Maggie Stiefvater’s fans got a first peek at the launch installment of her four-book series, the Raven Cycle, at BEA on Tuesday, when Stiefvater signed ARCs of The Raven Boys, due from Scholastic Press with a 150,000-copy first printing. Mystery, romance, and the supernatural come together in the novel, which introduces a boy on the hunt for a vanished Welsh king and a girl who has been told that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die.

The author, whose Shiver trilogy has more than 1.7 million copies in print and whose The Scorpio Races was named a 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, notes that those earlier works provided her with the tools to write The Raven Boys. “I first wrote a draft of this novel 11 years ago, when I was 19,” she says. “It was an epic journey with a huge, sweeping plot—and it was a total disaster. I was only coming at the novel from the plot angle, and I was throwing magic in like crazy, magic that didn’t really mean anything. But each of the books I’ve written since then has taught me something that has helped my writing. With the Shiver trilogy, I learned about integrating fantasy elements and magic. And with The Scorpio Races, I feel as though I found a balance between metaphor and realism.”

When Stiefvater returned to The Raven Boys, she found that the timing was right. “I feel like I have so many stories basting in my mind, and they come busting out when they’re ready,” she explains. “I discovered this one was definitely ready. The story itself came easily. My biggest leap was trying to make the novel seem effortless. I wanted to hide all the seams and become invisible as a writer, so that the book would be super easy to read. That was the challenge. But I think that whenever a book is not a challenge, I’m telling the wrong story.”

Also an accomplished artist and musician, Stiefvater is pleased when she can mesh all three talents. “When I was a teenager, I thought that I’d have to pick one or the other, but the more I get into my writing career, the more I discover I can pull them all back into my work. I just finished animating the book trailer for The Raven Boys, and doing that, I got to use my skills as a portrait artist, which makes me happy. I also composed music for the trailer and performed it with my sister. It’s delightful that all my hobbies are now tax deductible!”

Glad to make a return visit to BEA, Stiefvater notes that the convention has a vibe reminiscent of an earlier experience in her life. “As a college student, I was a competitive bagpiper,” she says. “I spent many weekends at giant Highland festivals with other Celtic musicians. It was crowded, noisy, and fun. BEA is the same—but with books instead of bagpipes.”