Originally from Cash, Oklahoma, John Paul Brammer is a columnist, activist and professional writer now living in New York City. Having graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2013 with a professional writing degree, Brammer freelances for several major publications including Conde Nast, BuzzFeed and has been published in outlets including the Guardian and NBC.
Sitting down to discuss his reflective and emotional essay “Unheard Grief, Unmovable Men: How an Old Mexican Folktale Speaks to Our Pain Today,” Brammer discusses his writing style, tactics and inspirations.
Q: Can you explain your motivation for this piece?
JPB: La Llorona has always been sort of a ubiquitous, important folktale when it comes to Latino people, sort of all over. She sort of exists in Mexican culture, Venezuelan culture and Colombian culture, you name it. She also exists in Mexican American culture and I was really interested in how folklores – sort of like little organisms, or a person even – can adapt and change and evolve depending on where they are, where they travel.
I wanted to write something that was folkloric but sort of hits on the themes of right now, like anxieties. Monsters sort of reference the source of the anxieties they have as being created by the society they’re living in. For me, at the time, that had a lot to do with immigration… deportation and how it affects people who are documented. Being Mexican American it gets sort of complicated because most of us who live here are documented, born here, raised here, we’ve lived here all out lives. And so I wanted to write about how that impacts us even though we don’t directly share that struggle. And I think folklores are a really good way to explain that.
Q: Are you ever scared to write your feelings?
JPB: Yeah, so, I think it’s always scary to share things period. Like, even if you’re writing a news article, a personal essay, an opinion piece, a book, it all involves some level of risk.
I think I’m lucky in a way because I sort of approach journalism in an opposite angle. Like, I wanted to get into journalism because I wanted to get used to publishing stories and getting paid for writing stories because my passion was in the news, my passion has always been in sharing my thoughts, feelings… That essay is sort of more indicative of the kind of work I like doing.
Q: What is your process like for writing something like this, since you don’t really have to interview people?
JPB: Yeah, so I tend to sit down and I have the rough outlines of the emotions I want to have and the emotions I want to evoke in other people. Then the wording and the writing sort of follows those contours. It’s more like, I think I know what I want people to feel and there are nuances in those feelings – it’s not just happiness, it’s not just sadness, it’s got all these different peaks and valleys.
Q: Can you tell me how you got into writing and publishing things like this?
JPB: Well, I also went to OU. I studied professional writing, so it’s not really like journalism, it’s not really like creative writing. After I graduated I didn’t really know what to do so I went to work at Full Circle Bookstore for a while, and I was really tired of writing and not being good at it. Every time I would sit down to write, I had good ideas and a good notion of the things I wanted to write, but I didn’t really know how to write them.
I think that’s how a lot of creativity works, it’s just a lot of agitation. So I really dedicated myself to writing a lot, reading a lot, eventually got a few things landed in the Huffington Post, I got a blogging job up in DC and launched myself into the freelance world where I was a columnist for the Guardian for a while, took a job at NBC News and now Conde Nast. My main writing job right now is Hola Papi, which is an LGBT advice column that’s been in a few outlets and now it’s being developed into a book by Simon & Schuster.