John Paul Brammer’s LGBTQ+ advice column, “¡Hola Papi!,” launched for INTO in 2017. The column remains wildly popular, available on Substack, and was the inspiration for his memoir debut with Simon & Schuster: “¡Hola Papi! How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons,” out this week.
In his irreverent and deeply thoughtful book, the Brooklyn-based columnist tells stories about growing up as a queer Mexican writer in rural Oklahoma. Through the question that frames each chapter, Brammer unpacks personal struggles with love, loneliness, and identity — like chatting with his childhood bully over a gay dating app, or kissing his girlfriend while closeted — while providing guidance for readers navigating their own issues: holding on to the past too long, or pretending to be someone they’re not.
Ultimately, “¡Hola Papi!” is a warm and funny read, and an ode to storytelling — to the possibilities it holds for both forgiving and reinventing yourself. We chatted with Brammer over the phone in advance of the release.
Q. How did you decide on the advice column format for the book?
A. I never set out to be an advice columnist. That was never my dream. I wasn’t sitting at home as a young, gay, Mexican boy saying, “Oh my god I can’t wait to be Dear Abby.” I just wanted to reach people and for someone to read my work. The advice column reached people all over the world — people who were willing to give me a read and hear what I had to say. To me, the book is doing that all over again on a bigger stage.
Q. Totally. And the format really makes for a great reading experience.
A. I wanted to hold space to honor both “¡Hola Papi!” as a column but also the advice column as a format. It’s often underrated; it’s often dismissed; it’s often not seen as real writing. I thought that it’d fun to use that format to do something that carries a lot of profundities but at the same time carries that wink and that nod that advice columns tend to have.
Q. I love how you played with the theme of personal storytelling, and how that defines us.
A. I’ve always been obsessed with memory and the act of memory being more like creative writing, or storytelling. People will say they’re not creative, but we’re all sort of storytellers. When we remember something, we don’t have CCTV footage in our heads or perfect records to go back to. Instead, we build narratives around things. It’s our way of dealing with life and figuring out who we are. We put those narratives together and then the mosaic becomes how we see ourselves. I wanted to remind people that you have some control over the stories you tell yourself.
Q. I was crying and also laughing out loud reading your book. It was like therapy. How did you figure out how to strike that balance?
A. Humor is definitely my primary instinct. If you have a truth and people aren’t super willing to let you [show] it, there are ways to cheat by adding humor to it. And I think it’s the case with my book. There are points that if you strip the humor away, it can be corny or cliche, but when you pair it with a joke it suddenly becomes a lot easier to say.
Q. Identity is a huge theme in your book — coming to terms with both queer and racial identities. How did you figure out how you wanted to approach those topics?
A. It was kind of complicated for me because I knew going into it that it’d be easy to label my book as a gay book or a Mexican book. But I wanted someone who didn’t share my identities to be able to read it and relate. When I was writing about working in the Mexican tortilla factory because I wanted to feel more Mexican, I focus on just the general concept of feeling like you’re alienated from a community — like you don’t know exactly what your identity is. I think that’s something all of us can relate to. We all have feelings of being imposters or feeling like we don’t quite fit in.
Q. So what’s next?
A. It’s cool because I feel like “¡Hola Papi!” has opened so many doors for me. I’m working on my second book right now — a novel. Well, more like I’m just throwing a bunch of words into a Google Doc and seeing if it takes shape.
John Paul Brammer will be in conversation with the Globe’s resident advice expert, Meredith Goldstein, in a virtual event on June 9 at 7 p.m. through Brookline Booksmith. Tickets are $36 and available at newmediatouring.com.
Interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Gina Tomaine can be reached at Gina.Tomaine@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @gtomaine.