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Stacey Abrams follows her thriller 'While Justice Sleeps' with 'Rogue Justice'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams has one of those resumes that makes you feel bad about yourself - world-class education, a distinguished career in the Georgia legislature, a national leader on voting rights, entrepreneur, professor, and she's a prolific author of both fiction and political strategy. Her most recent book, her 15th, is another novel, and it's out today. It's her second thriller that features Supreme Court clerk, amateur sleuth and all-around savior of democracy, Avery Keene. And Stacey Abrams is with us now to tell us more about it. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

STACEY ABRAMS: Thank you for having me. It's always a delight.

MARTIN: I think people may remember your first thriller, which features Avery Keene. It's a - you know, a rogue president involved in international intrigue, a Supreme Court justice who falls into a persistent vegetative state. It's my recollection that the first draft of this book - everybody passed on it because the president seemed too absurd, and nobody cares about the Supreme Court. I take it it was different this time around.

ABRAMS: Yes. So I wrote it, actually, in 2010. So there was turmoil but nothing quite as egregious as I portrayed in "While Justice Sleeps." And so "Rogue Justice" picks up four months later and really looks at the consequences of confronting a president who's made some egregious mistakes but where the public is divided about what that means. We follow her through the political fallout. But she is contacted by someone who recognizes that one part of our court system is imperiled. And so Avery has to figure out how broken our systems are by understanding just how fragile our infrastructure is in this nation.

MARTIN: One of the reasons I was curious about this is that your last book dealt with things that we subsequently had to worry about, like Big Pharma, bioengineering. This one deals with surveillance and things of that - how do you think of these things? The reason I ask is that, you know, some people who write about, like, science fiction - right? - what they'll do is they'll extrapolate forward. They'll think, well, what would it be like if we had no water or something like that? So, like, how do you come up with these things?

ABRAMS: I really like to understand where we are and where we go next. And, as much as I love science fiction, I'm trying to think 10, 20, 30 years in the future, not a thousand, 2,000, 3,000 years in the future. But the conversations about our infrastructure matter to me. I actually, at one point, had an infrastructure consulting firm, and so I'd spent some time thinking about the physical infrastructure of the country. My younger sister is a federal judge, and we were having lunch after she'd come back from a conference. And I was actually flipping through her conference program, and that gave me part of the idea for this book. But really, my ideas come from thinking about what we see in the world around us and then what could go slightly wrong or, more importantly, what questions aren't we asking about what's happening to us?

MARTIN: So could you give us a head's up? What's keeping you up at night now, just so, you know, we can get ready?

ABRAMS: I will say, I begin a conversation about cybersecurity in this book, and it continues to be an issue that I want to explore a bit more. I think about AI, and, yes, we have this sort of existential crisis conversation about AI, but I think there are more pedestrian issues for us to concern ourselves with. Assuming you can't stop it, let's think about what else could be done with it beyond - not just the future of it taking our jobs, but what does it mean for the nature of what work is?

MARTIN: You know, to that end, the subjects you deal with in these books are serious, but there is kind of a fun tone to it. They're not so dire that you can't kind of enjoy it as a ride. And I was just wondering how you arrive at that kind of tone.

ABRAMS: It's how I exist. My work is hard. The conversations we have to have, from Avery's grappling with her mother's - her addiction to drugs and her mental illness and what that means - there are dark and hard things we face. And my life, the way I was raised, the way I think about the world, it's not just how do we grapple in the dark, and how do we push through the dark? It's how do we bring the light?

MARTIN: Your Washington-based books are animated by a concern about the fragility of and I might even say corruption of our democratic systems. So I do have to ask you about what you make of the recent reporting by ProPublica and other outlets regarding the financial ties between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and this Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

ABRAMS: We should all be held to the highest ethical standard, particularly those who have been both privileged with and burdened with the responsibility for guarding our legal system. And irrespective of who it is, what we should all be demanding as Americans is the highest responsibility. My hope is that what is being revealed in these conversations also exposes a weakness in our structure. And when there are concerns about the ethics of those who we have to trust to mete out justice, then it is the obligation of those in power to satisfy those concerns.

MARTIN: And to that end, though, the whole question of the fitness for office of people in these high positions - there are Democrats who do have concern about President Biden, who are worried about whether he is up to the job or, at least, if he's up to another four years. And I want to know if you share those concerns.

ABRAMS: I believe in the leadership of President Biden, and I look forward to four more years.

MARTIN: OK. So what's next for you? You've just accepted an endowed chair at Howard University. Congratulations on that. What's next for you?

ABRAMS: I have a third Avery Keene novel in the offing that I need to get to sometime this summer. But I am actually focused on both my entrepreneurial ventures. I have done a lot of work with small businesses. I am working with Rewiring America, making certain that consumers have access to the resources that are coming through the Inflation Reduction Act for electrifying our homes and helping address climate action. And I'm excited about the work I'm going to be doing at Howard University.

MARTIN: Are you having any fun?

ABRAMS: I am. I'm having a great time. I get to wake up every morning and do things I believe in and things I love. And I am pleased by my ability to navigate all of the facets of who I am. And I think it can be a bit disconcerting to some, but I'm never defined by one moment or one idea because we have a lot of work to do, and I'm grateful to have a chance to try to tackle it from a number of different perspectives.

MARTIN: Or maybe just making the rest of us feel inadequate.

ABRAMS: I'm trying to entertain.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Stacey Abrams' latest book - it's a novel - is "Rogue Justice," and it is out today. Stacey Abrams, thanks so much for talking with us.

ABRAMS: Michel, thank you so much. It's been a delight.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX STAG'S "NIGHT TREK (BIBIO REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.