You may know Stacey Abrams as the woman who played an epic role in encouraging the unprecedented Blue wave vote for Georgia's Democratic senate representative wins in 2020. But there’s another side to the political advocate that’s just as intriguing: she’s a romance novelist.

Writing under the nom de plum Selena Montgomery, Abrams will re-release The Art of Desire, the spy romance thriller that was first published in 2001, on September 5, 2023. And this time, both of her names are on the jacket cover. 

“When I was publishing my first novel, I was also publishing an article on the operational dissonance of the unrelated business income tax exemption,” she tells EBONY. “This was at the advent of Google and I realized that if someone looked me up they’d have both writings. You can write romance under a pseudonym; you cannot write tax policy under a pseudonym. And no one was interested in reading romance by Alan Greenspan.”

The Art of Desire revisits the world of Alex Walton, a character from her first spy romance thriller, Rules of Engagement, which was based on an ex-boyfriend’s dissertation. 

"Riley is the main character in the first book, but I had fun creating her best friend Alex, and I thought she deserves to have someone. So The Art of Desire was born," Abrams says. "It's slightly autobiographical because Alex's character is grappling with her artistic side and her more cerebral part; how does she reconcile all of these different parts of her personality? For me, it was a very cathartic opportunity.”

Abrams has always been committed to writing strong, empowered female characters. “I wanted to write a spy novel. But they weren't publishing women and espionage at that time,” she shares. “I also was warned not to write with my characters as African American. But I had a very strong intent to tell a story that was interesting and complex and featured an African American woman as the main character that didn't have to be culturally specific to be culturally relevant.”

The Art of Desire has gotten a bit of a glow-up for its return. “We did update the book because there were some anachronisms: landlines are no longer as useful. But I'm proud of the fact that the story resonated for me now as it did then,” Abrams shares.

“The conversations about who we are, how we're situated in spaces and what love looks like when it’s not traditional, and the mystery that's involved, none of those required updating, all of those pieces continue to resonate. I think that's a sign of good writing, being able to tell a story that 20 years later feels just as resonant, which means I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing when I started.” 

These are romance novels, and Abrams makes sure there’s plenty of heat coming off the page. 

“I always want the characters to be likable. There was a time in romance when the hero had to be someone you despised, and then you, you came to realize that they were lovable people. I don't approach storytelling in that way. I want the characters I write to be themselves who are made better by coming together,” she explains. 

“Of course, coming together is going to be fraught and have tension, but it never lacks respect. And there’s passion, I want there to be this desire to—no pun intended—to get to know each other and to be so driven by the excitement of getting to know one another and understanding each other, that they’re willing to wade through the complexity of everything else.”

And that’s one of the reasons Abrams enjoys writing books in this genre. “I love romance,” she exclaims. “I think it's one of the most effective genres in fiction, where you get to tell complex and interesting stories, and you can reach an audience that is often not the target of those stories. And I get to visit an artist, I get to visit a politician, I get to go abroad. And while I've had the pleasure of being able to do many of these things in my real life, the novels give me a chance to just explore and push boundaries that reality doesn't always permit.”

As for that nom de plum, that in itself is a story. “I had to come up with a pseudonym for my editor, and my publisher. She needed it the next day, and it was around two in the morning, and I'd been vacillating. And I was watching an A&E biography of Elizabeth Montgomery, who played Samantha on Bewitched and her evil cousin Serena. I was imagining signing my signature. I don't like my “R”s but I do like my “L”s. And so I became Selena Montgomery.”

As for politics, her other gig, it's in a holding pattern for now. "Politics will always be a part of who I am. It's one of the ways I engage the world. But that's not my focus right now," she reveals. "But we have some important elections coming up and I will always be engaged in the political space. I'm not sure when I will run for office again, but my mission is to continue to contribute. I have an internal compass to be curious, solve problems and do good. Politics is one way I can do that. But I can also do it through my writing, I can do it through my entrepreneurship, I can do it through my civic work. My mission is to do, as Alex does, the best thing I can in the moment to make the world better."

The Art of Desire reprint is available for pre-order on Amazon.