Tom Deimler’s memoir is a detailed and engaging account of growing up in rural Pennsylvania during the Great Depression. It’s full of stories about what it was like from the time he was a youngster until he went off to a logging camp and then college, and ultimately went to work for the Boy Scouts.
Reading the book, it’s easy to see that the foundations he laid while working on his parents’ farm led him to his career. He writes about the hard work and how rewarding it could be, like when he was given a pig to raise and then sell to the butcher. He tells of going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, visiting his grandparents on Sundays, doctor visits at home, and about canning their own catsup and root beer for the hot summer days. He also manages to tell stories about his dogs and turkeys and going skunk hunting with his brother, and about their Christmas traditions, and what it was like during World War II. One of my favorite things about Straight Rows is the humble and affable way Tom writes. You end up feeling like you were there, and you finish the book with a genuine appreciation for his perspective on family, community, and friendship.
I thought it would be interesting for people who are thinking about publishing their own book to hear more about Tom Deimler’s experience—where he came from with the manuscript, and what the process of publishing it was like, and where he’s going to take it. [—Adam Robinson]
Q. Straight Rows is about growing up on a farm during the Great Depression. What was the most challenging thing about those days?
A. As a result of the Great Depression, we had very little, but since I knew no other life I did not realize I was poor. The most challenging thing for me was doing the hard work chores at a very early age on a daily basis. Dad farmed to perfection—straight rows—and my jobs were strenuous and were expected to be done in the same precise way.
I guess you didn’t have a TV …
I recall gathering around our floor model radio to listen to news, sports and religious music primarily. We had a victrola and a small supply of wax music records. We never had a TV on the farm. After the farm was sold in May 1952, my parents got a TV the following year. When I was married at the end of 1958, my wife and I got our first (small) TV.
Even though it was such a difficult time in our country’s history, your story comes across as uplifting and optimistic.
Dad was strong in a lot of ways and Mom was the optimistic person in the family. Their combined personalities caused them to never give up in times of despair and their goal was to always try to make things better. Never say never and the words were always, “It can be done.” I still believe that philosophy.
When did you decide you should write Straight Rows?
First, I was the family story teller and was called upon at most holidays and special occasions. Then one day my son Mike and daughter-in-law Dian said, “Dad, have you thought about writing a book?”
How long did it take to write the first draft?
I began my writing in September 2014 and my daughter-in-law and I met weekly to check progress. She read and critiqued all my drafts. The first complete draft was finished about April 2015. My grandson Jeff was home from law school shortly thereafter and read the draft making margin comments and suggestions. The manuscript was revised and ready for professional edit and technical support by July 2015. My most beneficial decision was choosing a professional to do that task, as that expertise was the real finishing touch the book needed.
You write about a lot of people from your life back then, including your teacher, Miss Alice Demey. Do you think she’d be proud of you for writing the book?
Miss Demey would be quite proud of my book. She deserves a lot of credit for that which I have accomplished. It should be no surprise that she too was a straight rows person. After the one room school closed, she went on to teach at a new elementary school in Middletown. The school was later given her name after some 50+ years of teaching.
What has been the hardest part about making the book? The writing? The production? The marketing?
The hardest part of making the book was the final draft and edit. There were things I wanted to include that I had not first thought of. Some more pages were written. But now professional help was necessary for giving it an attractive and marketable look. Currently I am in the marketing stage and find myself spending more time and energy than when writing attempting to sell it.
Were you surprised at how difficult it is to sell a book? What were your expectations in that regard?
Yes, I was surprised because I thought my web site would be seen by a lot more people and that potential buyers would be looking for a book about farming. I had to make a decision to devote energy marketing my book of which I had not planned. Promoting one’s book is hard work and takes a time commitment.
How did you feel when the book first arrived and you opened the package?
My first view of my new book was one of excitement. It looked so great and was far more appealing than I had ever dreamed. I sent gift copies to all my family and to many friends as well. The compliments I continue to receive make the hard work all worthwhile.
Would you say that’s the most rewarding thing about the process?
That is a close second. I believe the truly most rewarding aspect is the opportunity I had to reflect on my early years and cause me to realize what it really is that makes me who I am today. The lessons I learned have stayed with me. They will become the basis of a second book I plan to write.
What would you tell people who were thinking about writing their own book?
Spend some time thinking about what it is you want to write. Jot down some ideas and then make a rough outline. Move then to actually drafting part of the manuscript. Have someone work with you who will give you honest feedback and help you direct your thoughts into words.
Lastly, you aren’t farming any more, but are you still able to apply the philosophy of “straight rows”?
Yes, absolutely!! My career with the Boy Scouts spanned more than forty years. I am now retired for sixteen years. I still begin every day with a written list of that which I plan to accomplish. In January each year I set goals, write them down and check them off when completed. I am an organized and hard working person in whatever I have to do. In retirement, I substitute teach and have the reputation of being the most dependable and helpful sub. I am family oriented, honest, caring and try to be of help others. I still love the outdoors and am an avid gardener.
Find out more about Straight Rows by Tom Deimler at his website, www.straightrows.com.