Rob Hart Crowdsources An Interview for 'The Warehouse' and Discusses Anxiety, Writing Process, and Wokeness
Tomorrow is the big day.
A year and a half ago my life changed—I sold The Warehouse in a pre-empt to Crown at Penguin Random House. We then romped at the London Book Fair (sold now in more than 20 countries), and the book was optioned for film by Ron Howard.
I keep saying it because it's true: If I were to find out this is an elaborate prank I would be upset but I would not be surprised.
It feels good to be writing about it here at LitReactor because in the archives of this site you can find a map of my publishing journey—going all the way back to the start, in 2012, when I self-published a novella and documented the process. I got the idea for The Warehouse around the same time so it really does feel like this has come full-circle.
The Warehouse is the first book I've written about something that makes me angry. Specifically, the way large corporations treat workers like a disposable product. It imagines a near future where climate change has ravaged the planet and one company has completely dominated the economy, then built live-work facilities for its workers, so you never really go home anymore.
For my past couple of books I've crowdsourced interviews to run here—putting out a call on Facebook and Twitter, asking people to hit me with questions. It's quite a bit of fun so I thought I would do that again.
Before we get into that though, I'm doing two release parties this week: Tomorrow night (Aug. 20) with LitReactor instructor and Miami Midnight author Alex Segura at The Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan—58 Warren Street at 6:30 p.m. And Wednesday night (Aug. 21), I'll be at the Staten Island Barnes & Noble at 7 p.m. If you're around, come on out!
Now, on to the questions...
Greg Herren: Why did you decide to switch from writing a series to a stand alone, and will you go back to the series?
By the fourth Ash novel I knew I wanted to finish it out with the fifth and try a standalone. Writing a series is incredibly fun and rewarding and also after a while feels like inviting people to a Tupperware party. Plus it’s diminishing returns—it’s a lot to ask a reader to follow a character over so many books, especially if you’re doing one a year. I like the idea of living in a world for a bit and moving on to something else. If I have a great idea for a series, I may come back! But my next few ideas are all standalones.
Kristopher Zgorski: How much backstory do you "know" that didn't even make it into the book, but was required to understand in order to get the world to the stage it is when the novel opens.
A lot of what I cooked up made it in. I actually look back now and wonder about the things I left out. Religion. Day care. All those weird little brush strokes that might have been interesting but in reality were probably too much. In world building there’s a fine line between just-enough and too-much.
Jay Kennedy: You are an acknowledged master of superb opening lines (New Yorked and Potter’s Field come to mind). What opening hook do you have in store for readers of The Warehouse?
Why thank you! The first line of The Warehouse is: We’ll, I’m dying! I hope that's a good one.
Marjorie Tucker: Rob, will you still remember all of the readers who loved Ash McKenna and were supporting you before your work became a mega-star?
Oh c’mon. If I ever turn into that guy, smack me in the back of the head. You have my permission.
MT: More seriously, now that you have this blockbuster book about to be born, what comes next? And how hard is it to start a new project knowing how big the last one has become?
Haha yes it is extremely hard! The stakes are very high right now and I am actually dealing with a bit of anxiety related to that, so I was taking a bit of a break to just focus on promoting The Warehouse!
Kristin Sullivan: Did you ever hit the point in writing where you were convinced you should give up the dream, and what kept you going?
Probably in the first few years. Especially as I had finished the first draft of my first novel and queried and got nothing but rejections. That said, I don’t know if I was ever convinced to give it up. I might have flirted with the idea. But I also couldn’t imagine an existence that didn’t involve writing? Also I am very stubborn and that helps.
KS: Also, what's the most useful writing habit to you personally that you've developed?
I’m good at buckling down and getting my work done. There are a lot of distractions, and sometimes it requires sacrifice (I stopped watching baseball; just don’t have the time anymore). I know it sounds really simple, but it’s true, the best habit you can develop is just getting your fucking work done.
KS: Lastly, the Ash McKenna series showed a lot of awareness of social issues and growth of Ash into a better, more conscientious person. Was that intentional, and do you feel like that reflected your own personal growth in that direction, if at all?
Yes! Writing the Ash books was a way for me to process some shit about growing up. That series is way more autobiographical than you might imagine. I would like to think Ash is slightly more of a dope than I am in real life, but that’s also probably me being generous to myself.
Sonora Taylor: Did you find yourself in any Warehouse-specific routines while writing the book—ie, something you did a lot while working on it? A favorite food, new workout, etc.?
Not really! I don’t alter my routines too much. If I do, it’s to fit my schedule, rather than a project. A lot of my writing has to revolve around my daughter and her schedule—naps, school, day care, etc.
Kriti Khare: What were some new areas that you had to research for your book?
A lot of stuff about the economy and capitalism. Mostly I read the news but I read four books on Wal-Mart, I think? I did a lot of research into Wal-Mart.
Pirate Twinkie: Will there be a Warehouse 2?
Nope! Or at least I do not currently have any plans for it.
Mikel Strom: To kind of dovetail off Kristopher and Marjorie’s questions, when writing a book like The Warehouse, do you envision it as a world you’ll get to revisit in other books/stories, or approach it as a one-off? Do you ever hold ideas back with the thought you’ll use them in a sequel?
Definitely one-off. I didn’t hold anything back, and actually tried to paint myself into a corner so I wouldn’t have to write a sequel. Though I left a few windows open, just in case...
