A Supreme Court judiciary is seriously ill, ideological control over the court hangs on balance – throw in a ruthless president and international conspiracy, and you have the plot of Stacey Abram’s new novel While Justice Sleeps. Yes, this Stacey Abrams, the Georgian politician, and she wrote a thriller that was torn right from the headlines – inspired by a conversation over lunch with her mentor.
“One day she was just thinking about this strange constitutional phenomenon and wondering if I had ever thought about it for a book,” Abrams recalls. “And I said, no, I never really thought that Article Three, which is the only provision in the Constitution that gives someone a lifetime deadline, is not fail-safe for a person who is physically incapable of doing the job to do.”
This is a far cry from Abram’s first book. She’s been writing romance novels since she was at Yale Law School – but she managed to write this new thriller in the middle of the 2020 election cycle in which she played a pivotal role.
“Fortunately, I started the book more than a decade ago and had an exceptional editor,” she says. “I would tell him, just ignore the pings on your computer that will be around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning – and we could do it.”
Highlights of the interview
Why writing is important to her
I like to write. I learned to write almost as soon as I learned to read. I went through my teenage years writing Christian rock and country music. It turns out that these are not genres for me, but I see both as a passion, but also as a job. I always said when I wrote my romance novels that I could pay for car notes but not buy a car. And now I’m in a place where the purchasing power of my writing is a little higher and I appreciate it.
On the main character, a court clerk named Avery
Avery is smart and guarded. She’s cynical, but she loves her friends. She has a mother struggling with drug addiction and she is her mother’s primary caregiver. She is also driven and wants to be more than her circumstances suggest. And when she gets to work one morning, she is called to see the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and learns that she has been appointed as her boss’s legal guardian, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and swing voting on major cases.
About what political thrillers say about the nature of government
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am someone who realizes this fiction. Good fiction is based on getting as close as possible to the truth and then turning it into tension and fear.
The nature of government, the nature of bureaucracy requires us to provide so much information, but there is always embedded the possibility that someone could abuse what you provide. As someone who was a bureaucrat who read these extensive reports during my time as a program analyst for OMB, there is a lot of information and we can choose to allow more access, but it has to be a choice, as opposed to something , it just happens around us.
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am someone who realizes this fiction. Good fiction is based on getting as close as possible to the truth and then turning it into tension and fear. And it has to look like it could happen if it works.
On recent Republican efforts to restrict voting
Well, I want to go back to the idea first that this is simply a debate between Democrats and Republicans. The challenge is that these laws don’t use bias as language. They target communities based on their behavior. And what we’ve seen in Georgia, Florida, what they did in Iowa is identify behaviors that they found anathema to their victories. While the targets may be communities of color or young people or the disabled, it ultimately harms all of our communities as we decrease the ability of our fellow Americans to vote. And that should scare everyone.
Color communities have disproportionately supported the Democrats and have therefore become the target of Republican voting rights changes. What worries me, however, is that we don’t have to compete with both parties based on their ideas and guidelines, but instead manipulate the game, change the rules, because that’s easier than actually arguing for a community to support yours Ideas.
On the viral video about her reaction to Senator John Kennedy and the possibility of being underestimated
I cannot speak to Senator Kennedy’s intention of what he expected me to do in relation to my performance. I hope people have seen and responded that not only am I engaging in the hyperbolic denunciation of these laws, but that I know what I am talking about. And I think women and women with skin color in particular are expected to know what we are talking about with a level of specificity that is often not always expected from our peers.
When you are fighting for something, when there are rulers out there who don’t want you to have it, you have a superior obligation to try to demonstrate the importance of change. And I find that the best way to do this is to have all the information available and tell a good story about why this needs to be done differently.
This story was edited for radio by Ed McNulty and Ian Stewart and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer