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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Publisher to Reissue Stacey Abrams’s First Three Romance Novels

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The Democratic organizer Stacey Abrams, often credited with helping flip two Senate seats in Georgia and seen as a likely candidate for governor, will return to bookstores next year under a name she hasn’t used in years.

The publisher Berkley is reissuing her three earliest romance novels, which were written under the pen name Selena Montgomery and have long been out of print.

“As my first novels, they remain incredibly special to me,” Ms. Abrams said in a statement. “The characters and their adventures are what I’d wished to read as a young Black woman — stories that showcase women of color as nuanced, determined, and exciting.”

She added that, “as Selena and as Stacey,” she was excited about the reissue and “proud to be a part of the romance writing community.”

Dedicated fans might have been able to track down the books, “Rules of Engagement,” “The Art of Desire” and “Power of Persuasion,” published in the early 2000s. But they would have come at a steep cost. Around midday Tuesday, a used copy of “The Art of Desire” was listed on Amazon at $604.99, and “Rules of Engagement” was listed at $92.84.

Ms. Abrams picked the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, she told Stephen Colbert in 2019, because her editors were concerned that romance readers who searched for her name online might be put off by her other, arguably less sexy published work: a master’s thesis on a business tax exemption and a high school article on Mesopotamian astronomy.

The three books to be republished form a trilogy about a fictitious government organization that recruits civilians to do undercover work, according to Cindy Hwang, vice president and editorial director at Berkley, a Penguin Random House imprint.

“It’s a bit of romantic suspense featuring international espionage,” Ms. Hwang said.

The books were originally published by Harlequin books, one of the biggest romance publishers. Ms. Abrams recently secured the rights, which Berkley bought from Ms. Abrams a few months ago, Ms. Hwang said.

The reissue comes as more diverse writers are breaking into romance writing, a genre whose major publishers have long tended to focus on white characters and heterosexual relationships. A study conducted by the Ripped Bodice, a bookstore in Culver City, Calif., found that out of the 3,752 romance novels released by 20 major imprints in 2017, only around 6 percent were written by nonwhite authors. Many Black authors have described facing racism in the romance industry.

“The Art of Desire,” published in January 2002, seems to have been well received by romance reviewers.

Selena Montgomery “has solidified her position as a principle in this genre among those striving to create romantic suspense,” the site Romance in Color wrote in an early review, according to the Ripped Bodice.

The inside flap of “The Art of Desire,” according to Amazon, offers this summary: “A plan formed as Adam remembered Raleigh’s reaction to their embrace. In their kiss, he tasted passion, forgotten chemistry, and her alarm at the loss of control. He felt her tremble as he kissed her hand in the moonlight. And today, when he moved too close, he witnessed the mixture of fascination and trepidation. If insults didn’t chase her away, perhaps fear of his touch would.”

After publishing the trilogy, Ms. Abrams went on to publish five more romance novels under the name Selena Montgomery.

Ms. Abrams said in 2019 that penning another novel, however tempting, was not her priority, telling The New York Times Magazine that she was focusing on politics.

“I would love to, but right now what’s calling me — and what this moment demands — is that I figure out how I can be most effective in preserving and advancing our democracy and challenging the policies and the politics that are continuing to exacerbate poverty,” she told the magazine.

But she did mention works in progress. Last year she published a nonfiction book, “Our Time Is Now,” and she is set to publish a legal thriller, “While Justice Sleeps,” this month.

The worlds of romance novels and politics have, at least once, aligned for Ms. Abrams. Last year, a group of romance novelists organized a fund-raiser, “Romancing the Runoff,” to mobilize Democratic voters in Georgia, raising more than $460,000.

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