Stacey Abrams on Her New Thriller ‘While Justice Sleeps’ and Why She Stopped Using a Pen Name

Jazz Tangcay
·4-min read

As Stacey Abrams continues to work against voter suppression and voting rights in her home state of Georgia, and while navigating her freshman awards season with her documentary, “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” the trailblazer found time to write a novel.

While Justice Sleeps” is set to be published by Penguin Random House on May 11 and, in a new interview with Variety, Abrams revealed more details about the thriller that has been several years in the making.

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“It is the story of a young lawyer who unexpectedly finds herself to be guardian to Supreme Court Justice, who has fallen into a coma,” Abrams explains. “She has to navigate the high drama challenge and do so with the authority of being a guardian, but with no real power in the midst of the maelstrom that is Washington D.C.”

Seeing Abrams’s name on a book jacket might be new for some readers — but that’s not because the politician is writing her first book. In fact, Abrams is an accomplished author, having written eight novels and two memoirs. However, the new thriller will be published under her own name and not a pseudonym for the first time.

“When I started publishing romance back in 1999 and 2000, I was also publishing articles about the unrelated business income tax exemption, and questions of taxation,” she says, explaining the reason for her pseudonym. “In my mind, it was worth it to keep these identities separate.”

Abrams’s first eight novels (all romances) were under the pen name Selena Montgomery. Her first book, “Rules of Engagement” was published in 2001. Abrams continued to write and release her novels while studying at Yale University. Among the titles published were: “Hidden Sins,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Reckless” and “Deception.”

“There was never any attempt to hide who I was, my face was on the book cover when you open it up, the copyright is of my name,” she adds. “What is so different about this book is this is my first fiction work, where all of my identities are known.”

The scope of all Abrams’ identities has recently expanded from politician and author to include film producer, with the production of her voter suppression documentary “All In.” In an exclusive conversation with actor Viola Davis, Abrams’s tells what she found surprising about the Hollywood machine.

“As a writer, I understand how things go from thought to paper. You meet this character you’ve created in your head, and you get to keep revisiting it,” Abrams says. “The dimensions that come with film, with the ability to say, “I want the story to be told,” and for the story to be so real, raw and complicated, is fascinating to me. It was also the ability for me to speak [my idea] to others, and to have them tell me what they saw and to see all of those pieces come together.”

The official synopsis of “While Justice Sleeps” reads:

Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together — excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn — the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases — has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court—a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.

As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chess-like sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth.

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