40 under 40 honoree profile: Stacy Willingham

40 under 40 honoree profile: Stacy Willingham

August 23, 2023

We are proud to recognize Stacy Willingham (ABJ ’13) as an honoree of the UGA Alumni Association’s 40 under 40 class.

Willingham became a New York Times bestselling author with her debut novel, “A Flicker in the Dark.” Her novel was chosen as a finalist in multiple awards: Book of the Year finalist by Book Club of the Month, “Best Debut” and “Best Mystery & Thriller” finalist for the 2022 Goodreads Awards and “Best First Novel” Award finalist for the International Thriller Writers Association.

One year after publishing her first novel, Willingham released her second thriller novel, “All the Dangerous Things,” and her newest work, “Only If You’re Lucky,” will be released in January 2024.

Willingham started her career as a copywriter and brand strategist in various agencies after graduating from Grady College with a degree in magazine journalism. She wrote manuscripts in her free time and was a freelance writer for CURE Magazine. She decided to pursue writing fiction full time when she received her first book deal.

We are pleased to highlight Willingham in her own words.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Willingham speaking to a large crowd about her novel, "A Flicker in the Dark."
Willingham attends events promoting her novels. (Photo: Submitted)

Have confidence in yourself and the fact that things will work out the way they’re supposed to.

What skill(s) or advice should graduates and young alumni have for success early in their careers?

Be flexible and try your best to make the most out of every situation. Life rarely works out the way you think it will, or the way you plan for when you’re fresh out of college. My love for fiction and desire to become a novelist came to me gradually as my career unfolded in a way I hadn’t originally planned—but if life hadn’t veered me off course like that, so many wonderful things probably never would have happened. Now, I’m grateful for all the jobs I applied for that I didn’t get, the opportunities I wanted but wasn’t awarded, because I can’t imagine doing anything other than this.

What accomplishment or moment in your career are you most proud of?

I tend to answer this question with “becoming a New York Times bestselling author,” but when I really consider it, I think the proudest moment of my career thus far was actually when I secured my first book deal. It was such a grind to get there, and there were many days, months and years along the way when I thought it would never happen. I’ll never forget the flood of emotions when my agent got our first offer and I finally knew it had all paid off. There was excitement, of course, but also fear, relief, disbelief and such a feeling of pure, unvarnished pride at having never given up.

How do you get inspired?

By reading the words of other authors I look up to. When I find a book that just leaves me in awe of their craft, I feel so inspired and motivated to improve.

Two women posing for a picture.
Willingham enjoys speaking at schools and community nonprofits to help creatives understand how to enter the publishing industry. (Photo: Submitted)
What do you believe is your biggest strength and how has it helped you in your current role?

I’m very competitive with myself. It can be a curse sometimes, because that also means I’m very hard on myself, but it helps me in my role because I tend to power through failure and refuse to give up. If I don’t like the way I’ve written a scene, or a character, or a twist, or even an entire book, there’s just something in me that can’t stand to turn it in before I’m completely satisfied. I’m obsessed with improving.

What does success mean to you?

Being able to make a living doing the thing I love feels, to me, like the highest form of success. In addition to that, I just strive to be continually content with the life I’m building and proud of the things I put out in the world.

Two women sitting in front of a crowd during a panel discussion.
Willingham uses her platform to give back to her community by dedicating her time, books and expertise to nonprofits like the Trident Literacy Association. (Photo: Submitted)
Are you currently working in your “dream job”? If not, what is your dream role?

Yes, I’m happy to say I’m working my dream job.

Favorite Podcast?

I tend to gravitate towards audiobooks more than podcasts, but a recent favorite is “Rabbit Hole” by The New York Times.

One job-related tool you can’t live without

Good ol’ fashioned Microsoft Word.

Favorite restaurant in Athens

Last Resort, of course! I dream about their praline chicken and cheesecake.

Favorite place you’ve traveled

It’s a toss-up between Santorini and the Sahara Desert.

Item on your bucket list

I’d love to go on a safari in Africa.

Six Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. Grady College alumni honored in 2023 include:

  • Kim Gebbia Chappell (ABJ ’06)
  • Kaitlin Miller Febles (ABJ ’13)
  • Christina P. Koebel (ABJ ’07)
  • Mallory O’Brien (ABJ ’12)
  • Mandy Rodgers (ABJ ’08, AB ’08)
  • Stacy Willingham (ABJ ’13)

Please plan to join us on Friday, Sept. 22, for a breakfast reception to help welcome them home. We will gather in PAF 10:15 – 11:15 a.m. All faculty, staff and students are invited.