out if I really could. I signed up for an online writing course. I submitted a few samples and received feedback. I was mostly self-taught, of course.”
Benson heard that writers should focus on what they know; things in their own backyard.
“At the time, one of the stories in my head was about life in old Tombstone,” she recalls. “So I decided to start there.”
Tourists today think of tomb stone like it was a movie set, but Benson had met residents whose parents and grandparents had been there in the 1880s.
“It was a big, booming, vibrant place,” Benson said. “We’ve all heard of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, but I wanted to know what life was like for women and children.”
She read. She did some research. She looked through old newspapers. In 2018, she started writing her story with a pencil and a notepad. It featured a 12-year-old girl who befriended China Mary’s daughter and eventually approached Mary to help her with…let’s say a family matter. OK, the girl’s mother worked in a brothel.
“I wanted to write fiction,” Benson said, “Since my story would be about a young girl, I decided to write it for young adults. China Mary was a real person. Some of the things I write about actually happened, so the book became historical teenage fiction.
She was surprised to learn that at some point the book began to be written.
“Once I really got into the story and into the heads of the characters, they told me what was going on,” Benson confessed. “I didn’t see that coming.”
His son Robert transcribed the handwritten account onto a computer and became Benson’s editor.
As of November 2019, they had a fully revised draft ready for review. Now what?
“That’s what I said,” Benson recalled. “I never thought Simon and Schuster would come knocking on my door. I knew I would have to post it myself, but I didn’t know where to start.
Asking that question online eventually led her to Tellwell and a $5,000 service package that would turn Benson’s Word file into a volume that could go next to Fredrik Bachman in your family room library.
Tellwell provided a professional edition, cover, interior design and registered ISBN. The company has created a digital version which is now available for Kindle and Nook. He established a print-to-order portal for paperbacks and hardbacks.
“It was a lot of work and a lot of money, but it’s hard to describe the feeling I had when I saw the first complete copy of my own book,” Benson said. “It was amazing.”
“Blood and Silver” won several awards, including the Arizona Authors Association Best in Fiction Award in 2021but he was not blessed with good timing.
It was released on April 4, 2020, just when Americans started going into lockdown due to COVID. Bookstores were closed. Schools and libraries only operated online. Sales were hard to come by, but the author was not deterred.
“People ask me what happened to Mary? What happens to the girls? I think we might need a sequel,” Benson said with a smile.