Today, I am honored to have my good friend, Joe Perrone Jr., join us. Joe is a proud grandpa, avid fisherman, devout NHL fan (is that really a thing?) and an incredible writer. I’m pretty sure he’s also a great husband, but his wife, Becky, refused to comment. All kidding aside, Joe is the author of numerous books, including the amazing Matt Davis Mystery Series whose titles include As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises.
Never one to sit on his laurels, Joe was hard at work on the fifth novel in the series which was on track to be released in early 2016.
But 17 months ago, Joe’s life was upended.
Joe, you suffered a stroke during the early morning hours of OCTOBER 2, 2015. Did you know what was happening to you?
I awoke around 4:30 and thought my cat that had awakened me. I told my wife, Becky, that I was going to use the bathroom down the hall and then go on down to the basement to watch a little TV until I could fall asleep again. When I put my feet down on the floor and started to walk out of the bedroom, I noticed that the toes of my right foot were dragging just a bit, and I thought my foot must have fallen asleep. However, as I made my way down the hall, I could tell that something definitely wasn’t right. I took a baby aspirin and looked in the mirror to see if my face was symmetrical. It appeared normal. After using the toilet, I went to gently lower the solid oak toilet seat down, but it fell out of my right hand and slammed onto the commode. By then, I was pretty sure I was having a stroke.
Your wife called an ambulance and 15 minutes later, you were en route to the hospital. What were some of the things running through your mind?
In the ambulance, I had a long talk with God. I assured Him that I was ready to go if he wanted me, but that I would really like to see my new granddaughter grow up a bit first. I never felt afraid. Once I was in the hospital, all I mostly thought about was not wanting to leave my wife, and how upset she would be if I didn’t make it. I immediately began to concentrate on doing whatever it took to give myself the very best chance of surviving.
That was a good attitude to have. Once you were stabilized and things calmed down, were you afraid that you might not be able to perform the most basic of tasks, like signing your name, fixing yourself breakfast, walking unassisted, etc.?
Yes. For the first day or so, my right arm was practically useless. I remember eating dinner that first night and every time I would lean forward with the fork in my left hand, the tray would magically move away from me. I said to Becky, “Watch this.” I leaned forward with the fork, and the table moved away. I did that several times. Finally, Becky started to laugh. “What’s so funny?” I asked. Becky informed me that “It’s your right arm hitting against the tray that’s causing it to move away from you.” I started to laugh really hard. It occurred to me that what I was experiencing was a quintessential example of gallows humor.
Before I was released from the hospital, the neurologist told me that I had definitely had a stroke, and there was a fairly good chance that I could have one or more strokes in the future. She said that a change of diet and regular exercise would give me a better chance of not having another one, but that there were no guarantees.
No guarantees is a scary prospect. How did you handle the news?
I experienced one or two panic attacks, but once I recognized them for what they were, I was able to diffuse their effects.
Were you fearful that the damage from the stroke would prevent you from writing creatively?
As soon as I got home, I went straight to my computer and tried typing. It was a laugh riot. My right hand kept sliding down a row, so that everything I typed came out as gibberish. The next morning, I was back at it, and things were much better. But I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to type. I write best when I can type, since I can type about 70 wpm, which permits me to keep up with the ideas and words that form in my mind. So I kept at it, until, by the third day, I was typing as fast as ever. When I saw the neurologist later that week and told her about my typing, she said it was the best thing I could ever have done.
Some people may not know that you suffer from ADHD. It’s a tough problem for children, let alone adults. Did this impede your recovery process?
Fortunately, thanks to my wife’s diagnosis, I have been on Ritalin for nearly sixteen years. As a result, my ADHD is well controlled, and did not impede my recovery. If anything, having the Ritalin probably helped me to stay focused on getting well.
How hard was it to get back in the saddle and begin writing again?
I wouldn’t say that it was difficult getting back to my writing, but, to be honest, writing was the farthest thing from my mind for the first six months or so. During that time, all I wanted to do was eat properly, lose weight, exercise, do my special exercises, and get healthy again. I lost 30 pounds, and I cut my cholesterol in half. I can’t recall exactly when I got back to writing, but I kept on blogging all through my recovery. My stroke occurred on a Friday, and normally I publish my blog on Saturday. However, I didn’t get home from the hospital until that Sunday evening. My youngest son, Matt, noticed that I hadn’t published my blog and asked if he could write a guest post. I was delighted. The following week I wrote my first post-stroke blog and called it “A Stroke of Luck,” because that’s exactly what it was. It was a wake-up call, and I answered the call!
In what ways has your life changed since that day? Describe a typical day for you now.
In general, I try to do something constructive every day, and I try to enjoy every day as fully as possible. I know that my days are finite, and I want to make the most of what time I have left on this Earth. I guess it could best be described as living in the moment. I try to see my granddaughter as often as possible, which, thanks to FaceTime, is at least once or twice a week. A good deal of my day is spent in planning and preparing food for my near-vegetarian diet, writing some, and just relaxing. I try to walk at least two miles every day, and, following the stroke, I did not miss a day for approximately six months, including walking in rain, ice, and snow.
What sort of advice would you give to your younger self if you could?
Oh, wow, that’s a hard one. I guess I would advise me to not take anything for granted, and to make every moment count. I would also suggest that I not eat the usual half pound of chocolate per day that I used to consume.
I think that’s good advice for all of us!
