500 Annies Ch. 01byqhml1©
"Hi, this is Barbara Barnes, host of Book Report here on WORD, 86.7, Your NPR station. Please join us next week when we present a series of interviews with Joe Williams, author of the runaway bestseller '500 Annies'."
"These interviews were taped in one session last week when he appeared at the Alumni Hall here on campus. Originally scheduled for 90 minutes, the interview lasted a little over three hours. When we tried to edit down to 30 minutes we realized there was no way to do it justice, so we took out the applause and some variations of similar questions, and came up with four shows, to be aired Monday through Thursday at 8:00 p.m."
"I say without reservation this is the best interview I've ever had the pleasure of conducting. It paints a picture of the man and the author more intimately than I thought possible. It was, in a word, spellbinding."
"So please, join us next Monday through Thursday, and tell your friends."
Barbara took off the headphones and looked at her engineer.
"How's that Mike? Think I need another take?"
He grinned. "No, that pretty well nailed it. But really Babs, don't you think you're overselling it? I mean in all the years we've done this, they fall into two types. Guys who think they're the new Hemingway or King and are arrogant and condescending, or quiet bookish types who despite their brilliance come off as exciting as dirt.
Publicists and life coaches have helped, but not much."
She grinned back. "You weren't there. When you hear it you're gonna regret letting Ed engineer it. I'm not kidding, this has got award written all over it."
THE INTERVIEW PART ONE
"Hi, this is Barbara Barnes, welcome to our show. Before we roll the tape allow me to set the scene.
This interview was taped two weeks ago in the Alumni Hall during the last week of our spring pledge drive. Mr Williams donated all the ticket sales to our station. The hall seats 2500, and it was standing room only. Once the show started the audience was very quiet, perhaps sensing they were part of an unusual and unique experience. Now, roll tape."
"Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mr. Joe Williams to the stage!"
There was a brief but very loud round of applause.
"Thank you Barbara, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming out to support your station.
Your presence is appreciated."
"You're welcome Mr. Williams. Members of the audience, in case you don't know, all ticket revenues for this evening are being donated to our station. In addition, Mr. Williams has signed and donated 500 copies of his book to the station to be used as awards in our fall fund drive. Thank you Mr. Williams!"
More loud applause from the audience."
"You're most welcome. I've supported NPR for years, and am just grateful I can do a little extra now, in these lean times. And Barbara, please call me Joe."
She smiled. This was going well.
"Thanks Mr-er, Joe. So tell us, have you always been a writer? Besides your bestseller, are there anymore novels or short stories of yours out there waiting to be discovered?"
He smiled briefly. "No, this is my only novel.
I'm a mechanical engineer by trade. But to be honest I've been publishing pieces for the last twenty years. Part of my job description was to write from scratch or rewrite technical manuals for our customers. So if anyone out out there has read "Operating and Troubleshooting Guide for Intertech Hot Glue Labeler 6500", you've been reading my work for years."
There was an appreciative chuckle from the crowd.
"Well, that certainly explains your methodology for writing your novel. I feel most of us here are familiar with the book and its' back story, but for those in our radio audience, could you share a little."
Joe sighed slightly and said "Sure. It's been over three years since it happened, and fifteen months since I finished the book, so I've learned to deal with it."
He turned to look at the audience, and taking the microphone from the stand, strode to the front of the stage.
"Look at me. What do you see? Nothing. And do you know why? Because I'm as average as meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I'm 5'10" tall, average height.
Weigh about 170, not pudgy but not built, average weight. Brown eyes, mostly gray hair, average. In essence, if you passed me on the street you wouldn't recoil in horror, but on the other hand you would forget me as soon as you rounded the corner."
He went back to his stool and replaced the mike in the stand.
"I didn't have a problem being average. I was just an average 50 year old man that lived in a nice but average middle class home in an average midsized town. And I was happy with that. But, I was above average in some important areas."
