Pete Dexter, legendary columnist, novelist, acclaimed screenwriter and now part of an anthology celebrating some of the nation's greatest newspaper wordsmiths, is hard at work on his eighth novel, something he might not have lived to do.
The night he was beaten almost to death in a sketchy Philadelphia neighborhood is Dexter's signature biographical moment, launching his trajectory from reporter to novelist, writing some of the most original and important novels in American literature, City Pages reported.
Dexter feels differently about the incident, "I'm sick and tired of the story," Dexter told City Pages.
The story he is referring to started with a column he wrote for the Philadelphia Daily News that was published on December 9, 1981. The intent of the column was to applaud efforts to stop the spread of drugs in Ferry's Grey, a blue-collar, Irish- Catholic neighborhood, but instead it outraged a family and the neighborhood.
The incident ended with Dexter having a broken pelvis, a cracked femur, nerve damage to his hands, a concussion, bleeding on the brain, and a spine fractured in two places. His scalp required 90 stitches, according to City Pages.
Dexter now resides in a house in Clinton (the Dexter's moved in 18 years ago), where he writes seven days a week in the guesthouse, City Pages reported, and he sticks to an unwavering routine. He writes for hours, always in the dead of night.
He is currently working on his next novel, which centers on an elephant named Blossom, who performs in a small traveling circus but he won't say much more than that to City Pages, mainly because he's not sure where the project is heading. He does know it will have a less serious tone then his other novels that made him a literary star, particularly Paris Trout.
A half-orphaned kid raised in South Dakota and Illinois, Dexter's birth dad died when he was around three years old, a tragedy friends and colleges say still haunt him, what former Daily News editor Zack Stalberg calls, "the wounded-creature aspect to Pete."
Dexter worked at many different publications. He started at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and then moved to the Palm Beach Post, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Phildadelphia Daily News, and in 1986 he moved to west coast to work for the Sacramento Bee.
Jim Trotter, a colleague of Dexter's at the Post and now Western States Enterprise Editor for the Associated Press in Phoenix, told City Pages one his many Dexter stories, "Pete invented a drink back in those days called a beagle. Basically, it was a quart of rum, a small bottle of lime juice, and a dash of Pepsi in a one-gallon Coleman picnic jug. That led to the Mighty Beagle Army, and you had to perform tricks with the jug to move up in rank. One night, we got kicked out of this woman's party for throwing the jug across her living room, arguing over who had the prettier spiral."
Although life has slowed down for Dexter- he hardly ever drinks, lives a relatively solitary life with his wife of 30 years, Dian, and spends his free times playing with his dogs- he still reminisces fondly of the people and places that got him into so much trouble.
"You get to revisit your past, and when I do that, I've come around to thinking, you know, that people are who they are."