Forty-two years ago, Milton Jones finished a historical novel he’d written for fun using a 1927 Underwood typewriter. He then put it in a shoebox and shoved it under his bed.
Jones, a Norfolk native and Vietnam-era Army veteran, never intended to share or sell his book, “Ultimate Obsession.”
“I didn’t think much of it,” Jones, 75, said sitting in his Portsmouth home Friday.
But Jones’ sister Carolyn O’Neal, 15 years his junior, recently self-published a novel of her own and started a one-woman publishing company in Charlottesville. She told Jones to send her that old manuscript and then toiled to scan each page into a computer.
“I just thought this is such a good story, let’s go ahead and just put it out there,” O’Neal said Friday. Jones’ enthusiastic response: “Sure.”
Two years later, the siblings have published “Ultimate Obsession” on Amazon.
In the aftermath of World War Two, college student Elizabeth Brewer is well aware of the devastation the war had on the available young men. When she meets volatile poet James Campbell, their relationship is passionate yet disturbing. James alternates between tenderness and cruelty to the point of mental illness. Together and apart, Elizabeth and James explore whether beauty and goodness can exist in this post-war world, or will the lust for power destroy all.
“Everything (in the book) is about the relationship between goodness, beauty and power,” Jones said.
Jones said he’d forgotten a lot of the book – all the romance, for example. O’Neal classifies it a historical romance, though Jones said all he was interested in was the intellectual discussion around the three themes. He also enjoys reading and writing poetry and included a fair number of poems, as well as a brief play, in the novel.
He started writing it while in the Army – a character or two are named for fellow soldiers walking by – and finished almost a decade later in 1975. He’d been drafted in 1966 and sent to Panama, and then left the military in the late ’60s as an E-4 specialist. Later he was a quality assurance specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense, working on projects such as the chemistry of warheads.
Born in 1941, Jones grew up in a transitional time in Norfolk. He recalls missing a year of school when Virginia’s “massive resistance” to school desegregation shut down public schools for a time in the ’50s. He eventually graduated from Princess Anne High School in what was then Princess Anne County and earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from Old Dominion University and Florida Institute of Technology.
In the book, he does not shy from using vernacular of the time now considered offensive: racial slurs that were used in common conversation in the ’40s, for example.
O’Neal said she “massaged” her brother’s writing to update it for a 2017 audience, but the messages remain the same.
“Anyone reading this could see it’s about the era,” she said.
Though she knows the book may not top the bestseller list – it’s only gone out to family so far – O’Neal said it’s a “nice legacy” for her older brother to share with his two children and grandchildren.
“You think about your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, if they had written a book, even if it never went anyplace, you would have it as a reference” of the time they lived in, she said. “That’s something I would’ve loved to have – a slice of my grandparents’ lives.”
“Ultimate Obsession” is available on Amazon.com for $15.99 as a paperback and $2.99 as an e-book.
Katherine Hafner, 757-222-5208, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow @khafner15 on Twitter.