"One was my wife of 27 years. She was, in my opinion, way above average in looks and intelligence. Another was my only child, a daughter, a younger version of my wife, 24 years old, with a shiny new husband any man would consider a fine son in law. And lastly, I had my job, working for the same company for 28 years, the only real job I had ever had. I had it all, a dream life."
"So what happened? Well, first the economy collapsed. My office closed, we were downsized. I could have transferred across the country, but my roots were here. The severance package was very generous, so I had a cushion. Plus, if something didn't turn up soon I could file unemployment for awhile. Then my son in law got downsized. He and my daughter were just starting out, she was six months pregnant, and they couldn't afford to lose the insurance, so they had no choice to relocate."
Joe stopped for a minute and drank some water. Then he continued in a voice full of emotion, barely above a whisper.
"Then, something so unexpected, so painful, so unexplained happened. My wife, the only woman I had ever loved, left me. Not only left me, she left the country, leaving a two page letter and a divorce petition. So, in less than three months, two of the most important foundations in a persons' life, career and family, were taken from me."
"What a piece of shit! Damn the Chinese anyway, the sneaky yellow bastards have found a better way to destroy us than war. They write junk like this and aggravate us to death."
I had tossed a manual for a piece of equipment our customer had purchased as part of a new production line in the trash. It was written in, well, Chinese. Not literally, but the translation was pretty much useless. We had fought our way through the manual, only to find gaps, duplication, misinformation, missing schematics, etc. I worked for Motion Inc, an engineering firm specializing in designing, installing and upgrading production lines. The founder chose the name because as any engineer can tell you, it's all about flow and motion. If you have a delay or breakdown, you automatically start losing money. Companies don't like that. That's why they hire us. And we have a very good reputation.
It was the early eighties, and the exodus to China was just starting. It wasn't enough to take
our manufacturing jobs, the products we imported back were inferior and poorly made. Of course, they got much better later on, but that didn't help me then.
I had been with the company for a little over three years. I was a pretty good employee, got good reviews, and was generally liked. Not much on public displays of emotion, my outburst surprised my boss, who was walking by my office at the time. He walked in and sat down.
"What's up, Joe?"
"It's this damn manual. I think whoever wrote it was smoking opium. Sorry about the outburst, but this thing is junk."
He shook his head.
"You don't have to tell me, you should hear what the guys in the field are saying."
He was stroking his chin, a sure sign he had something on his mind.
"You know Joe, one of the reasons I have you do so much desk work is because you're much better at it than any of the others. Your reports are always clear and concise. You don't press an agenda, don't try to inflate your contribution, just relay the facts. Tell you what, let's let Ed handle the field work on this. I want you to rewrite this manual. I know you've already redone at least half of it already. Take three weeks and see what you can come up with."
And so with a short conversation, my career changed course, and I spent the next twenty four years being a technical writer.
I spent fifty to sixty hours a week for the next three weeks redoing the manual. I had already done the bulk of the work before we talked. Basically I simplified, removed redundancies, expanded a few section where there wasn't enough detail, etc. It wasn't exciting reading when I was done, but it was understandable. I had five copies professionally printed and dropped them
on my boss's desk just before I left for the weekend.
Bill[my boss]came into my office the next Wednesday.
"Damn good job, Joe. Ed said thanks. We want you out there Monday for the shakedown. Shouldn't be more than a couple of days."
"Good, that way I can spot glitches and rewrite if I have too."
The shake down went well. We ran into some problems, but they were minor. I talked to the operators, took some notes. When I got back I did a rewrite and including a trouble shooting guide for new operators.
It was so well received I rewrote manuals for two additional pieces of equipment. Ed and I spent another three days four weeks later at the facility, making sure little problems didn't bloom into big problems. The day I left, corporate was there to observe the line. I was in a small conference room going over some minor details I thought would improve the system, when I got a surprise.
Out of the blue, the chief engineer for our client asked my if I was happy with my job.
"Yes, I am. It's a pretty decent group to work for. Why?"
