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Bob Honey: A Cautionary Tale

There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to sign a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. I would have sold my soul, or come close to it, for that opportunity. Over the years, as I did more research into the publishing industry and as more opportunities for indie publishing became available, that changed. It wasn’t just because I no longer had to wait months and sometimes years to hear back from a publisher — if I ever did. It wasn’t just because of the horror stories I heard from my traditionally published friends. All that had an impact on my decision to go indie but what influenced me the most was simply watching traditional publishers, especially the bigger houses, and seeing some of the decisions they made — or didn’t make.

That decision was reinforced over the last week or so as word of actor Sean Penn’s novel hit the internet. I’ll admit right now that I’m not a big Sean Penn fan. Yes, he can act and he’s been associated with some very good projects. But there is something about him I just don’t like. Even so, I know I don’t have to like the person to appreciate their art, their work. There are very few actors or writers I refuse to support simply because of their politics or behavior, etc.

I tried to keep that in mind when I heard about Penn’s book, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. The book isn’t new, at least not completely. It is based on an audiobook Penn released in 2016 under the pen name of Pappy Pariah. Yes, you read that right. Pappy Pariah. That should have been everyone’s first clue that this wasn’t going to be your normal book “written” by a star. Penn initially denied having written the audiobook but later admitted it. That later apparently after Simon & Schuster agreed to publish the expanded written version of the book.

I’ll admit, I expected the media to sing Penn’s praises for the book. After all, Penn’s a self-proclaimed activists. The media, on the whole, loves him for it and he goes after Trump in the book from what I’ve gathered. But nope. Much of the media is savaging the book. That was enough for me to take a look at it. No, I didn’t read it. But I did begin doing my homework, wondering if maybe I’d been wrong and this wasn’t going to be just another ghost-written celebrity book that wasn’t worth the advance paid for it. That question became stronger when I read Penn was being criticized for what he said about the #MeToo movement at the end of the book. Wow, could Penn really have veered from the path?

So, I looked at some of the reviews before checking out the sample. One Amazon review caught my eye. The reviewer had made it through, if I remember correctly, 22 pages. At that point, the reviewer said he would have thrown the book out the window except he’d bought the Kindle version. (On that, the book is 177 pages and S&S is charging $11.99 for the e-book. Then they wonder why readers complain about the high price of e-books from traditional publishers.) Even then, the only reason the reader didn’t toss the book out the window was because he didn’t want to buy a new Kindle.

But that reader wasn’t the only one to savage the book. TooFab collected the five “nastiest” reviews. Let’s just say, this is probably the first time I’ve agreed with HuffPro, the Guardian, and National Review all at the same time. The Guardian’s headline pretty much says it all: Sean Penn’s debut novel: repellent and stupid on so many levels.

But what is that makes the book so bad? Is it the overuse of alliteration? Is it a desperate need for serious editing? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Here are some excerpts:

“There is pride to be had where the prejudicial is practiced with precision in the trenchant triage of tactile terminations.”

“Bob’s boyhood essence set him up for a separation from time, synergy, and social mores, leading him to acts of indelicacy, wounding words, and woeful whimsy that he himself would come to dread.” ― page 12

“Silly questions of cherries saved served to sever any last impression Bob might have had of Spurley as a serious citizen.” ― page 94

“There is pride to be had where the prejudicial is practiced with precision in the trenchant triage of tactile terminations.” ― page 125

“His dream’s desert daylight diffusion dictated disturbances in the void of visual detail.” ― page 142

Now, before you think this is just typical literary alliteration, consider this, the description of the book.

It seems wrong to say that so dystopian a novel is great fun to read, but it’s true. I suspect that Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S. Thompson would love this book. —Salman Rushdie

From legendary actor and activist Sean Penn comes a scorching, darkly funny novel about Bob Honey—a modern American man, entrepreneur, and part-time assassin.

Bob Honey has a hard time connecting with other people, especially since his divorce. He’s tired of being marketed to every moment, sick of a world where even an orgasm isn’t real until it is turned into a tweet. A paragon of old-fashioned American entrepreneurship, Bob sells septic tanks to Jehovah’s Witnesses and arranges pyrotechnic displays for foreign dictators. He’s also a contract killer for an off-the-books program run by a branch of US intelligence that targets the elderly, the infirm, and others who drain this consumption-driven society of its resources.

When a nosy journalist starts asking questions, Bob can’t decide if it’s a chance to form some sort of new friendship or the beginning of the end for him. With treason on everyone’s lips, terrorism in everyone’s sights, and American political life sinking to ever-lower standards, Bob decides it’s time to make a change—if he doesn’t get killed by his mysterious controllers or exposed in the rapacious media first.

