Real-life drama leads to local author’s fiction

I used to say to some journalists, “If you don’t have a sense of humor, you shouldn’t be writing jokes.”

It is parallel to being an author. If you can’t tell a story, well, don’t try to write one. The resulting book can usually be placed on a bedside table to be used as a sleep aid.

So I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the Lakewood Ranch home of Nancy Perpall, whose first novel, “Around Which All Things Bend,” was published by Archway Self Publishing in August.

Perpall’s backstory is worthy of a documentary. A critical care nurse turned lawyer turned author…that’s interesting stuff.

But could she tell a story? Could you write one?

I got the answer quickly.

Perpall was talking about her days as a divorce attorney, and we all know those can be juicy in their own right. We were going into the territory about why she became a lawyer, and she talked about the three years she spent driving between Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Villanova University, just outside of Philadelphia, to attend law school.

Nancy Perpall used many of her experiences as a lawyer to write her first novel, with more on the way.

“My son was in first grade, my daughter was in third grade, and I commuted,” she said. “It was an hour and 15 minute journey because I have a lead foot. So the first year I started commuting, I got pulled over (for speeding).”

She then told a side story about how the cop who pulled her over remembered her from when she had brought a man into the hospital’s trauma room with injuries from the haze. The man’s injuries made the Trooper feel nauseous, so she took control of the situation and allowed the trooper into the waiting room. “I helped him,” she said of the soldier.

The policeman remembered her kindness.

“He said, ‘I owe you one, but you need to slow down.’

She didn’t.

A year later, she was withdrawn a second time, taking the same route. At this moment of telling the story, Perpall was sitting but swaying a little, a wide smile shining, and her voice rising a little in volume.

“I got pulled over a second time,” she said.

She recounted that embarrassing incident, suggesting that the story wasn’t quite over. The soldier let him go again.

Then, of course, she talked about her last year of law school, when she crossed paths with the soldier again after being withdrawn again.

“He came up and leaned against my car,” Perpall said. “Then he said, ‘When are you graduating?’

It was a fun story and one that would be well received if turned into a non-fiction novel. Although she hasn’t done “Around Which All Things Bend,” it could be another novel of hers, as she’s already working on her second, with more hopefully on the way.

Her first book, however, includes many topics from her dealings with divorcing couples, which she worked into her chapters. Besides being dramatic fodder, she hopes that her stories carry lessons that will help her readers, either before they enter a relationship or before they leave one.

“I spent 32 years debunking relationships,” she said. “They called me Lady Dragon. I thought I’d spend my retirement preventing that. People need to ask the hard questions before they get married.”

She hopes some of those messages in her fictional stories aren’t so subtle.

“An autopsy, that’s what I did with the divorce cases I handled,” she said. “I looked at my clients who were devastated. But I have helped an enormous number of people. There comes a time in every relationship when you think you’re going to break up. Are you going to break it or fix it? People realize how fragile relationships are.”

She spun a few more fascinating stories and then began describing the elements of “Around Which All Things Bend,” which you can purchase on Amazon or at

“It’s about a veteran who owns a huge ranch in Montana,” she said. “His grandfather struck a gold and silver palette and was fabulously rich. His grandmother is worried about his dynasty.”

Of course, then comes a woman and what their relationship means for that dynasty and a lot of twists and turns.

“I keep the chapters short,” Perpall said. “I don’t want people to be bored.”

While she’s not sure how the book will sell, she said she’s pleased with the first effort.

“Can I do better?” she asked. “Yes.”

Perpall lives with her husband, David Mulligan, a psychologist. She promoted her book, although she said she suffers from “social media phobia” and needs to step out of her comfort zone.

It wouldn’t seem possible as he tells his stories.

To put an exclamation point on this skill, he went back to his childhood to describe his first effort to write. She was 5 years old and noted that her father, Edward Perpall, was a man who worked his way up from being an office boy at Bell Telephone to becoming an executive. He taught her that hard work can accomplish anything.

At 5, her hard work landed in a story for Highlights magazine, which was running a fiction writing contest. First place was won by a pony.

“I wrote a story about a little girl in a pasture,” she said. “There was a horse and a duck. And the horse would put the duck on its back. They went to look for the duck’s real mother. And finally they found the mother.

“But my mother (Francis Perpall) never mailed it. No way he wanted a pony.”

Day after day, little Nancy sat in the house, looking out the window and waiting for the pony to be delivered.

Finally her father told her to give up, the pony wasn’t coming anymore.

She didn’t find out until she was 50 that her mother never sent the message.

So perhaps the time has come when her writing will finally earn her a pony.

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