Eventually, she landed a copywriting job at McCann Erikson. "I had to write an ad convincing a monk who'd taken a vow of silence to use AT&T," she recalls. After she came up with "AT&T. Because we take your vows as seriously as you do," the firm ordered her some business cards. She continued to work on her writing; in 1993, she won a short-fiction contest at the Chicago Tribune. Then came Zoetrope, and after seven years of direct-mail ad campaigns, she sent her collection to agent Molly Friedrich on a Tuesday, along with this note: "Dear Molly, I hope this is a book. I also hope for the love of a good man." Friedrich told her a sale would be "pathetically easy."
On Wednesday, Carole DeSanti, Bank's editor-to-be, read the manuscript, had an intensely physical reaction -- "It was like someone shocked me with an electric prod," she says -- and came in with an offer of $275,000. A few months later, Bank received a letter from a senior buyer at Barnes & Noble, who sees hundreds of books a month, telling her he couldn't get it out of his mind.
It's clear that Bank's book would have come to life even without a push from Bridget. But sharing the same publisher didn't hurt. As they did with Fielding's book, Viking's marketing staff is planning to pile into a van postered with the book's cover and drive to city bookstores like a roving pep rally. The publisher, which has already tripled the first printing for Girls' Guide, plans to trot out Bank and Fielding together this summer; the women will be appearing at the 92nd Street Y to chat about "what single girls want." Bank doesn't mind the association at all. "It makes me annoyed that Bridget was so slammed," she says. "She gets at a lot of truths about what it is like to be a single woman, in sort of a middle-class, better-than-average job, trying to find love. I thought it was beautifully done. If it had been the diary of a male coal miner, it might have been hailed as great literature."
As she somewhat sheepishly admits, Suzanne Finnamore may be the only tyro in the publishing world who has yet to crack Fielding's tour de force. "I'm too upset about the fact that she's picking out a Honduran island right now," she quips. "I find that gets in my way of reading it." But Finnamore, who had a solid career as a creative director at Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco, may soon be flipping through the Sotheby's island catalogue herself. Last summer, literary agent Kim Witherspoon plucked the manuscript of her first novel, Otherwise Engaged, out of a slush pile and quickly submitted it to publishers. At the time, Finnamore was nine months pregnant.
"We were going back and forth via cell phone," Finnamore recalls. "Meanwhile, I'm driving to the hospital for my C-section." That afternoon, she pocketed a hefty six-figure advance from Knopf. A few days later, 20th Century Fox stepped in to option the movie rights, and she whisked her week-old son, Pablo, straight to the BMW dealership. "I put him down on the desk and told the guy he had an hour," she laughs. "Now I have a 528i with Montana leather interior and a 400-watt stereo. It's a crack dealer's car."
Although she's the only one of the bunch who is also a wife and a mother, Finnamore is far from a "Smug Married." A brassy Californian with cropped, dark hair, she fires off one-liners like a stand-up comic. Her heroine, Eve, is a 36-year-old creative director in San Francisco who artfully orchestrates her engagement, then comedically suffers through the ensuing year of ambivalence. "Insta-Shrew," Eve calls herself after barking at her new fiancé, "Just add diamonds." The narrative is divided into monthly dispatches, peppered with hilarious tag lines. Eve's conceptualization of a prune campaign reads as follows: "Little. Black. Wrinkled. Prunes! Prunes . . . they used to be plums." She is also appropriately neurotic, as Finnamore is quick to emphasize. "But she's more like Scarlet O'Hara-neurotic," she explains. "She'll bite your arm off. She's like Bridget, but butch."