- Bob Ratterman Contributing Writer
Story ideas collected in folders but never written and a manuscript written decades ago and nearly forgotten in a drawer turned into the first books produced by a new publishing company established here.
Berg Kaufman Publishing was a natural progression for Cecilia Berg and Don Kaufman, both retired from Miami University.
The two have collaborated for 30 years in a venture, Two Herons Consulting, serving non-profit organizations, community groups and businesses with planning, using their joint concerns for conservation, and they co-authored “The Biosphere: Protecting Our Global Environment” an award-winning environmental textbook for college students.
He retired after more than 50 years in education, 43 at Miami, in a variety of roles finishing as director of the Hefner Museum of natural History.
Berg retired last year after 30 years at Miami, the last 16 at the Hefner Museum where she wrote successful grant proposals totaling in excess of $4 million to support teacher workshops and updates. She spearheaded efforts to bring The Big Read to Oxford in 2009 using a grant from the national Endowment for the Humanities.
They see their new venture as an extension of both their educational experiences and their interest in the environment.
“Knowing I wanted to do something after Miami University, I did not want to just sit around. I think it worked out pretty well over the years as a teacher,” he said, adding he had accumulated files of notes on possible books he hoped one day to write. “Over the years as a teacher, I worked on 35 ideas in my head, then I had an epiphany. I can’t live long enough to write all 35 books.”
His second epiphany was he could find someone else to write them and then publish them himself.
That led to the idea of forming Berg Kaufman Publishing with Berg and then contacting another retired teacher, Tad Liechty, about turning his file folders of ideas into stories.
Liechty was a willing partner in the endeavor.
“I had 30 years in education, also. After a year laying on the couch reading stacks of books, I wanted to volunteer. I met Cecilia at the Hefner Museum,” she said and then met with Kaufman. “Don said, ‘I’ve got something for you,’ and handed me six file folders full of file cards with notes. They were ideas for books he had on his mind. I picked four.”
She had known him from classes she had taken previously and seized on the idea of writing, despite no formal training in writing.
“I taught first grade so I had experience in teaching children to write,” she said.
Her first book was “Just Say So: A Book About Idioms,” a story about Jules who is determined to go through a day doing—literally—everything he is told and has a series of adventures and misadventures as a result finding what people say is not always what they mean.
Liechty’s second book was “The King’s Cookies” and the third “Martha and the Mutt.”
That latter effort tells of 12-year-old Martha who is moved from her familiar rural surroundings with her family to a more urban setting and finds confidence and maturity through relationships with an elderly neighbor and a lost dog. The dog’s owner turns up and Martha must face giving up the dog.
Liechty is already planning a sequel to “Martha and the Mutt.”
The author said she incorporated many memories of her own childhood into the book so that her sister is taking a long time to read the book.
“My sister said it brought back so many memories, she reads and then puts it down to recall (events from the past),” Liechty said, adding while writing it, she sent drafts of the book to Kaufman, who saw new life put into his original ideas. “He’d say, ‘I didn’t think that would happen.’ ”
She gave a lot of credit for the final results to Berg, who serves as the editor for the works being published. Berg, for her part, enjoys her role because she takes pride in turning out carefully constructed work as well as the control they have over that final product.
“I wrote a textbook with Don and we had so little control over the content, it was frustrating. We want authors to have input,” Berg said, adding that includes not only the words but also the cover design and illustrations and even the colors used. “I enjoy the process as much as the final product.”
Kaufman referred to her as their “editor extraordinaire.”
The fourth person in the new publishing firm is Carolyn Farmer who designs the books and their on-line counterparts. Kaufman explained they have produced four books but it is really eight because all are also available as e-books, with all sales of each going through Amazon.
Farmer spent a lot of time learning how to do the coding for on-line sales because the coding varies by the devices being used.
While Liechty wrote three of the four books already produced by Berg Kaufman Publishing, the fourth came from an unexpected source. When she heard about the publishing venture, Kaufman’s sister, Joanne McDonough, sent him a yellowed manuscript she wrote in the mid-1980s and then placed in a drawer where it remained for 30 years.
The book, “Dominic’s Ducks,” came from her original manuscript and is a true story of events which happened to her, although her name is changed in the story. McDonough even drew the illustrations for the book.
She held a book signing in her home town of Pittsburgh and sold out the books in a three-hour session with many old friends showing up to buy one and have it autographed.
She is also now working on a second book and Liechty is looking forward to visiting McDonough soon to meet her.
Liechty is planning a book signing of her own Dec. 2 as part of the Oxford Holiday Festival at the Oxford Community Arts Center.