Stacey Abrams Talks Her Second Career as a Novelist — and the One Book Her Mom Wants Her to Write

Of her pseudonym as a writer, Abrams told the WSJ. magazine: "I wanted a separate identity"

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams. Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty

Stacey Abrams is known to many as a politician who is helping reshape voting rights in her home state of Georgia.

Under the pen name Selena Montgomery, however, the 47-year-old Abrams has penned eight romance novels, with a new political thriller on the way.

While her career as a writer wasn't meant to be a secret, Abrams tells the WSJ. magazine in a new interview that the pseudonym came as a result of her doing "multiple things at once" and wanting a "separate identity."

"I wrote my first romantic suspense novel at the same time I was writing a journal article on the operational dissonance of the unrelated business income tax exemption …. It occurred to me that if someone were to google my romance novel or google my name, they would pull up this tax article," Abrams said.

"And since I was just starting in the romance field, I wanted a separate identity," she told WSJ., adding wryly — "so that people didn't think it was romance being written by Alan Greenspan, which would not be an evocative way to sell a book."

Abrams' latest novel, While Justice Sleeps (due May 11), was written 10 years ago — before she became a politician and then prominent voting rights activist — and follows young law clerk Avery Keene, who becomes the power of attorney and legal guardian for Justice Howard Wynn after he falls into a coma.

Abrams told WSJ. that the idea for the plot came to her in 2008, when she was working at a law firm and learned that the Constitution "doesn't provide for the removal of Supreme Court justices if they become incapacitated in the way that the 25th Amendment does for the president."

When she first tried to sell the book, in 2011, publishers passed — she said because it seemed "illogical" at the time, with no reader appetite for such a political thriller.

She revisited the story in 2015 and again got several rejections from publishing houses.

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

But then "when I revisited it in 2019, suddenly it seemed prescient and absolutely relevant in this moment. And so they were finally willing to buy it," said Abrams, who was then fresh off a narrow loss in the Georgia governor's race. "I don't think it hurt that I had become more well known than when I sent it out."

Though her forthcoming book is a thriller, Abrams isn't done with romance quite yet, telling the magazine that her mother might "refuse my entry into her house" if she doesn't finish the third book in a trilogy.

"So I will likely go back and get that one done at least," she said. "But for now, I think I'm going to hang out with the thriller space and see what I do."

While writing novels might seem like a divergence from her work in politics, Abrams told WSJ. that balancing both the creative and more analytical sides of herself is something she's become adept at over time.

"I've always been very comfortable with the multiple strands of my identity, whether it's the creative piece or the activist piece or the policy part of me, the nerd part of me. I don't spend much time thinking about the conflicts," Abrams said. "My responsibility is to figure out how to integrate them, not into a single thing, but into a life that I live and that I'm proud of living."

In an interview with PEOPLE earlier this year, she echoed that, saying that her work as an activist and her work as a novelist are one and the same.

"The work I do is about helping people imagine what's possible," she said. "It's about building a narrative and constructing a world that seems both realistic and accessible, but is also fantastic and exciting. That's what I have to do in politics, that's what I do as an entrepreneur, and it's what I do as a writer."

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