Guest Post by Author Vali Benson

How Blood and Silver Came to Be
Guest Post by Author
Vali Benson

Vali Benson imageMy name is Vali Benson and I am a published author. That still feels funny to say. Sometimes I still don’t believe it, but I just published my first novel.  It has been a work in progress for over fifty years. Ever since I can remember, I have had a book in my hand. As a lifelong reader, I often thought, “I could do better than that”. So I decided to do something about it. People have asked me to explain the writing process but I can’t. I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way to write a book. As Doris Lessing once stated that “There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be”. But I do know what works for me.

The first step is to come up with an idea. It must be something that interests you, or that you feel strongly about. No point in picking a subject that you know nothing about. You would have to do far too much research and it still would not sound like you know your subject.

Once when I had severe writer’s block, a great teacher told me, “Write about what’s in your own backyard.”  Before I forget, my advice regarding writer’s block is: don’t take it personally. Anyway, 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 in my backyard.

I have been to Tombstone countless times. People are fascinated with Tombstone (not so much after they visit!). Tombstone is not like other “Wild West” tourist towns, like Deadwood or Dodge City. Tombstone has only two blocks of “downtown”. People walk on the original boardwalk (with some repairs) along the main thoroughfare, Allen Street, which was, until recently, a dirt road.

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.

However, Tombstone does have one enduring claim to fame – the shoot out 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 shoot out 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 old west.  The gunfight made them infamous.

The real reason people remember Tombstone is because of its enduring place in pop culture due to the twenty or so movies made about the fight. People show up from far and wide and pay a $10 admission fee to look at a dusty, dirty lot behind a run-down barn. At the actual site, people look at mannequins standing where their real-life versions stood during that fateful afternoon 139 years ago.

Once I knew the reality of Tombstone today, I wondered how it could have become so famous. I knew about the silver mines, of course, but I had no idea how massive the output was.  The profits were mind-boggling.   Millionaires were made overnight.  The silver created civilization where there was none.  At the end of 1877, one hundred inhabitants had found their way to the mines of Tombstone.  In 1884, it was a bustling city of fourteen thousand residents. The term “boomtown” was never so appropriate.

Tombstone was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco in 1884, with over 150 businesses, including 100 saloons, and a thriving red-light district. Apparently this arid little tourist trap, only forty-five miles from my hometown, was more important than I thought!  This information began to spin my inquisitive wheels.  I began to wonder what it would have been like to live in this obscure place in 1880. The first step was complete; I had a premise that sparked my interest.  Now, it was time for the part of the writing process that gives life to the story, research.

It is all about the research. One needs to look in unusual places, not just the top three Google hits. 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.

As I began to delve deeper into the true story of Tombstone, I also 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 preeminent broker for opium, laudanum and Chinese prostitutes. 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.

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 really annoys me! 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”.

Many writers believe in outlines as a method of organizing and categorizing their research. Outlines don’t work for me. I tend to be too specific.  I end up writing the whole story in my outline.  What works best for me is to simply write.  Just start, and see where it takes you.  I flesh out the characters first and I let them take me where they want to go.  I often go back and change them, but that’s the beauty of writing.  You can do whatever you want with your people, just be sure you wind it up so that it makes sense.

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.

As far as my writing habits are concerned, I don’t have many. I just do it. I know that many professional writers say the best method is to treat writing like a regular job with set start and stop times. I’ve tried this and it never feels right. For one thing, when I get on a creative roll, it is nearly impossible for me to stop. Conversely, I cannot force an idea. When I don’t feel like it’s happening, I walk away.   I commit a lot of time thinking about my characters.   When inspiration strikes, I will sit down with my glass of sweet iced tea and see how my characters handle the new twist. I know that strong coffee is the traditional nectar of the working writer, but I need my sweet tea. The sweeter the better I say!

When your story is finished, it is time for my least favorite part of the writing process, editing. Editing is obviously extremely importanBlood and Silver by Vali Benson cover image.t but I find it terribly frustrating. Aside from the occasional grammatical error, most of my editing is about subtracting rather than addition. I choose to refer to my editing time as a tightening up period. This is when I can really focus on making my narrative flow the way that I want and make sure the story is always kept in perspective; the story that I want to tell. When is your story finished? It is finished when you think it is.  Before you begin, you will know where you will end up.  If you don’t, don’t start.  You need to have an idea where you are going.  Trust your characters to get you there.

With Blood and Silver, I put my characters through a lot and felt I told the story that I wanted to tell.   After all, I need them to rest up for the sequel.
valibenson.com
amazon logobarnes & noble logoamazon logo

 

Indigo Logokobo logosmashwords logo

 

 

© 2020 Ronovan Hester Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.

