Gregory Kirschling
June 06, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A decade ago, before her breakout 1999 best-seller The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing let her quit, Melissa Bank slaved away at a New York City advertising job. But she always knew how to wiggle out of too much work. ”Melissa!” her old boss would cry, ”we’re having focus groups at lunch, we need you to be there.” ”Oh, I’m sorry,” Bank would demur, ”I have an appointment, I can’t.” ”And then,” laughs Bank, reminiscing over cigarettes and a beer in her Chelsea apartment, ”I’d get on my bicycle and go to Central Park and read for an hour!”

The story may help explain why it took Bank six years — a pretty long time in publishing-land — to release The Wonder Spot, her follow-up to Girls’ Guide. ”You must air out, especially as a writer,” she says, right after dialing out for some scotch to serve her interviewer. ”You need that. You can’t just demand demand demand the words from yourself. The part of you that writes is a part of you that needs to be fed. And part of that means not being a career person or doing things just to move ahead.”

Girls’ Guide was a phenomenon. Along with Bridget Jones’s Diary, it helped spark a boom in the genre sometimes condescendingly called chick lit. Since then, its author has stayed busy by not staying too busy. ”Success is like jerk training!” Bank says, so she’s avoided celebrity-author trappings. She’s not even sure who Sarah Michelle Gellar is, except that she’s the one set to star in a movie version of two Girls’ Guide stories. Bank also never moved out of the teensy apartment where she’s lived for 15 years, even though the bedroom looks barely big enough for the bed and the living-room wall doubles as a spot to hang a black cocktail dress. For the past eight months, she’s been happily dating ”my perfect boyfriend,” a guy named Todd who works in real estate and lives in her building.

None of this made putting together the second novel any easier. ”I began writing, and I was hypercritical,” Bank says. ”I had maybe 100 pages, and I was just sure it wasn’t good enough. I felt like what had happened [with Girls’ Guide] had skewed my sense of judgment. I’m sure it came from the idea that I didn’t deserve the success I had, and this second book was going to show everybody that.” She had psyched herself out, so Bank agreed to a contract in 2001 in part to give herself a deadline. Then she ran past it. Her editor was understanding. ”I didn’t worry about Melissa,” says Viking’s Carole DeSanti, who also edited Girls’ Guide. ”She works harder than most writers I know. She’s serious about it — it wasn’t like she was off in the French Riviera at a casino or something. I’m very patient. I knew she would come through.”

The Wonder Spot is, like Girls’ Guide, an interconnected batch of stories about a woman’s familial and romantic escapades starring a character who closely resembles Bank. ”I don’t think I’ll be writing a historical novel about the Spanish-American War anytime soon,” Bank says. She’s a little wary about being perceived as somebody ”who can only write one book over and over again. But maybe,” she adds, ”I’ll just write that book over and over again and I’ll make it really, really good next time.”

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