If there’s one thing author Steve Miller has avoided over the past two decades, it’s working a mind-numbing, run-of-the-mill day job.
The Lansing-based journalist specializes in music and true-crime writing — two literary genres stacked with a sordid batch of characters. In 2013’s “Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock 'n' Roll in America's Loudest City,” Miller compiled sleazy tales from Michigan rock icons like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent as well as from talkative scenesters. Not your typical day at the office.
When he’s not chasing down rock legends, Miller’s true-crime work places him across the table from some true degenerates: cold-blooded killers. Fortunately for Miller, they’re already behind prison bars during these heavy exchanges.
Miller’s fourth true-crime book, “Murder in Grosse Pointe Park: Privilege, Adultery, and the Killing of Jane Bashara,” was released in December, just in time to ride the wave of an unexpected true-crime renaissance. Over the holiday season, the 10-part Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” captivated the country with the case of convicted murderer Steven Avery. Viewers lit up social media with countless conspiracy theories. Virtually overnight, true crime became hip.
In “Murder in Grosse Pointe Park,” Miller lays out the case of Bob Bashara, a well-off Grosse Pointe man convicted of hiring handyman Joe Gentz to murder his wife, Jane Bashara, for $2,000 and a used Cadillac. The story gets more bizarre when Bob Bashara’s life as a father and Rotary Club president clashes with his second life as a slumlord, philanderer and BDSM enthusiast.
Miller will discuss “Making a Murderer” and the true-crime genre Feb. 25 at Schuler Books & Music’s Okemos location. City Pulse sat down with the author to talk about his new book and the public’s renewed interest in true-crime stories.
What can people expect at your Schuler Books discussion?
We’ll talk about the Bashara book for a bit and then go into this blossoming love of the genre. I was watching an episode of “Making a Murderer” the other night. It was a long section with the trial testimony in it, and it’s a cool thing that people are interested in the law and the process.
What kind of reputation does true crime have in the literary world?
It’s the pornography of nonfiction. Most agents hate it and discourage it. They can’t make the big money off it as they can some book about a celebrity. A lot of the bookstores, the few that are left, are hesitant to encourage it for reasons I don’t know.
How did you first hear about the Bashara case?
The Detroit media corporations made a bundle on it and kept the story in front of everyone with tantalizing headlines and stories about BDSM. The reporters did a great job covering it. I kept reading the stories and watched it develop. Then I started communicating with Bashara via email and phone, and that was a selling point for the book to the publisher.
What factors made Bashara a good option for a true-crime story?
On a prurient level, it has that sex with violence element to it. Three of my four books have had that, the exception being “Nobody’s Women,” which was about a serial killer in Cleveland. It’s a combination that people want to read. So with Bashara, you had the confessed killer, along with Bob’s connection to the BDSM community and his fondness for that world, plus some street characters that were part of his low-rent landlord profession and a few of Bob’s mistresses. This is a pretty interesting world.
You met with Bashara while he was locked up. What was that like?
I walked into a booth at the Wayne County jail with the classic Plexiglass and greasy phones on each side. He held up a handwritten note to me that said “conspiracy.” As it was jail, we were being taped and he didn’t want to be recorded saying that.
What's the most difficult part of writing a true-crime book?
Writing the book. The reporting is the best part, although sitting in the courtroom for the trial for almost two months got to be work. Sitting down and constructing the narrative, piecing together all these different elements of the story, is time consuming. It can take two hours to write a paragraph with fact checking, word choice and any other tangent that a bit of info sends me off on.
Get a Clue Mystery Reading Group presents: “Making a Murderer” and the Rise of True Crime
Hosted by Steve Miller 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 FREE Schuler Books & Music 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos (517) 349-8840, schulerbooks.com