Karma Khullar’s Mustache: Interview with Author Kristi Wientge
So many of our YAYOMG! readers are about to head into middle school and with big, exciting change sometimes comes unwanted change as well. Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge tackles one of those not so fun changes that some of us experience throughout our tween and teen years (and sometimes our whole life!) – female facial hair! Whether you’re like the hilariously self-conscious Karma Khullar and have sprouted exactly seventeen hairs on your upper lip or are just breaking out in pimples, starting to grow boobs, or even just got a bad haircut, Karma’s story is for you.
Her story is relatable for pretty much anyone and it’s told with such a great sense of humor and a whole lot of heart. Hopefully Karma’s struggles and the way she overcomes them helps girls (and boys!) realize that everyone is struggling with something and that we should all work a little harder to understand each other.
Facial hair and friend fights aside, Karma also deals with being picked on at school for her traditional Indian lunches which she carries in an always leaking tiffin. The story touches a bit on how Karma tries to stay in touch with her Sikh culture to stay connected to her Dadima (grandmother) who recently passed away while also trying not to get made fun of at school. We know that’s a problem a lot of you can relate to, whether it be your “different” lunches, clothing, or culture, and we love that Karma teaches kids to be proud of exactly who they are. Because you should be!
Some are calling author Kristi Wientge the new Judy Blume due to her seriously amazing understanding of all things middle school awkwardness. We totally agree, she’s completely in touch with how it feels to head into middle school, grow apart from your closest friends, deal with unsightly facial hair, and tackle it all with an amazing sense of humor. Enough from us though, we were lucky enough to chat with her about the book, so we’ll let Kristi do the talking from here!
Karma Khullar’s Mustache – Interview with Author Kristi Wientge:
YAYOMG!: Karma’s story feels so authentic. Can you share a little on your own hairy struggles that inspired the book?
KRISTI WIENTGE: Well, I’m glad that my struggles as a hairy girl have created something so authentic and relatable, but growing up I always felt like the only person in the world dealing with excessive body hair. It actually started in kindergarten. My legs were so much hairier than everyone’s and I remember getting in the car after school and telling my mom I was going to marry someone blond. By third grade I was so self-conscious, I shaved my legs and arms. I thought that was it until my Mom, noticing it bothered me, bleached my facial hair. I was mortified. I didn’t even realize it was so noticeable on my face, too. I pretty much managed it with shaving and bleaching until I turned 18 and my Mom agreed to let me do laser and electrolysis.
YAYOMG!: Everything about Karma’s middle school life – from her anxieties to her insecurities – were so relatable and realistic, which has us wondering, what was your most awkward middle school moment?
KRISTI: Ahhh! Seriously?! Gosh, I’m going to have to think which one was the worst… so many! I think probably throwing up in front of my class. I used to get these horrible migraines, but my teacher would never let any of us go to the nurses unless we A) were bleeding B) had a fever or C) were throwing up. Well, I threw up. The stupid thing was I tried to catch it with my hands instead of rush out of the classroom to the bathroom. I think I was waiting for her to finish filling out my hall pass.
YAYOMG!: The kids at Karma’s school tease her not just because of her mustache but for her food choices and other aspects of her Indian heritage they don’t understand because it’s different from their own. Was it important for you to show kids who share similar struggles that they’re not alone and can be comfortable being confident in who they are?
KRISTI: Definitely! This is something that I think I wanted both sides to learn from. Not only for anyone who feels different to be empowered to just do what they do, but for those who tease to see that there is so much more to everyone’s story. In fact, why not ask them why they bring it or ask to try it instead of teasing them because it doesn’t look like what you eat? Engaging in conversations with people who are different than us is how we learn and grow.
YAYOMG!: Who was your favorite character to write? Who would middle school Kristi want to be friends with most?
KRISTI: I loved writing Karma because she’s flawed, but so strong and I could make her do the things I didn’t have the guts to do when I was in her shoes, but really Daddy was even more fun to write. He’s a mixture of my husband and my Dad and I got to put in a lot of real life situations that still make me chuckle.
Middle school me would have loved having a Ginny in my life.
YAYOMG!: We loved the way Karma’s Sikh faith and culture was weaved throughout the book. Can you share a little on why it was important to you to highlight her culture in the story?
KRISTI: Similar to my answer to the question about Karma’s food, I love highlighting things we think are SO different, but, in fact, are so, so similar to our “normal.” I’ve traveled and lived in China and England and now in Singapore and without fail, people from each place have a picture of what America is and what Americans are like and they seem to be blow away that I don’t fit neatly into any of those ideas and that I’m very much like they are.
The same goes for when I visit home and family and friends ask me about where I’m living and they’re so surprised to find out that things are really very similar to their own lives. Of course, there are differences, but that’s what makes things interesting. Books are a great way to get a glimpse at what happens in someone else’s house and life and when you do, you get to see how much we all have in common. The world is only getting smaller and when we focus on what we have in common, it builds bridges and expands our empathy.
YAYOMG!: What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Which part do you find most challenging?
KRISTI: Developing ideas is by far my favorite part of the process. I have notebooks that I collect snippets of conversations or half thought through ideas and character’s names inside of. Once I have most of the pieces in place, I know I’m ready to start writing something. BUT that first draft is a killer! Probably my least favorite and the most discouraging part of the whole process.
YAYOMG!: Do you have any other middle grade titles in the works?
KRISTI: I have a few things in the works. One we’re hoping to get done any day now to see if it’s going to be my next book. Nothing definite, but I’ll keep you posted!
YAYOMG!: Many of our readers are aspiring writers and avid readers. What’s the best advice someone has given you regarding your writing that you’d like to pass along?
KRISTI: This is not earth shattering advice, just practical. Find your people. Writing is hard and on those hard days you need people who are doing what you do and able to kick your butt or lend a shoulder or brainstorm ideas with you. Without my group (The Winged Pen), I never would have heard of the contest I found my agent in or even had a good enough query or pitch to get me as far as I did. Writers are all over the place—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, conferences. Put yourself out there and make a few connections.
YAYOMG!: What are 3 of your favorite middle grade reads you’d recommend to our readers?
KRISTI: Currently, my three favorite MG reads are: Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and OCDaniel by Wesley King.
YAYOMG!: Do you have any advice for readers who may have a Lacy in their lives making things hard?
KRISTI: First of all, if you are unhappy, you need to talk to someone. A friend, teacher or parent. Karma waited until near the end of the book before telling her Mom what was going on with Lacy. Sometimes just letting a trusted person in your life know that someone’s bothering you is enough. Sometimes it’s not. Karma was lucky to have Ginny. If you don’t have a Ginny, find one. I’m sure there’s someone sitting alone at lunch just waiting for you to sit down and say hi.
Kristi’s Karma Khullar’s Mustache Fun Fact:
It took me almost five years to write Karma. Even then, the ending changed about three times as I was working with my agent.
This is a great fact because it reminds readers that books don’t just magically write themselves. Authors put a lot of time, energy, and tons of drafts into crafting these stories for the world to read. Budding authors, find solace in Kristi’s experience! If there’s something you’re writing that you really believe in, keep trying! Shape your story until you’re happy and don’t worry so much about how long it takes.
Thanks so much to Kristi for stopping by YAYOMG! to chat with us. We loved your book and it was a pleasure to have you! Karma Kullar’s Mustache is now available, so be sure to hit up your favorite bookstore or library to pick up a copy. If you’re playing along with YAYOMG! Book Bingo, this book checks off quite a few boxes, making it great choice if you’re working for a bingo! To get to know other middle grade authors, click here!