For Kami Garcia, 2016 is a year of firsts. That may seem like an odd thing for a YA author whose previous books—the Beautiful Creatures and Dangerous Creatures (co-written with Margaret Stohl) and the Legion series—are New York Times bestsellers. But, as Garcia explains, her forthcoming novel, The Lovely Reckless (Macmillan/Imprint, Oct.), “is my first contemporary romance, and it’s my first standalone novel. It’s kind of a big thing for me.” This is also Garcia’s first book for Macmillan’s Imprint imprint, launched by Garcia’s editor and friend Erin Stein, whom Garcia had previously worked with at Little, Brown.

Garcia describes the novel as “a gritty romance,” noting, “It isn’t an easy happily-ever-after for these characters.” In the novel, Frankie, a girl from an elite private school, suffers a traumatic event that sends her life into a self-destructive spiral. As a result, she’s sent to live with her father, an undercover cop who traffics in stolen cars. Attending public school for the first time, she falls for Marco, a boy who is an illegal street racer. “It’s their love story, and there’s lots of kissing and car racing,” says Garcia. “But Frankie’s a strong heroine. It’s about how she has to find the strength to discover the life she wants to have. How do you make those choices about who you want to be, and then find the strength to be that person? That’s what I’m always interested in when I write.”

Though she’s not raced cars—yet—Garcia was able to flavor her story with some very real personal experience. “My stepfather worked as an undercover cop in D.C. for 25 years,” she says. “He didn’t look like a typical dad—he couldn’t. He looked like Rocky, in the first movie.” The author believes that the way he handled his difficult line of work influenced her. “I had a lot of street smarts,” Garcia says, “and a weird awareness, like he did. Frankie has these. That was fun to play with.”

When she heads back home to Annapolis (hopefully after sampling some Chicago pizza), Garcia will finish writing The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos (Macmillan/Imprint, Jan. 2017). Beyond that, she’s on to another standalone contemporary romance, also for Imprint. “I was scared to write a contemporary, because you want to stay in your comfort zone,” she says. “But I didn’t realize how much I had to share until I dove into it.” Clearly, there’s a first time for everything.

Garcia will be signing today, 10:30–11:30 a.m., at Table 5, in the Autographing Area.

This article appeared in the May 13, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.