Twenty-something Pierce Brown has written six novels, but none has been published until now. Congratulate him today, 11 a.m.– noon at the Random House booth (2739), where he’s signing galleys of his science fiction debut, Red Rising (Del Rey, Feb. 2014). With its young-protagonists-fighting-repressive-government plot, it’s predicted to invite comparisons to The Hunger Games.

Forced to work in a mining community on Mars, Darrow and his fellow miners believe that they’re terraforming the planet to pave the way for colonization. But soon he learns this is a lie— there’s already a civilization above ground, with a strictly regimented society, and he’s at the bottom. When an uprising forms, Darrow must transform from a “Red” into a “Gold” so that he can infiltrate the upper echelons and start unraveling their empire from the inside.

Since the age of 18, Brown has written six fantasy and historical fiction manuscripts, but none was published, or even agented. “I have been rejected 120 times, probably because I didn’t write the right book. I was learning the craft; I didn’t study writing in school. Rejection was my motivation, and failure is what taught me,” he says. Interestingly, Brown points out, both his agent, Hannah Bowman, and his editor, Mike Braff, for this book, like himself, are in their 20s. If this manuscript had been rejected, Brown says, “I was about to change careers.”

The inspiration for Red Rising? “Conceptually, I always took issue with bullies and those who took advantage of others, whether it was a teacher’s cruelty to a student, or a student who picked fights with others. In watching how kids dealt with it, I loved seeing them defeat their oppressors. Experientially, I was on a mountain climb in the Cascades in Washington State, on Dragontail Peak in the Aasgard Mountain Pass. At night in the snow, the terrain there looks a lot like one of the settings in Red Rising. No lights, stars so close you can reach out and grab them. I started writing the next day.”

It’s Brown’s first time at BEA. “I’ve heard that it’s hectic and chaotic, but in all the right ways,” he says. “I’m hoping to meet some of my favorite authors and booksellers; that’ll be a new experience for me. I’ve always looked at independent booksellers in a romantic light.”