I have to admit I began A Peachy Life on page one hundred nine, the section entitled, “The Boy, the Rape, the Baby.”
“Barry Levinson told me I had to dramatize the bad parts of my life,” said Leonora “Peachy” DiPietro Dixon, the author of A Peachy Life.
Barry Levinson? The same Barry Levinson of Diner, Tin Men, Avalon, fame?
“I knew he was coming into the restaurant. I had seen his name on the reservation roster,” Dixon, who works at Sabatino’s in Little Italy, explained. “I waited until he finished his dinner. There were fifteen people in his group and one of them was Chip Silverman [one of the original Diner guys].”
Dixon said she went up to Levinson, took his hand and kissed it, begging him, “Please Mr. Levinson. If you could please read what I have written, I would be so grateful.” She handed him a thick manila envelope with her manuscript in it.
“Mr. Levinson read the whole thing and told one of his people to call me. He told me that I had to dramatize the part with my husband [who raped her on their first date].” Dixon added, “I had to rewrite my book all over again.”
The success of her book “made up for much of the bad in her life,” said Gregg Wilhelm, publisher of City Lit Press, and Dixon’s A Peachy Life. “She felt lifted up for the first time when the book came out and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. No one has ever sold as many books as she did the night of her first book signing.”
The book signing was last April at Sabatino’s. “The line snaked out of the restaurant and up the street,” Wilhelm continued. “We were supposed to start at 7 and go until 9. But Peachy sat down to sign books at 6:30 and she didn’t stop until 11 p.m.”
Dixon confirmed Wilhelm’s astonishment, “He’d never seen anyone sell four hundred books in one night.” She added that she has sold three thousand books in the two and a half months since A Peachy Life was published.
“I cracked open the last case of books. There were forty books in each case and I brought ten of them,” Wilhelm stated. “I had been kicking myself before the night began because I thought I had printed too many books and I was going to lose money.”
“I kept calling Gregg and telling him I think we are going to need more books,” Dixon said. “I sent out invitations to two hundred and fifty of my friends and customers at Sabatino’s.”
Wilhelm asked her how she knew so many books would be sold. “I’ve been publishing books for twenty years,” he said. He was not anticipating the sale of more than one hundred books. “Maybe two
hundred, tops,” he added.
Dixon told Wilhelm she had sent reply cards with a notation on them for the number of books each recipient wanted. She had even put postage on the reply cards, “like a wedding invitation.”
“Rod Daniels came into Sabatino’s right before he had to do his evening newscast [on WBAL-TV at 11 p.m.],” said Wilhelm. “He bought twenty books and wanted all of them signed. I knew then. Holy crap, Peachy is right. She is going to sell four hundred books!”
Wilhelm published Dixon’s book because she had a “dramatic and compelling story.” He added, “From a publishing standpoint, Peachy was charting a course that encompasses the history of Baltimore in her own, unique way. Her courageous decision [to leave her husband] and how that shaped her life was also compelling.”
Wilhelm said that it didn’t hurt that she was part of a famous Baltimore Italian family. Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro, a popular Baltimore City Councilman from the first district was Dixon’s uncle. Dixon’s story, according to Wilhelm, shed light on parts of the family that were not well known. He added that her manuscript was like “a patchwork quilt. It needed a lot of editing.”
Dixon said it took her eight years to write the book that is now covered in matching photos. On the front cover of A Peachy Life, Dixon is seven years old. She stands in her family’s rose garden behind her home on Claremont Avenue. She is wearing a long blue dress with puffed sleeves and holds a shepherd’s staff which boasts a large light blue bow, the same color as her dress.
“I was Little Bow Peep in a school play at Our Lady of Pompei,” she reported.
On the back cover is a current photo of Dixon standing in the same spot. The rose bushes are the same ones as those in the cover photo.
Dixon wanted to write her family’s story and when a knee injury made it impossible for her to work, she wrote. She solicited help from her customers at Sabatino’s and found an editor who told her the manuscript would never be published. Others were more optimistic. One told her to get an agent, so Dixon went to a Barnes and Noble bookstore and bought a book on publishing agents.
“I sent the manuscript to twenty or so agents,” Dixon said. “The lady at the post office, Cathy, and I were on a first name basis.” Each time Dixon got her manuscript rejected, she sent it out again.
It was a customer at Sabatino’s who introduced her to Gregg Wilhelm who accepted her manuscript. The customer was Michael Olesker, longtime Baltimore Sun columnist and commentator for WJZ-TV. In the foreword to A Peachy Life, Olesker wrote that Dixon’s book is “the story of lives that revolved around family and neighborhoods that were the fixtures of Baltimore and are sometimes still its greatest strength.”
“Everything I learned about writing and publishing came from my customers at Sabatino’s,” Dixon said. The advice Levinson gave her elevated her narrative into a compelling and heart wrenching story.
Note: Peachy Dixon will again be signing copies of A Peachy Life at Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley on Saturday, Saturday, July 9 from noon until 2 p.m.