One of the clearest memories of the 1960s for Janice Blanton was seeing her uncle Harold Milton constantly at his desk, holding his pencil up in the air.
“It’s writer’s cramp,” he would tell her. Already an aspiring nurse at age 8, Blanton just wanted to help.
She still is today, publishing the works of Marietta native Milton nearly 20 years after his death in order to fulfill his lifelong dream. With only an eighth-grade education until he finally earned his GED at age 79, Milton longed to be a successful author.
Recently published are “The Treasure of the Hills” and “The Conquests of Lonnie Dolan” with three more books planned, according to Blanton, who was adopted by Milton at age 5 after the death of her mother and today is a retired nurse living in Bay Village.
Question: How long did Harold live in Marietta?
Answer: Until he was in his 20s. He was born on a farm in Marietta in 1913. He loved Marietta. His heart was in Marietta.
Q: What kind of parent was he?
A: I can remember after my mother dying him bringing home the ice cream cups with the little spoons and sitting me on his foot and swinging me, walking with me.
He was also strict. He did not like swearing. He was a devout Church of Christ member and he read the Bible a lot. He knew the Bible word for word.
Q: What is his book “The Treasure of the Hills” about?
A: When he lived in Marietta, he would hunt gingseng with his father and that was a big bonding thing for them. I know his father sometimes disappeared and then showed back up and he loved this time with him. Back then, the gingseng meant survival and money. I know they also once collected buckeyes and made a lot of money. They lived in poverty. He had four sisters and they went to a one-room school and Harold was very embarrassed because he had to carry a basket to school with all five lunches.
His father told him about a time when he was stuck in a coal mine with a bunch of men and they had to eat bark to survive. He had planned to write a story about that, too.
Q: When did he decide to get his GED?
A: He lived with me the last 13 years of his life. I told him in 1993, he should get his GED. He could answer almost every question on Jeopardy. The guy was just a genius. He went to the school to take the test and a group of kids that were 17, 18, 19 gave him a thumbs-up. That made him really happy.
Q: What did it mean for him to finally have it?
A: He was so very happy, just ecstatic. He would tell everybody. It was something he had constantly mentioned over the years.
Q: When did you first become aware of him as a writer?
A: When I first came to live with them, he was always writing. He would write a lot about gingseng. In the ’60s he was told by a New York publishing company that his books were really good but that they needed romance. So he did this hot and heavy book (“The Conquests of Lonnie Dolan”) that I was shocked to read. It’s about a man who falls in love with 15 different women. Each girl was a totally different character. I really get a kick out of it. I can’t believe he had that in his mind.
The publishing company said it would be a No. 1 seller. It would have cost $5,000 to get it published and he would get a percentage and then with the second edition, he would get all of the money. He couldn’t afford to do that.
Q: Was that heartbreaking for him?
A: The disappointment was really hard. He was cheerful about it for so long. He would always ask (his daughter) Nancy and me ‘What do you want when my books hit it big?’
He worked for a long time at White Motor (in Cleveland), putting the fabric on the seats.
Q: How did you eventually go about getting the books published?
A: By 2000 I had a box of his books by my stairwell but in 2013 is when I started getting serious, organizing everything. I began to talk to people about publishing , called companies, local libraries, book stores, colleges. I eventually found a publishing company and I spent 10-to-12-hour days organizing and making sure everything was close to perfect.
Q: Why was it so important for you to do this?
A: I wanted to finish out his dream. I want him known.
I don’t have any family and when I’m gone I don’t want his books to be out on the lawn for an estate sale. I want his fingerprint on the world.
Q: Where can people purchase the books?
A: At Createspace, which is owned by Amazon or on Amazon.
Q: What was it like to see his work in book form?
A: I still just look at them over and over and over. I’m planning to publish three more. There’s “Water Baptism” and “Mountain Dew,” which takes place in West Virginia. It’s about a detective, some moonshine and a girl he meets–it’s a love story, too. He put 10 or 12 years into that one.
“The Appalachian Collection: Remembering the Hill Country” is his collection of short stories. He wrote about when he fell into a well at age 5 and was there for quite some time before his sister saved him and there are a lot of stories told by his father, Charles Henry Milton, and his grandfather. They’re amazing, these short stories.
Q: Will people be able to recognize the influence of Marietta in these stories?
A: I think they will. He always put little pieces of true things in the stories. I would see myself in there sometimes. When I was young I had a doll named Hilda and he put that name in a book. One time I dressed up and put a scarf around my head and told him he would be married a long time and be a successful writer. He gave me a quarter and then there was a chapter called “The Fortune Teller.”
Kate York conducted this interview.