For Hafsah Faizal, Coding Was a Gateway to Writing

BYTE CLUB Before Hafsah Faizal became a best-selling author — her second novel, “We Free the Stars,” was No. 6 on last week’s young adult hardcover list — she designed websites for other writers. In a phone interview, she estimated that she had created sites for hundreds of authors, including Angie Thomas, V. E. Schwab, Elizabeth Acevedo and Becky Albertalli.

“I started coding when I was 13,” Faizal said. “My dad bought me a new laptop, a very expensive one — it was pink and had my name on it — and he was like, if you want to keep it, I want you to learn this book.” He handed her a manual for Microsoft’s now-discontinued software, FrontPage. The Florida native, whose parents are from Sri Lanka, quickly started experimenting with a blogging platform: “I posted a questionnaire, trivia and recipes every week,” she said. “I don’t even remember what it was called, but my parents and my dad’s friends and my mom’s sister used to visit.”

When she was 17, Faizal started IceyBooks, where she blogged about young adult titles. “A few years later, an author came to me and asked me to design her site. She was on WordPress, so I stayed up a few nights trying to work through the code,” Faizal recalled. “I was basically just ruining all the code until I figured out what worked.”

In 2019, after struggling with rejection, Faizal published “We Hunt the Flame,” the first installment of her Sands of Arawiya duology. Like “We Free the Stars,” it was inspired by back-to-back viewings of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hunger Games.” Both books are set “in a world inspired by ancient Arabia” and influenced by Faizal’s designer’s eye: “I’m always describing clothing, food, language, everything as deeply as I can because that’s what I love. That’s how I think.”

Many authors feel they’ve arrived in the literary community when they open a box containing their first book. For Faizal, that experience came when she started building her own website to promote “We Hunt the Flame,” which was also a best seller. She adds, “Another unforgettable, mind-blowing moment is when you’re sitting in front of a signing table and there’s a line of people who have read your book, who have swag they’ve designed that they want to give you, or they want you to write a quote in your own handwriting so they can make a tattoo out of it. I still can’t believe there’s a world I’ve created where people found parts of themselves.”

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