Becoming a writer


Ron & Patti, 1956 or so, editor-in-chief of college newspaper, The Miami Student

I grew up in the shadow of a great journalist, my uncle Ray Pearson, crusty, cigarette-puffing, feisty city editor, at one time and another of both The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News in their hey days. I was used to seeing his front- page bylines. So while I didn’t really write journalistically in high school, at Miami University I joined the college newspaper, The Student, and, loving investigative reporting and putting a newspaper together, I eventually became its Editor, the first woman to become editor in many years. The freedom to express myself editorially was newfound, and I became a passionate journalist, tracking down campus stories – ghosts in Fisher Hall, the disappearing freshman Richard Tamman, lintels or no lintels in the new architectural building – wherever I found them.

And I hadn’t lost my zest for journalism, when, upon graduating from Miami University, I followed my new husband, Ronald Gauch, scientist and private E-2, to Fort Knox where I was lucky enough to join the staff of the then prestigious Louisville Courier Journal. Woman’s Department. How I loved the opportunities this gave me! I think it amused the Managing Editor Jimmy Pope to put a “rollei” camera in my hand and send me, this 22 year old innocent, off on her first full-page Sunday story covering a Girl Scout hike of some 70 miles to the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. And such.

Cartoon Drawing of Patti

Cartoon of Patti covering her first Sunday magazine story

Ironically, my biggest discovery may not have involved words at the Courier: I sat at the knee of the art director, Louis Dey, while he designed the pages of the paper each day. With his graphite pencil, he drew in great blocks, where the text or art would be, an enchantment I would take directly into my own creation of picture books so many years later.

After attending Miami and getting a BA in English, I attended Wayne State University briefly, taking education courses, then Manhattanville College, MAT also in English, and Drew University, PhD in English literature, and raised a lively family of three: Sarah, my first, another writer and journalist; Christine, a physics teacher and satirist; and John, a lawyer. The family years when everyone was home were a circus, a symphony, and an opera all in one, and I loved every moment. When Sarah was 8 and Christine 7, I began to write for children, because it fit better with being a young mother than being a reporter and because Professor Havighurst’s suggestion “to try” writing children’s books had intrigued me. And I never stopped. It helped that Ron and I moved to Greenburgh, New York, where I joined the wonderful Jean Fritz Writers’ Workshop. I wrote over 25 books for children and young adults during my children’s growing up years – picture books and novels. It was when the last of my children moved on to college, leaving the house empty of their dear voices, that I took my first job in children’s books: Editor in Chief of Philomel Books.