Guest Post from Samuel Marquis Author of Soldiers of Freedom: The WWII Story of Patton’s Panthers and the Edelweiss Pirates

I recently read and reviewed Samuel Marquis’ most recent book in his WWII Historical Fiction series. I’ve read them all, and this one has more battle details than I’ve seen in any of the others. Which I think is warranted and deserving of the titular subjects of the book. You can check out the book review by clicking HERE. – Ronovan


Soldiers of Freedom: Why Patton’s 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion and Other African-American Units Fought Despite Racism in WWII

By Samuel Marquis

In Soldiers of Freedom: The WWII Story of Patton’s Panthers and the    Edelweiss    Pirates, Book 5 of his WWII Series, historical fiction author Samuel Marquis tells the story of Sergeant William McBurney and the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African-American armored unit in U.S. history. Fighting under legendary General George S Patton, Jr. in the grueling Lorraine campaign in France, the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhineland, and in the final conquest of Nazi Germany, Sherman tank gunner McBurney and his fellow Black Panthers had to fight two wars at once: one against the German Army, the other against the racism of their fellow white soldiers. In their fight on behalf of freedom, they changed the makeup of the modern U.S. Army and paved the way for the civil rights movement.

After the battle for Tillet—one of the many small Belgian towns U.S. forces had to liberate to eventually win the legendary Battle of the Bulge—a German prisoner took one look at the troopers from the all-black 761st Tank Battalion that had just vanquished him and was stunned to see colored men in uniform. “What are you doing here?” he asked one of the tankers in English. “This is a white man’s war.”

Grinning and offering the German soldier a cigarette, the Negro tanker replied, “You ain’t got no black or white when you’re over here and the nation is in trouble. You only got Americans.”

In a nutshell, the exchange explains why African-American soldiers were willing to risk their lives to fight in WWII, despite suffering from pervasive discrimination from their own white troops and American civilians during their training. They simply wanted to do the right thing in the name of freedom and democracy and make a difference in the world—the same as their white counterparts. But in the process, they also hoped to advance their own freedom. They longed to move themselves forward onto an equal footing, or at least a more equal footing, with whites they would soon learn from the hard experience of war were certainly no better than them.

In late 1945 and early 1946, the 761st Tank Battalion—the first African-American armored unit in U.S. history to see combat—returned home from WWII along with 1.2 million other black veterans. They had been handpicked by General George S. Patton, Jr. himself, fought in his vaunted U.S. Third Army until the German capitulation, and were damn proud of that fact. Patton’s veteran Black Panthers, whose motto was “Come Out Fighting” in tribute to boxing legend Joe Louis, should have returned as conquering heroes. Instead, while their white brethren in the armed forces enjoyed great fanfare, ticker-tape parades, and a plethora of newspaper ink, the Black Panthers, Tuskegee Airmen, and other black outfits that had put Nazism down like a rabid dog were largely ignored. They had no choice but to quietly resume their daily lives in a country that cared little about their contributions and sacrifices overseas.

They had gone to Europe and the Pacific to perform their duty on behalf of their country, hoping that by fighting on behalf of freedom they would become free themselves. But upon their return, the painful truth was they had not changed a nation. In fact, they found themselves in many ways more at the beginning of a civil-rights struggle than at the end as returning African-American soldiers. Having served their country with distinction during the largest and most violent conflagration in human history, they returned to second-class status and with expectations that were deemed unacceptable to those of many of their white compatriots. Most of them still could not vote, use public facilities, sit beside whites in buses or at lunch counters, or find work at anything but the most menial of jobs.

For the returning members of the 761st and other black units in the U.S. Army and Air Corps, it was apparent that America had never really cared for theSam Marquis Soldiers of Freedom Coverm and now had mostly forgotten them. Most people did not even know of African-American service on the battlefields of Europe. In the roar of postwar America, the battalion’s service might as well not have happened, so few people knew or even cared. What the 1.2 million black servicemen had done on behalf of their country was not acknowledged or even believed. But even more upsetting to the returning colored soldiers was that white America expected life in the U.S.—with its racial castes and customs—to go on as if the war had never happened. The majority of whites were still unwilling to look at them in the new light that black leaders had originally sought by insisting that colored men receive the right to fight. They experienced lynchings, beatings, and employment discrimination despite their veteran status, and they couldn’t help but feel excluded from the postwar economic prosperity they could see all around them.

The returning black troopers found all this perplexing, especially considering how well they had been treated by not only the French, Belgians, and Dutch they liberated, but by the German civilians who only days and weeks before had been their enemies. Sergeant William McBurney, Sherman tank main gunner and the protagonist of my book Soldiers of Freedom, had fond memories of Holland from his stay there in February 1945, recuperating and refitting after the brutal Battle of the Bulge. So did the other members of the 761st Tank Battalion. To them, the best thing about Holland was the people. The Dutch citizens spoke English fluently and treated them with genuine respect and warmth. They welcomed them not as black men but as Americans, honoring them as liberators from the German occupation forces. McBurney found the simple and sincere kindness of the Dutch people a welcome and pleasant surprise after the treatment he had experienced at the hands of many of the American soldiers, particularly those from the 87th Infantry, a Southern unit the 761st had fought alongside.

