Despite two bestselling series under her belt—Legend and the Young Elites, both from Putnam—YA author Marie Lu hasn’t been to BookCon before. But making the trip from her Southern California home to this year’s show definitely has a back-to-the-beginning vibe. “I feel like I’m a debut author all over again,” she says, “which makes me quite anxious and excited at the same time.”

The project that has Lu’s emotions on high alert is Warcross (Putnam, Oct.), the first title in a planned duology. “Warcross is a return to science fiction for me,” says Lu, “but it is very near-future science fiction.” The story features 18-year-old Emika Chen, a bounty hunter in New York City who’s offered the job of a lifetime by the young billionaire creator of the wildly popular hit video game Warcross. “I wanted to write a book that was just really fun for me,” Lu explains. “There’s a little bit of mystery and a lot of action, and it includes a lot of my favorite things in the world. Even my dog is in it! I have a corgi, and she walks across the screen—for like two seconds.”

Part of Lu’s enjoyment during the writing process was informed by her previous career as an artist in the video game industry. “This book includes little nods and hints back to when I was at Disney Interactive Studios,” she says. “It was absolutely my favorite job in the corporate world before I became a writer. I worked with eight other interns, and we all became really good friends. I’m actually married to one of them now.” Some of the shenanigans that Lu and her pals got up to are included in Warcross. Though she can’t yet share what’s next for Emika, Lu says she is in draft mode for the second Warcross book. She has also completed a YA novel about teenage Bruce Wayne/Batman for Random House’s new DC Icons series, launching this fall. And she’s also working on The Kingdom of Back, a standalone historical fantasy novel scheduled for 2019 publication by Putnam. “I’m very nervous, because it’s very different from anything I’ve ever worked on before,” she says. “It’s not like what I usually write. It’s about Mozart and history—and fairy-type magic.”

Like Warcross, this project is a trip back to Lu’s beginnings. It’s the novel that helped her secure her agent back in 2007, though they weren’t able to sell the book at the time. “It’s a quieter book than what I’m used to writing,” she adds. “I’m excited for the challenge, and hopefully this time around I can get it just right so that readers will like it.”

Today, 11 a.m.–noon. Marie Lu will sign galleys of Warcross in the Penguin Random House booth (1921).