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'?
A program that promised students they would graduate with a book-length work. Patrick forgot all about her belly button, and jumped.
Two years later, she had her masters of fine arts, and her book -- or at least half a book ("There's a difference," Patrick said she discovered, "between a 'book-length work' and a book").
Book critics and fellow writers (those who are "self-made," that is) can be even less generous: It's a self-indulgent waste of money, a degree for sissies and wannabes, they argue.
Real writers rent a drafty attic garret, confront their demons alone in the twilight and write.
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.
When someone writes a bad book, people complain about all those gosh-darn MFA programs." Whether good or bad for literature, culture or humanity, MFA writing programs are undeniably popular.
For decades, starting in the 1930s, Iowa University, Stanford University and a handful of others had a lock on graduate creative-writing programs.