A thunderbolt of provocative words and startling images, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff marks the fiction debut of one of America’s most acclaimed artists.

This is what publishers are buying and, when all is said and done, will be losing money on. It is indicative of what is wrong with the industry. They buy a “name” because someone is famous in another discipline. Or because that person has the right political beliefs, at least publicly. They will not only internally condemn those who don’t toe the political line but will institute whisper — and not so quiet — campaigns against those who aren’t of the right beliefs. All the while, they forget what they are in business to do. They are in business to publish books people want to read. But it is more than that. They need to want to BUY the book. Instead of raising prices to try to cover their losses, they need to look at what they are doing wrong and adapt.

But they won’t. They will continue to dig their heels in and their market shares will continue to shrink, whether they admit it or not. And indie authors will continue to make money, some ore than others, but at least we are in control of our own professional lives. I’ll take that any day over knowing my book, one I know people would buy because they’ve been buying other books like it that I’ve written, was overlooked by publishers for the sort of dreck they bought from Sean Penn.

54 Comments
  1. I read the same quotes, and wondered if it isn’t some elaborate prank – I mean, this is bad-discovering-whole-new-dimensions of bad. It’s a book-length entry for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest entry. Whoever did the editing must have begun drinking heavily just to get through the first page.
    And the publisher gave Sean Penn money for this drivel?

    April 3, 2018
    • Worse, it wasn’t a blind buy since there was an audio “book” — a shorter version — Penn had put out in 2016. He narrated the original but claimed someone else, someone he’d met iirc in the 70’s had written. Pappy Pariah. If that name alone isn’t enough to scream “Run away!” I don’t know what is.

      April 3, 2018
    • I am in the “This has to be an prank/trolling” camp. (Not necessarily by the publisher, but by Penn)

      April 3, 2018
      • Zsuzsa #

        If it wasn’t, I wonder if he’ll be smart enough to claim it was now.

        April 3, 2018
    • He’s no Trevanian.

      April 3, 2018
  2. Reading the blurb makes it sound interesting. Seeing the excerpts above the blurb though….

    April 3, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Yeah.

      April 3, 2018
    • Margaret Ball #

      I’d seen the blurb elsewhere and it repelled me: loaded with red flags that somebody is trying too hard to be funny, which inevitably results in painfully unfunny writing.

      I must admit, though, that even the godawful blurb didn’t prepare me for “sentences” like the ones quoted. (OK, they do have the syntactic form of sentences. But so does ‘Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.’)

      April 3, 2018
  3. I actually knew someone named Bob Honey. But he spoke in normal English like a regular human who had something to say, not in alliterative word salad like a postmodern generator set on stun.

    April 3, 2018
    • I wonder if he can sue Penn for character defamation or something. VBEG (Before someone jumps in, I know he can’t. But it would be fun to watch if he could.)

      April 4, 2018
  4. Zsuzsa #

    I’m wondering if poor Salman Rushdie was held hostage until he was willing to write that pull quote. I’m not a particular fan of his either, but he at least seemed to have some judgement.

    In other news, it looks like S&S went for the “sure thing bestseller” which turned out to be…well, not.

    April 3, 2018
    • I’d wondered something similar on Rushdie. As for S&S, let’s not forget they’ve done this before. Does anyone else remember the Newt Gingrich debacle titled 1945?

      April 4, 2018
  5. Christopher M. Chupik #

    At least I can say that even on my worst writing day I am still not Sean Penn.

    April 3, 2018
    • I think that has just become my new motto. 😉

      April 4, 2018
  6. Well, at least he isn’t claiming this is the best book ever written, and only a conspiracy is keeping him down.

    April 3, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      Give him time and he will. 😦

      April 3, 2018
    • Mike Houst #

      Well, it could be the best book he’s ever written, if it’s his first.

      April 3, 2018
  7. Stamp out alliteracy.

    April 3, 2018
  8. Andrew #

    Hugo Awards, here we come!

    April 3, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      Well, it is apparently set in the near-future, so it might technically qualify . . .

      April 3, 2018
    • ROFLMAO. Maybe we ought to all nominate it next year.

      April 4, 2018
  9. Mein gott, it’s almost dadaist. Makes me think of whasserface, the “author” character’s writing from The Fountainhead.

    April 3, 2018
    • I read an excerpt, and came away thinking “Wait, he used machine-generated text, same as the spam bots, to make an entire book? Because this reads like machine-generated spam.”

