Interview with Hafsah Faizal


About the Interviewee: “Hafsah Faizal is the #1 New York Times, indie, and international bestselling, award-winning author of We Hunt the Flame, We Free the Stars, and A Tempest of Tea, and the founder of IceyDesigns, where she creates websites for authors and beauteous goodies for everyone else. A Forbes 30 under 30 honoree, when she’s not writing, she can be found designing, playing Assassin’s Creed, or traversing the world. Born in Florida and raised in California, she now resides in North Carolina with her husband and a library of books waiting to be devoured,” (Bio from author’s website).

Find Hafsah Faizal on the following platforms:

A big thank you to Hafsah Faizal for taking the time to for this interview while at the Tucson Festival of books, and to her publicist Chantal Gersch! A Tempest of Tea, the first book in her new young adult fantasy duology, is out now from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
Also, be sure to check out We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars from her other YA fantasy duology, the Sands of Arawiya. 

Disclaimer: This interview was edited for length and clarity from a spoken conversation. 

Sam Yanis: I know you’ve spoken a bit about A Tempest of Tea on your panels at the festival [Tucson Festival of Books], and how it didn’t originally have vampires. Could you describe the story of how vampires ended up such a key part in the novel?

Hafsah Faizal: Yeah. So, right from the get go, I knew that I wanted the book to have tea. I just loved the idea of a tea room and it being cozy and all of that. But Arthie is a very angry person, and I had this tearoom where Arthie caters to the rich. They’re pretty much snobs and they look down on her and her crew. And I just knew that I needed the tearoom to be a front for something else. Something else had to be happening for Arthie to justify running a tearoom like that. So, just as a joke, my sisters and I were just talking and I was like, I need something else happening here. I just said, what if in these very same teacups, they serve blood to these people? So someone has to drink the blood, right? And, that’s how vampires entered the chat, pretty much. Yeah, that’s how vampires originated, and then I just did a lot of research and integrated it into the story. 

SY: It seems like the tearoom was a main part of the beginning of the book. Was that how A Tempest of Tea started? Did you center your ideas around Arthie’s tearoom? 

HF: Yes. Like I said, I knew from the get-go I wanted to have tea in the story because Arthie is Sri Lankan and a big bulk of the British Empire’s tea plantations were all planted in Sri Lanka. And so, because I knew I wanted tea, having Arthie running a tearoom was just, you know, the next natural step because she is a businesswoman, so it was just perfect. 

SY: I love Arthie’s character. She’s strong and vengeful in the best way, and she’s honestly unlike any female character I’ve ever read about. With the ending and her arc throughout the story in mind, did you always intend for Arthie’s character to go the direction she did, and how did she change throughout the writing process?  

HF: This happens with my main characters in general. I usually don’t change them much. Right from the get-go, their voice is pretty loud and clear, and I know what they need, and it’s figuring out how they will change as they progress through the story. That sometimes comes with its challenges, because you’re like, we have these characters that are strong and independent, and they’re functioning great on their own, but there’s obviously something wrong. And this happens with Zafira from We Hunt the Flame, too. They are both so independent and good at what they do that they don’t realize that they can accept help from the outside, and that they can have a support system and they don’t have to go at it alone. So, I think that’s Arthie’s biggest problem, but Arthie also has that element where she needs to accept herself fully and that is something that she tackles throughout the story and will properly tackle in the next book. 

SY: I feel like it’s such an important message, too. You can be independent and you can do all these things, but it’s nice to lean on people. I love that part of your books, and this leads to another question about Arthie’s and Jin’s sibling-like relationship. How did you go about writing their dynamic and did you enjoy it? Were there any hard parts about it?  

HF: I really love writing platonic relationships, and this happens in We Have the Flame too, where I have these strong platonic relationships where they’re not actual siblings, but they have that strong sibling bond. I think, for me, it’s something that we discussed when I was on tour too, where I was just like, there has to be a reason I do this. I am really close to my sisters and we are blood siblings, so it’s not like we’re not related, but as I thought about it, we’re very far apart in age; they’re much younger than me. So, when I was growing up and I was in my early teens, they were much younger and I just could not relate to them at all. But, as I got older and they matured and we could connect on things, we sort of bonded really well. We could grouse about circumstances and all of that because that is something that siblings do in a lot of cases. We just had a really close bond, and I think that’s how my characters have that, where they become siblings. Sort of like, despite them being my blood siblings, we sort of became siblings. 

SY: One part of A Tempest of Tea I wanted to ask about was the whole King Arthur spin with Arthie’s gun, Calibore, and the Excalibur-style story of it. Where did you get the idea to include this mythology and how did you decide to incorporate it into the book?  

HF: Well, when we think of Britain, we usually think of stories like King Arthur. There’s multiple mythologies and all of that, but King Arthur is like one of the main ones. He’s very self righteous, and it’s very focused on painting England in such a great light. But, Arthie [who lives in England] does not believe in fairy tales and she knows that these legends were never written with people like her in mind. When she hears that there is this majestic legendary weapon that only the savior and the person who is clearly not made out to be someone like her, an immigrant and a refugee, someone who is living in the slums. She just doesn’t feel like that is right and she thinks there’s no such thing as that. She realizes that that pistol is actually rigged in place, so she  puts together a con and she goes and takes it for her own. She might not be what they have in mind, but that is what she thinks she is. She is their savior, whether she knows it or not.

