Mary Jane Auch also writes as MJ Auch.
The thought of becoming a writer never occurred to MJ Auch as a child. Her only literary efforts in those days were the plays which she and her girlfriend, Noreen, wrote for their marionettes. They produced these extravaganzas in Noreen’s garage and organized the neighborhood boys into a sales force to sell tickets and refreshments.
Summer visits to both of MJ’s grandmothers led to her fascination with chickens. One grandmother had a small backyard flock and the other grandmother and two bachelor uncles had a large farm that supplied eggs to half of Long Island. MJ learned that a flock of chickens had almost the same range of personalities that could be found in a classroom, from the quiet, shy chicken to the big bully.
MJ loved books and read constantly. She wrote stories, drawn in comic book style with speech balloons for the dialog. Her interest in drawing continued through high school, and she went on to become an art major at Skidmore College. After graduation, MJ headed for New York City to seek fame and fortune, but after a year of designing prints for men's pajamas, she decided she wanted to do something more meaningful with her life. She enrolled in the Occupational Therapy program at Columbia University, which led to some wonderful years of working in a children's hospital near Hartford, Connecticut.
On a brief stop home to visit her parents before transferring to a new job in Denver, she met Herm Auch, a graphic artist and editorial cartoonist for the Rochester newspaper. It was love at first sight, and MJ never made it to Denver. They were married in 1967 and within a few years had produced a daughter, Katrin and a son, Ian. They moved from the city to a small farm, complete with chickens, ducks, and geese. Armed with a huge collection of Mother Earth News and absolutely no practical experience, they tackled farm life with gusto, gaining much comedy material for books MJ’s future books.
As the children grew older, MJ began to look for work in her original field of art. Like Jenna's mother in Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, she had a brief stint as a “zit zapper” at a school picture factory. Then she started illustrating for Pennywhistle Press, a national children's newspaper, and this sparked her interest in illustrating children’s books.
In the summer of 1984, MJ took a week-long children's writing conference on Cape Cod. She tried to write a picture book manuscript to take to the conference, but instead found herself writing a middle-grade novel. When her instructor, Natalie Babbitt, told of starting out as an artist and finding she could paint better pictures with words, something clicked. MJ finally knew that she wanted to a writer.
She started sending manuscripts to publishers, writing four full-length novels before she sold the first one. Then she sold a second book to another publisher that same week. It had taken two years and thirteen rejections, but MJ had finally reached her goal!mShe continued writing books for older kids and abandoned her dream of illustrating for a while. Then, after nine books, she wrote and illustrated The Easter Egg Farm. This set in motion a series of picture books featuring poultry involved in the arts.
The Auchs have now become a family of artists. Their children are grown and pursuing art careers of their own. Kat, a graphic artist, is now working as Associate Art Director for Scrapbook Answers Magazine in San Francisco. Ian has been a graphic artist and 3-D animator and is now Assistant New Media Editor for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. Ian is also a metal artist and created the chicken-sized beauty parlor chair for [b:Beauty and the Beaks|1918127|Beaut