"I wanna hear your voice, coming out of my radio. I wanna see your face on the billboard sign," Kelly Hogan sings in her song "Golden." "'Cause I know how hard you try, and I know sometimes it makes you cry. I just wish I could be there to bring you back."
Hogan's song is, to me, the most honest assessment of what it is to have a friend who puts art out into the world. You want everything for them—success, fame—but mostly you want them to know that you see the work they put in and that you're in their corner for every punch. (It's the opposite of Morrissey's "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful," but Morrissey is an asshole so that's unsurprising.)
I write this today not because Hogan's song is both beautiful and underappreciated (though it is) but because my friend Maureen Johnson has a new book out today, Nine Liars, and in similar fashion to Hogan's lyrical protagonist, I want everything for Maureen to turn golden.
The first time I interacted with Maureen Johnson, I cussed her out. I was writing as @MayorEmanuel, the then-anonymous, famously profane Twitter account. It was almost exactly 12 years ago to the day, December 26, 2010, and she'd @ replied to the account to find out what my fictional Rahm had gotten for Christmas. "I'm fucking Jewish, you stupid fucking fuck," I replied.
It wasn't exactly the place you'd expect a friendship to start, but when I was revealed as the author of the @MayorEmanuel account back in 2011, we connected through our agents. We got lunch when I was out in New York a few months later and had one of the most fascinating—and hilarious—conversations about the publishing industry I've ever had. After that we kept in touch over the internet the way everyone does, cracking jokes on Twitter and talking shit in DMs. When I was in New York for work, which was pretty frequent back then, we'd grab lunch.
We started talking about doing a podcast together in 2013, but it didn't amount to anything until a couple years later. During the stressful final months of the 2016 presidential election I pitched her a simple idea: an eight episode podcast about coping through the final eight weeks of that brutal election, one episode a week. We were both busy, I wrote, and so keeping it to eight meant it wouldn't take over our lives. We were going to end it with a livestream on election night, a celebration of both the end of our eight weeks of work and of the election results.
Except you know how the 2016 election ended—terribly—and so Says Who, the podcast we'd started, didn't end. And the most extraordinary thing happened: What began as two people helping each other make it through a hard election cycle became two people helping each other make it through a hard life.
Those eight episodes have stretched to hundreds and continue to grow. Week in and week out, year in and year out, Maureen and I have been there for each other, not just to cope with the reemergence of fascism and white supremacy in this era of American politics, but to cope with deaths in our family, with debilitating illnesses, and with all of the highs and lows that come with living lives that become ever-more intertwined over the years. It's been an entire friendship recorded and released into the world, disguised as a podcast about current events. The only people I talk to with more regularly than Maureen live inside my home.
And so it is that today I find myself beaming with the kind of pride that Kelly Hogan sings about for the release of Nine Liars, Maureen's latest book in her Truly Devious series of mysteries. I've read it. It's great. There's murder.
Being an author in 2022 is impossible. An already-concentrated industry has consolidated further. There's an over-reliance on books to become instant hits right out of the gate, setting a ridiculously high bar for authors to meet. And the platforms that writers have come to rely on to reach their audiences—in part to hype them up for that all-important first week of release—are crumbling. It's a nightmare.
So here's my ask (Maureen is going to kill me for writing this btw): Pick up Maureen's book (note: all book links in this post are to the Says Who Bookshop.org store, so the podcast gets a little bit of affiliate percentage). Maybe pick it up for yourself, or maybe pick it up for that friend who has been there for you the way Maureen has been there for me: through it all, no questions asked. We don't get a lot in this life, but if you're lucky you get to live it surrounded by people who make us better, who push us forward, and who make the moments count. I'm lucky.
Congratulations Maureen on your book release day. I'll see you on the internet.
So go on, show 'em what you're made of
With all my heart, I wish these things for you
Someday you, and all you put your hand to
Will turn golden
Published December 27, 2022.
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