SY: You’ve spoken a lot on how the core of A Tempest of Tea is about colonialism and Arthie’s fight against it. What does it mean to you to see a book like this, about important topics like colonialism and racism, hit so many bestseller lists, to see it be loved by so many people and the impact it has on your readers?  

HF: So, that makes me a little teary eyed, but I think, with a lot of my stories, when I write them I know that, just like me, my stories are not the norm. To see it being accepted by so many people, and praised by a lot of readers too, it just means the world to me. But, I also know that as a kid, reading books that were on actual issues were never interesting to me. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid at all, so if I’m going to read a story, it’s got to be totally fantastical. It’s got to be out there and just something that isn’t real. I like the idea of tackling real world issues in these fantasy secondary worlds because sometimes readers aren’t drawn to ones that have those real stories. And I can get this message across to people in kind of a sneaky way. 

SY: You’re bringing it to a wider audience. I love that. Did you always intend for A Tempest of Tea to kind of be set in the same world as We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars

HF: Well, once I closed up We Free the Stars, I was very emotional. I just did not want to leave the characters and story behind. I did not want to say goodbye. I cried while editing, while writing, all of it. Just cried. Those characters just got so close to me, so I could not say goodbye. Writing A Tempest of Tea, I realized I could set it in the same universe and have little connections and threads back to Arawiya [the world from We Hunt the Flame]. It was sort of my sneaky way of getting back in because I did have to complete that duology, and I needed to start something brand new. I did want to create a new story that would reach new readers, like people who weren’t fans of We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars. So, this was my way of sort of connecting everything and also getting back into that world. 

SY: Speaking of We Hunt the Flame, I know it was your debut novel and that you started writing it as a teenager. What was your journey to publishing We Hunt the Flame, and how did you stay motivated? 

HF: Yeah, so I started writing when I was 17. I was blogging a lot and reading a lot of books because I didn’t like reading as a kid much at all, and once I started reading at 17, I was just devouring [books] to make up for all that lost time. I was reading a lot of YA and I had this crazy dream one night and when I woke up I was like, all of these authors are writing books, I can do that too. No big deal. So, I wrote a book and I thought it was the best thing ever and I queried agents…of course no one wanted it…but I kept writing since then. I kind of felt like I needed to have a creative writing degree or some sort of proper education to be able to ever get published, but I think…the one thing that you need to get published is just perseverance. Each manuscript isn’t a waste of time. The ones that don’t work out aren’t a waste of time. Each one teaches you something about your skills that you just did not know yet. So, I kept writing…I started writing We Hunt the Flame when I was 19, and I was just like, this is going to be my last attempt at publication. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. It wasn’t until I got some interest on Twitter that I really got into it and started writing more diligently. It got a lot of agent interest, and I signed with one, and then We Hunt the Flame sold to Macmillan at an auction, which was super great. Then I just stayed with them, so now they have A Tempest of Tea, which I’m very, very excited about. 

SY: You’ve said that you like Peaky Blinders and you really wanted to incorporate the Victorian era into this [novel]. I was curious about the way you incorporated a Jack-the-Ripper-style thing with Wolf of White Roaring. How did that come to be and was it an initial part of the vampires’ [history]? 

HF: When I write, I like being able to have these random little nods to actual occurrences. I didn’t know if anyone would pick up on that whole Jack the Ripper little aspect there. The story was already down, and I thought, while I was fleshing it out more, I’d like to give it extra layers that also connect to real world stories and mythology and legends. So, it’s just another layer in the story, but the story itself isn’t based off of those. The Jack the Ripper aspect was just a little thing that I thought I could add in to give it more of a real world feeling, but it didn’t inspire anything, if that’s what you mean. 

SY: It’s interesting how you said it came a little bit after because I feel like it really played a big role in the way the vampires were demonized throughout the book. Towards the end, you really learn a bit more about how they [the vampires] weren’t the villain. I found that a really interesting facet [of the story], and it really added depth to the vampires and the way we saw them as a reader.

HF: Yeah, I think there’s always a bigger villain and they can often shift blame because they are in power. Like I said on the panel, when there’s just a group of people that are already easy to demonize and villainize, it’s so easy to pin this fear on them, to give them this fear…to villainize them.

SY: Alright, we have time for one more short question. I know that A Tempest of Tea just came out, but is there anything you can say about the sequel? 

HF: The sequel will pick up right where A Tempest of Tea leaves us, and I think it’ll be a little extra sad because I had a lot in mind for how I wanted the story to progress, but while I was sitting with my husband to discuss the plot, he was like, ‘why don’t you go this route’? I was just sitting there, sad, crying about it, because I did not want that to happen, but it just feels like a great way to carry this one particular character’s arc forward. So, that is one of the things I’m kind of excited to write. 

SY: So, bring tissues. 

HF: Bring tissues…I spoke to my editor about it and she was not happy.  

SY: Now I’m scared, but also very excited! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! 

HF: Yeah, thank you so much!

Sam Yanis, Pine Reads Review Writer