The French, Belgian, and Dutch people were right to treat the members of the 761st as heroes and liberators: Patton’s Panthers had truly earned their reputation as a crack fighting unit. From the time that the battalion was committed to combat on November 7, 1944 through May 6, 1945, it had spent 183 days in action, its only pauses accounted for by the time needed to move from one mission to another. During its combat actions, the battalion destroyed or captured 331 enemy machine-gun nests, 58 pillboxes, and 461 wheeled vehicles; killed 6,246 enemy combatants; and captured more than 15,818 enemy soldiers. Not bad for an outfit that rarely numbered over a thousand men, including maintenance and supply. McBurney and his buddies also liberated the Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria in the final days of the war. Since the war, battalion members have visited Jewish organizations and school groups throughout the country to share these memories and to testify to the horrors they witnessed during the camp’s liberation.

The Black Panthers paid a heavy price in the name of freedom. The unit suffered thirty-six men killed in action, including three officers. Thirty-nine officers and 221 enlisted men fell wounded in action. Nonbattle casualties stood at nine officers and 192 men, mostly trench foot cases. Total casualties pressed towards 50 percent, a disproportionately high number for a comparatively small outfit that fought alongside manpower and equipment behemoths like the 26th Infantry Division and the 4th Armored Division. The battalion lost a whopping 71 tanks in battle, more than one and a half times its original allotment.

The men themselves never thought of themselves as particularly heroic. All the members of the 761st had ever wanted was simple human dignity, to be recognized for their abilities as soldiers without being judged by the color of their skin. By taking up arms in the struggle against Tojo and Hitler, they had hoped to heal the old wounds of racial prejudice inflicted upon them by their white counterparts in the U.S. armed forces and by the bigoted white civilians at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, and Camp Hood, Texas, where they had undergone their training. But as fate would have it, the men of the 761st and other segregated African-American combat units like the 92nd Infantry Division and the famous Tuskegee Airmen received a less than warm welcome upon their return home. The continued discrimination towards the black soldiers after willingly giving their lives on the killing grounds of Europe and the Pacific was a source of significant disappointment and discouragement for the returning men, as well as their embittered families.

As Platoon Sergeant Johnnie Stevens of the 761st said: “We were treated better by the civilian German population than we were treated in America. See, in our own country, we could not buy a hot dog when we were in uniform, had to ride in the back of the bus when we were in uniform…. But over there, you were treated like a king. We ate together, slept together. After the war was over and the Germans had dances again, we were invited. That’s why a lot of black GIs took their discharges in Europe. They said, ‘Look, ain’t nothing in America for me. I can’t get a decent job when I go back, I know that. I’m not gonna have any privileges. I can’t even vote. So what the hell do I want to go back there for?”

Though the 761st’s vets were disappointed to return home to the same old prejudices, they soon began to put their lives together, start careers, marry, raise children, and lead in countless quiet but nonetheless significant ways. Though some struggled, the bloody battlefields of Europe had trained them to be disciplined, responsible American citizens who understood the true cost of freedom. But they would have an even greater impact in the future.

The brave actions of the 761st on the battlefields of Europe would eventually garner the men the recognition they deserved, pave the way for an integrated U.S. Army, and lay the foundation for the post-war civil rights movement. At the end of WWII, the distinguished service of the 761st Tank Battalion, Tuskegee Airmen, and other African-American combat units helped convince President Harry S. Truman and other high-ranking government officials to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948. And then, after thirty-three years of intense lobbying by the unit’s veterans, the battalion was belatedly awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for “Extraordinary Heroism” by President Jimmy Carter on January 24, 1978. The award became official on April 10, 1978 by the Department of the Army under General Orders Number 5. The final award stood as a single citation for all the 761st’s actions from October 31, 1944, to May 6, 1945. Most importantly, the government finally acknowledged that “racial discrimination and inadvertent neglect on the part of those in authority” had played a role in the previous disapprovals and that “the climate created by the Army commanders could only have made it difficult to provide proper recognition for a ‘Negro’ unit during the period 1944-1947.”

Though the citation should have come thirty-three years earlier, it was ultimately the struggles of Patton’s Black Panthers—at home and abroad, within the armed forces and outside it—that led to the construction of a stronger U.S. Army and a greater nation. Since the new millennium, African-Americans make up around 20% of the U.S. armed forces (and no longer are they merely cooks, stevedores, and drivers), and black officers in the services stand at 5%-7% in the Navy, Air Force and Marines and 10%-15% in the Army.

That is the ultimate legacy of Patton’s Panthers.

Biography 

The ninth great-grandson of legendary privateer Captain William Kidd, Samuel Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning author of a World War Two Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, and American historical fiction. His novels have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, American Book Fest and USA Best Book, IPPY, Readers’ Favorite, Beverly Hills, Next Generation Indie, and Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). Book reviewers have compared Marquis’s WWII thrillers to the epic historical novels of Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, Daniel Silva, and Alan Furst. His website is samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact Books Forward at info@booksforward.com.

GET THE NEXT #1 BESTSELLING BOOK @:

amazon logo barnes & noble logo indie bound logo

Visit #1 Bestselling Author Samuel Marquis @: http://samuelmarquisbooks.com/.
Connect with Samuel Marquis on:

facebook logo goodreads logo google+ logo linkedin logo twitter logo

 

© 2020 Ronovan Hester Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.