"We're impressed with you work. You know we have eleven plants, and my staff is a little stressed right now. We could use someone like you, a trouble shooter so to speak. You would be assigned to the main office, and be sent where you would be needed most. Interested? We're sure we could put together a package that would please us all. Think about it a few days and get back to us. Thanks for the good job."
Their tentative offer was very nice. But it would mean relocating, and a lot of travel. I had only been married for two years, and I really didn't like to be away from her. She knew when we got married I would have to travel, bu this would be far more often and much longer at a time. I decided not to take it.
I had been back in the office for a week when Bill came storming into the office.His face showed his emotion. He shut my door.
"Damn it, Joe. I thought you liked it here. Why didn't you tell me you were looking instead of going behind my our backs? Is it more money, better benefits? Where's your loyalty? What was their offer?"
His anger surprised me.
"I didn't go behind your back. I wasn't looking, they approached me. I do like it here. But tell me Bill, is this the only job you've ever held?
If I decide to change jobs, it will be for the betterment of my family. If I think this job will benefit my family, I'll take it. Who do you put first, Bill? You're family, or your job?"
I don't think he expected me to react so strongly. He put his hands up.
"Calm down Joe. Of course you should do what's best for your family. Just don't accept anything without discussing it first, please?"
I was still pissed.
"I'll keep you in the loop. But just so you know, it was a very attractive offer."
Things were a little tense the next few weeks. Bill asked me to stop by on the way out Friday. When I came into his office he surprised me by closing the door. This was a bad thing, usually a closed door meant an ass chewing or termination.
The grim expression on his face did nothing to reassure me.
He handed me an envelope.
It was a letter from the home office congratulating us on a job well done. Included was a bonus check for roughly two months' salary.
There was a flash and I looked up to see Bill holding a camera. He was smiling.
"Just wanted to record this moment. Job well done, Joe. You know the client has eleven factories, this was a test to see how the upgrades worked and how hard it would be to get them on line. It went so smoothly they signed the contract Monday to do upgrades on every facility.
They singled you out for the extra effort on the manuals."
"Now, take that lovely wife of yours out tonight and celebrate. Take Monday off too. I know how many extra hours you worked on this, think of it as comp time. Expect a representative form corporate HR to see you Tuesday, and relax, it'll be good news. Now go on, enjoy your long weekend."
I was walking on clouds when I left. Stopping by the bank to deposit the check, I decided to take Bill's advice to heart concerning my wife.
There was a new Italian place she had been wanting to try, but it was expensive and had a waiting list three weeks long. Just for luck, I checked to see if we could get in tonight. Fortune smiled on me, they had just received a cancellation. Mr Franklin and I persuaded the manager to bump me to the top of the list.
To add the finishing touch I got a nice bouquet to present to Annie when I got home.
"What are these for?" She asked, both surprised and pleased.
"For no other reason than I love you and I've had a great day. Too great to have you cook. Let's eat out tonight. And honey, wear something really nice, okay?""
As all women can tell you, when in doubt, go to the SBD. A simple black dress fits any occasion and social situation. She knew hers was one of my favorites, sightly clingy, just above her knees, simple but very sexy.
Her eyes got huge when we pulled into the parking lot.
"There's no way we'll get in. You know we've tried before and it was three weeks minimum."
"Don't you trust me honey? Maybe I've planned this for months. Maybe we'll get lucky and catch a cancellation. Let's see, shall we?"
The doubts vanished when I gave them our name and was escorted to a table.
She looked at the prices on the menu and was taken aback.
"Honey, look at these prices. Can we afford this?"
"Relax honey. Tonight we can. I had some good news from work today. Let's enjoy our meal and then I'll tell you about it."
She relaxed and gave me a secretive, happy smile.
"All right. I have some good news to share also. But first, I've always wanted to try calamari."
The meal was one of the best I've ever had. The atmosphere, the companionship, the general mood of happiness stays in my memory to this day.
Oddly, Annie refused when I suggested wine. She preferred wine to beer or liquor. She said it wouldn't be good for her to drink tonight. That should have told me something, but, let's face it, men can really be clueless at times.
