Several years ago, Mary Patrick and her husband, Tom, stood side by side at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, gazing at his family's burial plot.They shook their heads and laughed at the irony of what -- and who -- would be underfoot in the future.Now, 18 months after graduation, "Family Plots: A Story of Love, Death, Sex, and Tax Evasion," is complete. She's moving into the refurbished basement of her home that straddles the Oakland-Piedmont border so she can rent out the main floor and bring in some cash. According to a recent survey, Patrick is in good company: 81 percent of Americans say they have a book in them. it makes writing a book look fairly easy," he wrote in response to the 2002 survey, conducted for the Jenkins Group, a Michigan publishing firm.A trim, cheerful brunette, Patrick, 43, has 400 pages of family intrigue and an agent who has expressed interest. Just in case any more of those would-be authors get the urge to crank out their books, however, New York Times columnist Joseph Epstein has some advice: "So many third-rate books are published nowadays that . "After all, how many times has one thought, after finishing a bad novel, 'I can do at least as well as that'?Keep it inside you, where it belongs." There are many who agree wholeheartedly.More than a few point to MFA writing programs as a big part of the problem.
Don't write that book, my advice is, don't even think about it.
Getting into a writing program may be the hardest part.
The creative- writing MFA (usually an offshoot of the English department) now has the largest number of applicants in the field of English graduate studies.
At the mishmash of relatives who would share space under the tombstone -- people who, in life, loved one another fiercely, while reneging on deals, stealing money, holding grudges, hoarding secrets.
"This," she said to her husband, pointing her finger at the names already etched into the dark stone marking the grave, a sea of monuments stretching beyond, "would make a great book." Patrick promptly dismissed her spark of inspiration, caught up in parenting and her career as a marketing consultant and private investigator.