Interview with Michelle Miller author of The Underwriting
"Todd Kent is young, hot, and on his way to the top of Wall Street when the eccentric founder of Hook, the popular new dating app, handpicks him to lead its IPO. Given just two months to pull it off, Todd and his investment banking team brainy Neha, party-boy Beau, and old college flame Tara Taylor race to close the $14 billion deal of the decade. It's the chance of a lifetime for Tara, too, who sees her opportunity to break through the glass ceiling and justify six years of sacrifices for her career. But nothing is what it seems in Silicon Valley, and when tragedy strikes Stanford University's campus, there's no telling where the sparks will fly."
I don't know about you but I am obsessed by all the scandal and stories from the silicon valley/wall street world. Ever since I read a book about the founders of Google years ago I have been so intrigued by these two worlds. They seem so similar yet so distant from each other in the way they are run. They both have the power to literally change the world yet we know so little about what really goes on behind the scenes in these business hubs. That is why I was so excited to finally get my hands on a copy of 'The Underwriting' as the author Michelle has actually been a part of both of these worlds and I couldn't wait to read all about what really goes on. I was super lucky and got to interview Michelle all about the book and her past work. It's actually one of my favourite interviews I have done in a long time as I just think Michelle is so interesting and open in her honesty about her opinions on such topical subjects, I think it's so refreshing to see her take on a world that the media is so desperate to tell us 'hate' women and that it's impossible for them to succeed in and I just love her view on it all.
I'm not going to do a long review of the book as I think Michelle's answers in the interview cover just about everything but I did want to say that I really, really loved the book. If you have even the slightest interest in those worlds then you will love all the intrigue and nods to real life that the book has. I read it over a couple of days as it had me that gripped and I just couldn't be more excited about the TV show that is being made of it now!
Enjoy and let me know what you think of the interview and book....
P.S Isn't her advice in the last question just awesome!!
1. The Underwriting is all about life in the business and finance world. Can you tell us a little about your background in that industry?
Most recently I worked at JP Morgan’s Private Bank, in the Palo Alto office (e.g. the centre of Silicon Valley) during the Facebook IPO. Before that I was in business school at Stanford, where I dabbled in start-ups and got to know classmates who came from across the finance, business and non-profit universe. And prior to that I was a management consultant in New York and across Europe….so I dabbled a great deal and was fortunate to get to meet a lot of real-life characters in different industries around the world.
2. I am a bit obsessed with books and films about Wall Street and Silicon Valley at the moment. I always find it so interesting though that Wall Street is always depicted as a nasty, pretty brutal place where as Silicon Valley is all playing ping pong and chilling out on the faux lawn in the coffee room as you come up with the next new idea. Having experienced both places, do you think the way they are depicted in the media is accurate?
Ah I love this!! It’s so true that the media really exaggerates the nastiness of Wall Street and the fun-loving, change-the-world-ness of Silicon Valley. Like you, I love the content that comes out about both places, but with THE UNDERWRITING I really wanted to explore the under-the-surface, human realities of both places. I think they are in many ways similar – both driven by ambition and power and very masculine dominated, by which I mean they both prioritise outcomes and results over relationships, experience. And they both are full of morally ambiguous situations that often lead characters (and real people) to do things that, from the outside, are very clearly wrong but that, from their seats, feeling the pressures they feel, understanding the world the way they do, don’t always seem bad until it’s too late. THE UNDERWRITING was really about exploring those gray areas, and those gray characters, and hopefully creating some compassion for their experience, while still totally exploiting their quirks for entertainment value.
3. There is so much emphasis put on being a woman in those industries. What was your experience of being a female in a male dominated place?
Being a woman in business is a really nuanced thing right now: I think twenty years ago gender politics was a hockey match: all about being tough and fighting hard; now I think it’s more like figure skating: still a slippery rink, but it’s more of a dance, and the measurement of outcomes is more subjective. I really tried to explore that nuance with Tara and Todd, giving equal weight the male perspective. For me, personally, I think I spent a lot of my twenties trying to learn to be more masculine – to focus on results and outcomes and suppress feelings; it’s really great to have those skills in my toolkit, but my late twenties was really about re-discovering my femininity (relationships, experience, creativity) and learning to apply both to my work. I feel lucky, as a woman, to have been “liberated” to explore the masculine side of myself; I hope in the next decade, we’re able to liberate more men to explore the feminine sides of themselves in the same way. I think that’s when we’ll really have a balanced, gender-equal world.
4. You went down a really unconventional route when you first released The Underwriting, can you tell us about that?
I Initially released THE UNDEWRITING as a 12-part weekly serial on my website, theunderwriting.com. Each week’s episode was free to read on the browser for 24 hours, then available for purchase as a text or audio file. The web version was accompanied by DJ playlists, character business cards, art work, photography, video and brand sponsors. I was really interested in reviving the serial novel - it’s how Dickens, James, even Tom Wolfe originally published their works – and loved the idea of making a more “transmedia” experience by using the web. As a first-time writer, it was also a great way to get my work out and see if it had an audience before I approached agents and publishers to turn it into a novel and, now, a television series.
5. Have you used a lot of real life experiences in your novel from your time in the business world?
Definitely! The specific things that happen in the book haven’t all happened to me, but the feelings behind them have – I’ve felt the blind drive Todd feels and the anxiety Nick feels and the pressure Tara feels. And I’m a helpless observer, so I can’t escape my tendency to pick up on and think about the dynamics between people, so the awkwardness between Josh and Todd, the insecurities between Nick and Juan, the sexual tension between Tara and Callum, are all very true to the work world I experienced.
6. Your book is getting made into a TV show; do you have any news about that yet? I’ve heard rumours that it’s going to fill the Gossip Girl shaped hole in our lives?
Ha! I would love that! I’m so, so excited to be working with Endemol Shine to begin development on the series this summer. I’ll be participating as a writer and producer, so from here it’s finding the experienced talent to bring it to life – I couldn’t be more thrilled to learn how that world works and play in a new medium.
7. And finally, if you could pass on one piece of advice to my readers what would it be?
I think fear and anger are really worthless emotions. In my book, and in my life, making decisions from the place of fear or anger always leads to bad things. I’ve worked really hard to recognise when I’m slipping into one of those modes and to figure out ways to get back into a more positive, anything-is-possible mind set: It’s been invaluable to my work, but also to my overall well-being, so I highly recommend it!
Buy The Underwriting on Amazon