Relaxing over coffee and dessert, I told her about the work I did rewriting the manuals and how pleased everyone was. I told her about the recent job offer, my interview with corporate HR Tuesday, and how I was fairly sure a good raise was in my future. She was very pleased.
"I'm so happy for you, it's deserved. I always told you I thought they didn't appreciate you.
The raise is a good thing, I did a little shopping after my doctor visit this afternoon. I had no idea nursery furnishings were so expensive."
"Yes, nursery furnishings. We need to start this soon, we only have about seven months to get it ready, and I figure in another four I'll be pretty much useless."
I looked a little confused. She was enjoying it.
"Joe, don't you get it? We're pregnant, about two months according to Dr. Roberts. Aren't you happy honey?"
We had been trying for nine months, was I happy? I did what any manly man would do, started crying.
Going round the table, I dropped to my knees and hugged gently, like I was holding fine china.
She was laughing and hugging back.
"Baby, I won't break, give me a real hug."
People were looking at us.
"Engagement?" queried the older couple at the next table.
"Pregnant, our first." Answered Jamie proudly.
The woman got up, followed by her husband. She gave Annie a nice hug and he shook my hand.
"We're so happy for you. Congratulations. Remember this in years to come. Oh, and wait until you get grandchildren. It just gets better."
By then everyone in the restaurant knew, and we thanked many well wishers. It was indeed a night to remember.
It was a difficult pregnancy. At seven and a half months she was put on bed rest, by eight months she was going stir crazy and was extremely irritable.
Labor lasted twenty one hours.
After out daughter, Amber June, made her appearance, the doctors asked me into an office.
"Mr. Williams, we hate to tell you, but we found some abnormalities in your wife's womb. Nothing life threatening now, but it would be extremely dangerous for her to conceive again. She probably wouldn't make full term. Please discuss this with your wife. If she wishes to have her tubes tied, we can do it while she's here. Or, if you prefer, we can schedule a vasectomy. Please think about it. This would be simpler than birth control, every form has a failure rate. Think about it."
Annie was devastated. She was an only child and wanted at least four. I suggested adoption but she said it was too soon to talk about it.
I gave her the choice, and she said since she was already in the hospital and in pain, a little more wouldn't matter. The next day she had her tubes tied.
She was despondent and cried off and on for about a month. The only thing that would cheer her up was our daughter. Regardless of the mood she was in, when I handed her to her she would start smiling.
When A.J, our pet name for her, was three, I brought up adoption again. The idea was shot down immediately, when she was six, eight, and eleven I asked again and was told no forcefully. I stopped asking.
I did get a nice raise, and I hardly ever went out in the field for more than overnight. Over the years the workload increased, and they added personnel as needed until I looked around one day and realized I was heading a whole department. I was officially in middle management.
Our reputation grew. Problem with a manual? Throw it out and we would write you a new one. Oddly, I found myself spending more time in the field, mostly doing reviews and updates, just a bit of trouble shooting.
Annie had done well, moving up from receptionist on a large dental office to office manager. Her hours were much more regular, so she became the primary caregiver. I never traveled unless necessary, preferring to stay home with my family.
Travel is what ended our marriage. Annie loved to travel, always eager to explore new places. I traveled too much, always enjoying time at home.
She would be planning our next vacation before we got home from the one we were on. As soon as AJ was in her teens Annie included her in the planning phase, even letting her pick a destination once in a while. We went to beaches, skiing, rode a mule into the Grand Canyon, spent a week in Washington sightseeing and visiting museums. We were up for anything.
We had a major project at work, so big it required three offices working jointly to maintain the schedule. I was named coordinator, it was a real honor. Unfortunately, my travel increase dramatically. I fell into a rotation of one week gone, one week home. AJ was fifteen with her own priorities and friends, so Annie was left alone often. She was frustrated and lonely. I could see it, but didn't know what to do to make it better.
A group of us were talking about it one night in the hotel lounge because a man from another office was separated from his wife. She claimed he left her alone too much while he traveled.