      April 3, 2018
      • Found out during NaNo this year, programmers are actively working on that with “NaNoGenMo.” I was appalled and fascinated all at once…

        April 3, 2018
  10. Christopher M. Chupik #

    Astoundingly, the avalanche of alliteration advanced the avarice of the automatic automatons who advertise the abrasive audio in the atavistic agnostic appendices of the authoritarian authorial abodes.

    April 3, 2018
    • Mike Houst #

      Ooo. Chris, that’s good!

      April 3, 2018
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        Why thank you. I’m glad someone appreciates my towering literary genius.

        April 3, 2018
        • It’s actually comprehensible and says something, unlike the word salad above. And that makes it funny….

          April 3, 2018
          • Christopher M. Chupik #

            It means something? I just threw out words until I had something like a sentence . . .

            April 3, 2018
            • Then you got luckier than Mr. Penn. My inner tech editor started cringing after the first quote. He ran away and started whimpering in the corner after the second. I think I’m going to have go pull out some of my old reports for US Army clients to get him to come out of hiding.

              April 3, 2018
              • Beat me to it. I was going to say my inner editor is in the corner gibbering and laughing madly, in a sick, sad sort of way… *chuckle*

                Seriously though. This is a new low. What was the other one, the Eye of Argon or something? That guy can hold his head up and say, “at least I’m not Sean Penn.”

                Heck, his could be good material for newbie writers that think their work stinks! Or think their work is awesome, either way. It’s either a prod to go ahead and self publish, or a prod to at least have a sane beta reader have at it. Or both. *grin*

                April 5, 2018
            • I’m pretty sure you said that greed overcame the traditional publishers at the thought of publishing Sean Penn (abrasive audio)’s word salad. The only part I can’t fit is the appendices but I just skipped over them.

              April 4, 2018
        • Mike Houst #

          Almost as good as V’s monologue on introduction to Evie in V for Vendetta.

          April 4, 2018
  11. Joe in PNG #

    Those excerpts make Cl@^^ps look like freaking Keats.

    April 3, 2018
    • Hey, it even makes the E*T* book, the book that shall never be named, look good. I never thought I’d say that.

      April 4, 2018
      • We should ask Jason C. for his opinion, since he braved the waters and read E*T*.

        [For those new to the blog. The author of the book E——- Th—– is very, very aggressive about defending their masterwork from any and all criticism.]

        April 4, 2018
        • LOL. I like Jason too much to ask him to put himself — and his sanity — on the line a second time. 😉

          April 4, 2018
  12. I just really want to know if his editor was tempted to commit suicide after doing his job.

    April 3, 2018
    • I wonder if this is proof his editor didn’t so much as look at it.

      April 3, 2018
    • Was there an editor?

      April 4, 2018
    • Hope that editor is not about to commit some sort of mass murder, having been driven crazy by the text.

      Maybe Penn works for Cthulhu.

      April 4, 2018
  13. I wonder if publishing this book is a payoff for Sean Penn, for services rendered.

    April 3, 2018
  14. Draven #

    he needs to have put down the thesaurus and stop trying to use the same first letter in threes.

    April 3, 2018
  15. When the Saxons did it, there was a reason. Penn is no Saxon.

    And this is one of those “carefully curated” works that are supposed to rise above the “tsunami of swill” and demonstrate why agents/big publishers/editors/big publishers are so very necessary…

    April 3, 2018
  16. It’s been a while since I practiced literary self-flagellation – but it looks to me like he was trying to be the next James Joyce.

    Penn managed to fail even at that, however. Maybe because he’s only part Irish?

    April 3, 2018
    • Joyce made more sense, even in Ulysses, than he does with this.

      April 4, 2018
      • Andrew #

        Ulysses made a lot more sense when I drank about a half bottle of scotch before reading it…

        Don’t remember what I read exactly, but at the time it made sense….

        April 4, 2018
      • Yes, you could eventually puzzle out Ulysses. Not worth the pain, IMHO, but it was there.

        April 4, 2018
  17. riteturn #

    ” And indie authors will continue to make money, some ore than others, but at least we are in control of our own professional lives.”
    TYPO! Ore for more. Everything you said is invalid, because a REAL writer would have had that error caught by a copy editor. Traditionally published books contain no errors. If you think it is an error you are wrong and the publisher is rite…

    April 4, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      “the publisher is rite”

      I see you did there . . .

      April 4, 2018
      • Scottish or . . . *attempts to look innocent*

        April 4, 2018

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