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Thursday, November 6, 2014

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--AIKEN, SC WITH AUTHOR PAULA GAIL BENSON


Aiken County Historical Museum
Short story author Paula Gail Benson is a legislative attorney and former law librarian. Her work has been published in various writing journals, magazines and anthologies. She joins us today to talk about Aiken, SC, an author-friendly town. Learn more about Paula at the Writers Who Kill and The Stiletto Gang blogs and at her website

Why Aiken Is A Writer’s Town
Aiken, SC, nestled at South Carolina’s western border, not far from Augusta, Georgia, and the Savannah River, the states’ boundary line, is appealing on many levels and the perfect place for a writer to vacation, with or without family. Living there can be pleasant, too. Just ask
Sasscer Hill, author of the Nikki Latrelle series, who moved from Maryland to Aiken a few years ago and is thriving in this southern community of horse racing enthusiasts.
 
Wilcox Hotel
I’ve visited Aiken many times, but this year have come to value the qualities that make it a writer’s town. I was invited on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend to talk with a group of 4th and 5th graders in a summer school program about what makes up a story. The children were courteous and eagerly wrote their own stories as a photographer from the Aiken Standard took candid shots. I received the invitation based on the recommendation of Fran Bush, a local bookseller who maintains strong relationships with educators. I took the opportunity to stay at the famed
Willcox hotel, which has hosted many celebrities and where FDR is rumored to have met with former social secretary Lucy Mercer, a resident of Aiken, on his train trips to the “Little White House” and rehabilitative facility in Warm Springs, Georgia.
 
Museum Exhibit
History buffs should definitely visit Banksia, a former winter “cottage” where Vanderbilts and Astors were entertained. It now houses the
Aiken County Historical Museum. (Please note that a residence could not be considered a “cottage” if it had less than twenty rooms.) In the museum, you can find displays describing events and people that influenced the area including Hernando Desoto’s encounter with an Indian Princess while searching for gold, colonial pioneers creating towns out of wilderness, railroad tycoons building their empires, former classmates pitted against each other in a Civil War battle, Aiken’s growing reputation as a health resort that attracted wealthy visitors, and the “cold war” that led to the building of the Savannah River Plant for making thermonuclear materials.
 
Aiken supports the arts in various ways. Its downtown features numerous shops that offer not only second hand and antique items, but also handcrafted jewelry and art works. The Aiken chapter of the
AAUW recently sponsored a lunch visit with mystery authors Charles and Caroline Todd. The Aiken Community Playhouse is a thriving theatre that produces a diverse season of shows. Last year, I attended a very moving performance of To Kill a Mockingbird that left not a dry eye in the house.
 
Aiken Horse Statue
Most notable for those who live in Aiken are the equestrian events and facilities. It is the home of polo games and steeplechase. Throughout the town, you’ll find horse statutory that have been decorated in various motifs. You can tour the
Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum as well as see the farms, training areas, and sports venues.

The appeal for writers is in the many unique coffee houses and dining spots, like the New Moon Cafe, with outdoor tables for writing and people watching. A lovely, well-stocked library is centrally located in an historic building. Within the city limits and close to the museums are Rye Patch, formerly a winter estate used to entertain the Duke of Windsor and his bride, Wallis Simpson, and Hopewell Gardens, another former estate that is now a public garden. Both locations are open for touring, picnicking, and enjoying.
 
With temperate weather throughout the year and the excellent local
Booklovers’ Bookstore in nearby Windsor, Aiken has all the qualities to be a writer’s paradise.

“Ghost of a Chance,” featured in the A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder anthology
When Heck, a pirate first mate with a treacherous captain, spies a ghost ship following the pirate vessel, will it prove to be Heck’s ultimate damnation or possible redemption?

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13 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Very interesting, Paula! I love learning about places I've never visited. Aiken sounds like a lovely place.

Jan Christensen said...

Paula, I enjoyed reading about Aiken and would love to visit. Thanks for the journey.

Paula Gail Benson said...

It's lovely, very peaceful, and the folks are quite friendly and accommodating. I think you would love it, Jacquie, and hope you get to visit. Thanks for commenting.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Jan. I hope you'll get to travel there in reality sometime. I'm certain that you would enjoy spending time there.

Maggie Toussaint said...

What a lovely feature, Paula! I met my guy in Aiken many light years ago. I always loved bopping around in Aiken. It reminded me of my hometown on the coast- laid back and small town feel, but with the amenities of a big town. It's amazing what money can do!

Maggie Toussaint

Angela Adams said...

Lovely photos. Thanks for sharing!

Art Taylor said...

A nice feature! My best friend--also a writer, but not in the mystery genre--is originally from Aiken. I've been there only once but certainly enjoyed, and glad to see you helping to put it in the spotlight here.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Maggie, thank you for sharing your experience. I think Aiken would be a wonderful place to fall in love. I hope that you both have an opportunity to return there and relive happy memories.

Angela, thank you. I hope you'll have the chance to see it in person some day.

Art, you have to bring Dash to see the miniatures at Banksia, the Historical Museum. The Ringling Brothers Circus used to winter in Aiken and a room is dedicated to posters and displays of circus memorabilia. You, Tara, and Dash would love it! Lots of small circus vehicles!

Susan Craft said...

What a nice post, Paula. I love Aiken and enjoyed the museum. And, of course, I love Fran and Don Bush, the best part of Aiken for me!

Sasscer Hill said...

Paula, what a lovely post. You nailed the things that make Aiken so special. My husband and I still can’t believe we bit the bullet, bailed on Maryland, and moved here. We’ve never looked back. Not only is Aiken a horse town, but it is also a dog town. Every other car has a dog in it, and the outdoor cafes not only allow canines, but put out water bowls for our best friends. After living in the DC area and taking my life in my hands every time I traveled the beltway, Aiken is so gentle and relaxing. I am lovin’ the Southern life. Y’all come on down now, hear?

Sasscer Hill said...
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Sasscer Hill said...
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Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks so much, Susan. Aren't Fran and Don Bush, owners of Booklovers Bookstore, the best?

Sasscer, we're so happy now to claim you as a South Carolina author. I'm so glad you're enjoying the experience of living here.