Your latest book, Deadly Ransom, the fifth book in the Matt Davis mystery series, released March 1. You’ve overcome a lot of obstacles to get to this day. How does it feel?
I guess it would be fair to say that I feel relieved. So many of my readers were expecting its release way back last spring, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Knowing that it’s out there for them to enjoy is very satisfying.
Tell us about Deadly Ransom.
Well, it’s a bit different from the last four Matt Davis mysteries. A good deal of the action takes place in Montana, which is a place I’ve never visited, but to which I’ve always wanted to go. I did a great deal of research for this book, which kind of gave me a nickel tour that I might not have experienced otherwise.
Would you mind to give us a small snippet?
Sure. I’d be happy to. This scene takes place right after a ranch owner’s foreman has been kidnapped. The rancher’s name is Clint Davidson and he’s at his neighbor Ralph’s home, relating the events to his friend.
Ralph sat in his study and listened in disbelief as his friend and new neighbor, Clint, rattled off detail after detail about his predicament. Ralph was incredulous. After all, this was Montana in the twenty first century, he thought. These kinds of things just didn’t happen here. He needed to understand exactly what his friend was up against.
“Slow down, Clint. It’s too much for me to absorb all at once. Now start from the very beginning and don’t leave anything out.”
Clint’s face was ashen. Ralph hadn’t seen him this distressed since Harriet died.
“I’m sorry, Ralph. I’m just beside myself.” Clint took a deep breath and began. “Let me see, I guess it began when I didn’t smell the coffee this morning. Shorty always makes the coffee before he does anything else—it was seven o’clock already and I couldn’t smell a damned thing.”
Ralph listened intently, running his fingers through his thick white hair. He was 73 years old, and tough as they came. He, too, was a bachelor—but by choice.
“I went downstairs,” continued Clint, “half expecting him to give me some bullshit excuse for not having the coffee ready, but he wasn’t even there. I checked his cottage. No Shorty. That’s when I walked out to the barn and saw that Tyrus wasn’t in his pen. It was no big deal. He’s usually been fed and put out by seven, but I figured Shorty was probably inside the barn feeding him.”
“Then what happened?”
“Well, first thing I noticed as I got closer to the barn was that the door was ajar. Now that’s something I never expected to see. The padlock was unlocked and the door was open a good six inches. I called Shorty’s name, but he didn’t answer—and that’s when I found Tyrus.” Clint dabbed at the corner of his eye with a handkerchief. “His throat had been slashed and they’d . . . well . . . they’d gone and cut his pecker off and wrapped it in newspaper—with a note attached to it. Can you imagine that?”
Ralph gasped at the graphic image. “And what did the note say?”
Clint reached into his back pocket and extracted a crumpled piece of paper, thrusting it at Ralph. “Here, read it yourself.” The note read:
“We killed your bull and we got Shorty. We killed the bull to show we mean buziness. Were tired of you White Men taking advantage of us. We want to hunt and fish like we always have. This is our land. We want fourty thousand dollers too and than you can have Shorty back. If we don’t get the money well do the same thing we done with your bull to your man. Don’t get no FBI or police or else. Well contact you soon and tell you where to bring the money. Remember no funny buziness.”
The note was unsigned.
Ralph chuckled. “Not much for grammar or spelling,” he observed.
“I guess,” Clint replied. “But what do you make of it?”
Ralph shook his head. “You got, what, ten thousand acres?
“More like closer to fourteen.”
“Plenty of neighbors, too,” added Ralph. “Hell, it could be anybody. But whoever it is, it sounds like they’re not fooling around.”
Clint frowned. “So what do I do?”
“Depends,” admitted Ralph. “Depends what they say when they contact you again. My guess is they’re gonna try to bleed you for more and more money.”
Clint shrugged his shoulders. “I know everybody thinks that just because I’ve got this big ranch I’ve got money coming out the wazoo. But hell, I’m mortgaged to the hilt. I’d be lucky to scrape together twenty thousand, let alone forty.”
Both men were silent for a moment.
“Hey!” said Ralph. “How ‘bout a cup of coffee? I got some fresh-brewed in the pot. Made it myself this morning. Get the old corpuscles going. Whatta ya say?”
“Atta boy. Black, no sugar, right?”
“Right,” sighed Clint.
“Hell, we’ll figure this thing out. I promise.”
Clint had his doubts.
Great excerpt! Where can we buy a copy?
Do you see more books in Matt Davis’ future?
That’s a difficult question to answer. As of now, I’m not planning another one. However, if Deadly Ransom is successful, and I feel there is enough interest on the part of my readers for me to write another, I might reconsider.
However, I will tell you that I am already eight chapters into writing a new stand-alone thriller called Getting Even! It has a soon-to-be-retired FBI agent matching wits with a serial killer, and I’m pretty excited about it. It’s going to be fairly hard edged compared to the Matt Davis series, and a bit of a departure for my readers and me.
Wow, that sounds like a toe curler for sure! Thank you so much, Joe for taking time out of your busy day to answer my questions. I wish you the best of luck on Deadly Ransom, and I’m looking forward to reading Getting Even! as well.
Thank you, Belinda! I enjoyed answering your questions.
To find out more about Joe and his books you can visit his links:
Belinda G. Buchanan is an author of edgy, women’s fiction & mystery novels. Her titles include, After All Is Said And Done, Seasons of Darkness, The Monster of Silver Creek, and Tragedy at Silver Creek.