A tale of love, regret and the state Legislature

If you throw a rock in downtown Atlanta this week, there’s every chance that you’ll peg a swarthy but sensitive nobleman who happens to shave his chest. Or a demure but determined damsel – perhaps with a law degree or black belt – whose passion for justice lures her to the wrong side of the bed.

The Romance Writers of America convention is coming to town.

I have known my share of romance writers. Journalism churns them out them like Syrian refugees. Some have done quite well – others not so much. Novelization is a fickle, ruthless business.

You wouldn’t think of the political world as a hothouse for writers in the kiss-and-tell line. Obviously, there’s plenty of kissing in politics – and not just on the lips. It is the telling part that’s discouraged, unless you’re Anthony Wiener.

And so the presence of Selena Montgomery at the state Capitol – her sizzling titles include “Never Tell,” “Hidden Sins,” and “Reckless” – is something of an anomaly.

On her website, Selena Montgomery advertises herself as a Mississippi-born graduate of Spelman College, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and Yale Law School. All of this is true. But left out of that bio is the fact that she is also leader of the House Democratic caucus in the state Legislature.

The omission is forgivable. Naming yourself the person in charge of making Democrats relevant in the General Assembly might sound more made-up than a disgraced ex-detective out to avenge the death of his three-legged dog.

Selena Montgomery is the pen name of 39-year-old state Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, a lawmaker with a reputation for slicing Republican bills into small pieces when they come before the House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee.

In addition to legislating, she’s a partner in a financial services business. But writing pre-dates her two other avocations.

She wrote her first book while in her third year at Yale Law – never mind those tales of overworked, sleep-deprived law students. “Once you realize you don’t want to be a Supreme Court justice, a professor at Yale or managing partner at Wachtell, your options open up a bit in terms of time,” Abrams said.

She had set out to write an espionage tale. But it turns out that publishers don’t buy spy novels from women – pigeon-holing is just as rampant in publishing as in politics. But adding a little heavy breathing made all the difference.

”I found if I made my spy fall in love, I could publish it as romance. They got to kill all the same people they were going to kill, but they fell in love at the end of the story,” the lawmaker said. Problem solved, and writing career launched.

We are beyond hobby territory. Agents are involved. “It’s the wonderful terribleness of being successful. It leaves the fun realm and moves into the space of a business obligation,” she said.

As a writer, Abrams said her fan base is fairly diverse. “I’m not considered ‘culturally specific.’ That’s the term of art,” she said. “Most readers don’t know, unless you look at the cover or my picture, that I’m African-American or that my characters are.

“But because I write based on things I’d like to do or be, my main characters are always African-American women,” she said. Abrams admits her heroines are all faithful Democrats, but likes to think that she has made her stories accessible to those of all political faiths.

Coming up with names for characters is often a tedious chore for a writer of fiction. Abrams has discovered her own pool of names – her past and current colleagues in the state Legislature.

Her last book to hit the shelves is called “Reckless” (HarperCollins). Characters include a certain fellow named Doug Collins. “He appears briefly as a young lawyer who annoys the main character, but is loveable,” Abrams said.

State Rep. Doug Collins, a rail-thin Republican from Gainesville, was elected to Congress last year.

Abrams finished her latest book over the long, rainy Fourth of July weekend. It’s a legal thriller with a working title of “While Justice Sleeps.” If she’s lucky, the book might see print next year.

Names of characters were drawn from the roster of the 2010 House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee. David Ralston, who in real life is now House speaker, plays the solicitor general of the United States. The name of former state Rep. John Lunsford, a Republican from McDonough, has been attached to a shady secretary of defense. (“John laughed a lot when I showed him his part,” Abrams said.)

There is even a curmudgeonly Supreme Court justice – a strict constructionist – by the name of Bobby Franklin. In honor of an arch-conservative Republican member of the Legislature who died in 2011.

“He was a good friend and he actually read all my books,” Abrams said.

The plot of “While Justice Sleeps” is based on that portion of the U.S. Constitution which decrees that federal judges “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” With no provision for removal, except by high crime, misdemeanor or death.

“Let’s say a justice falls into a coma, a persistent vegetative state. You could theoretically remain on the court for 20 years,” Abrams posited. Then imagine that this Supreme Court justice was the fifth vote on an issue critical to the survival of the nation.

Abrams, a.k.a. Selena Montgomery, did not say if her comatose justice bore the name of any particular Georgia lawmaker. But let’s just say the list of possibilities would be quite robust.

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