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Wall Street And Silicon Valley Converge In 'The Underwriting'

Michelle Miller’s life has taken her from her hometown of Asheville to the depths of two important economic engines in America – Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

She studied business at Stanford, got a job at financial giant JP Morgan, and then gave it all up to become an author. She wrote a 12-part online serial last year, drawing on her experiences from the financial and tech worlds.

That turned into a full-length novel called The Underwriting (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/2015). It’s a corporate satire about a location-based dating app going public that turns into a murder mystery.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Miller about The Underwriting. Michelle Miller will read Thursday at 7 p.m. at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville and Friday at 7 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. 

Miller’s idea for the book grew over years, but if there was one defining moment, it came during graduate school, when she was back at Stanford studying business.

She went to a talk by Neal Baer, writer and producer of the hit show ER, and asked about what it took to be a writer.

“He said you’re going to know within two minutes if you can write,” Miller says. “The difference is whether you have something to write about.”

Before ER, people told Baer medicine would be complicated to put on TV, but he had attended medical school and understood the intricacies. Miller wondered if she could humanize investment banking in a similar fashion.

She juxtaposed the financial world with Silicon Valley where she had spent time as a Stanford student and employee of JP Morgan. Miller’s characters exemplify many of the stereotypes of the tech and financial worlds, specifically the dirtier side of business.  

“Over the course of the novel, we break more into their context and give readers an understandable view of why they do the things they do,” Miller says. “I wanted to explain why some of these tropes that maybe are unlikable and unfavorable exist.”

One of the biggest issues Miller tackles in her book is location-based apps. In the story, there is adating app similar to Tinder or Grindr, and this technology scares Miller. She describes it as a crime waiting to happen.

“I was at the office of what has now become an incredibly ubiquitous company and there was big screen where they had little dots of all of the users and where they were on the map,” Miller says. “They could see it and they thought it was so cool.”

Miller is working on a sequel to The Underwriting and plans for a five or six book series. She also teamed up with a production company to turn the book into a television series. 

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"