Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Side of Ranch

Real life drama leads to local author's fiction

Former attorney Nancy Perpall hopes those who read her novels learn important lessons about relationships.

Nancy Perpall has used many of her experiences as a lawyer to write her first novel with more on the way.
Nancy Perpall has used many of her experiences as a lawyer to write her first novel with more on the way.
  • East County
  • Opinion
  • Share

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

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

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

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

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

I had my answer quickly.

Perpall was spinning stories from her days as a divorce attorney, and we all know those can be juicy in themselves. We were crossing into territory about why she transitioned into an attorney, 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 has used many of her experiences as a lawyer to write her first novel with more on the way.

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

She then told a side story about how the trooper who pulled her over remembered her from a time he had brought a man into the hospital’s trauma room with injuries from being hazed. The man’s injuries left the Trooper feeling nauseous, so she took control of the situation and allowed the trooper to go to the waiting room. “I helped him out,” she said of the trooper.

The trooper remembered her kindness.

“He said, ‘I owe you one, but you’ve got to slow down.’”

She didn’t.

A year later, she was pulled over a second time, making the same drive. At this point of telling the story, Perpall was sitting, but rocking a bit, a wide smile flashing, and her voice increasing in volume just a bit.

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

She related that embarrassing incident, hinting at the fact the story wasn’t quite concluded. The trooper again let her go.

Then, of course, she talked about her final year of law school, when she crossed paths with the trooper one more time after being pulled over yet again.

“He came up and leaned on my car,” Perpall said. “Then he said, ‘When do you graduate?’”

It was a fun story, and one that would be well received if it was crafted into a non-fiction novel. While it didn’t make “Around Which All Things Bend,” it might make another of her novels, as she already is working on her second, with more, hopefully, on the way.

Her first book, however, does include much subject matter from her dealings with divorcing couples, which she has worked into her chapters. Besides being dramatic fodder, she is hoping her stories carry lessons that can help her readers, either before the begin a relationship, or before they get out of one.

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

She hopes some of those messages in her fictional stories are not so subtle.

“An autopsy, that’s what I did with the divorce cases that I handled,” she said. “I looked at my clients who were devastated. But I have helped a tremendous number of people. There comes a time in every relationship when you think you are going to break. 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 to describe the nuts and bolts of “Around Which All Things Bend,” which you can buy at Amazon or at

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

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

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

While she isn’t sure how the book will sell, she said she is satisfied with her first effort.

“Can I do better?” she asked. “Yes.”

Perpall lives with her husband, David Mulligan, a psychologist. She has been promoting her book, although she said she suffers from “social media phobia” and has to step outside her comfort zone.

That wouldn’t seem possible the way she tells her stories.

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

At 5, her hard work went into a story for Highlights magazine, which was holding a fiction writing contest. First place won 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 his back. They went looking for the duck’s real mother. And they eventually found the mother.

“But my mother (Francis Perpall) never mailed it in. No way did she want 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 dad told her to give it up, the pony wasn’t coming.

She didn’t find out until she was 50 that her mom never mailed in the entry.

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



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

Latest News