Julia Dahl: What was the hardest part of the writing process for The Warehouse?
I really, genuinely thought I was not smart enough or a good enough writer. So… literally the entire thing? It’s a big, complicated book that tackles a lot of economic issues and I wanted to write it in the language of a thriller. I’m still sort of surprised I even pulled it off?
Doug Zeigler: What was your inspiration for the story, if there was one?
Ella Horne: Was there anything you discovered in your Warehouse research that surprised you?
Not really. Sadly! Maybe some of the inside baseball stuff, like how Wal-Mart will demand deeper and deeper discounts on a product until a business can’t afford to make it anymore, then they introduce their own version—that’s pretty fucked up and I didn’t know it beforehand. But in a large sense… a lot of my research confirmed what I thought going in, which is that capitalism is not really working anymore.
Scott Cumming: Simple one, but it links in with the novel—what's the worst job you've ever had?
I worked at a hardware store. I was a kid and they expected me to know everything the moment I walked in the door and could not understand why I didn’t. They let me go after I was on some scaffolding that collapsed, which I think they blamed me for, even though it wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t get hurt so I just chalked it up as a win.
Amanda Bender: You’re going to a deserted island. You can bring one gadget, one drink or snack, and one person. What and who are you bringing?
Some kind of GPS locator, Gatorade, and survival expert Les Stroud. I hate the beach and would not want to live on one.
Linda Bailey-McWeeney: I saw the tweet from someone who has read The Warehouse that said you are woke :) I already thought that from some of your tweets and find myself wondering how you became woke and why is it important to you to include that in your work?
I don’t know how anyone becomes woke? My parents raised me right I guess! I do think it’s important to think about that in my writing because the world is a diverse place, and if your stories aren’t diverse, you’re not writing about the world. Plus I try to consider my own privilege—as a white straight man I’m doing pretty good. The world is a lot harder for literally everyone else. So… I think besides helping me tell a more honest story it also helps me grow as a person, because it makes me more cognizant of that.
LBW: Also, would you or anyone you know in the Staten Island vicinity like to play recreational badminton on a regular basis?
Not really but I’ll ask around.
Jason M. Heim: Your novel has been compared to 1984, which created shorthand for government oppression, e.g. Big Brother, thought police, and even Orwellian, after the author. If The Warehouse did the same for end stage capitalism, what would you like "Hartian" to mean?
That’s a lot of pressure! I don’t even know how to answer. Hartian is a weird word. Because I want to pronounce it Harsh-ian? Which makes me think of the word martian. Seriously though, what I want out of this book more than anything is for people to consider how they interact with the economy—why a person’s own comfort is worth someone else’s discomfort. Orwellian is a word that feels synonymous with fear and I’m slightly more interested in empathy.
Todd Robinson: What is love?
(Baby don’t hurt me. Baby don’t hurt me, no more.)
Shawn A. Cosby: Do you feel a responsibility as a writer to try and affect some change in society through your writing?
I do, personally. It doesn’t have to be everyone's chief drive, but I like it. I think fiction has this incredible ability to elicit empathy in people, in a way that data and journalism don’t (mostly those things just make us angry). So while responsibility is a tough term to parse out I would say that we have a lot of power with what we do.
Lori R Weintrob: 1) What is your favorite moment in The Warehouse (without giving too much away)? 2) Did you cry or get angry or laugh at any particular point while writing the book?
There are a few points at the end that I really love, and I don’t even want to tip my hat to them. I’d rather you be surprised. I did tear up a bit when I wrote the ending. Definitely a feeling of catharsis there.
John Dunn Smith: How do you feel about the inherent contradiction of the work's content and its distribution by online sellers? [I don't know if there's any way to avoid it these days, but the thought comes to mind.]
I find it deeply, deeply funny. And a little weird. Mostly funny though.
Ann Abel: How did you balance the doubts (this has been done before, it’s too obvious, it’s too big to take on, it’s too different) with your confidence that this generation needed its own 1984, and you were sure you could write it.
I wasn’t sure I could write it! And I feel super awkward putting myself in screaming distance of 1984. I will say: I never got over that feeling and I still feel that way. I’m good at ignoring that feeling.
Brittany Bacinski: Do you think your zodiac sign impacts your writing style? And if so, how did yours shape this book?
I don’t know that it does! I know nothing about my sign other than that I am a Saggitarius. Astrology is just not my thing. So… it very well could have shaped the book! I have no idea.
Lauren Victoria: Do you have a specific process or approach that you take before sitting down to pen your novels?
I murder six people. Don’t tell anyone. Haha ok seriously though—I do a ton of research, I outline a lot, and then I get to work. I'm always tweaking and changing things, because your writing process isn't a destination, it's a journey... but those are the three elements I need.
Howard Greenfield: Do you envision a world and create a story for it, or a story to build your world around?
Story first. World second.
Katherine Wagner: How much outlining do you do? Is there discovery as you write or do you pretty much know where the story is going before you start writing?
I do a metric fuckton of outlining and research. I’m happy to diverge—there were some points in The Warehouse where I really did. But I need a roadmap.
Amanda Straniere: Can you pick up milk on the way home?
Had I seen this on the way home I would have. Why would you ask me here and not text me?
Kristin Pitanza: Did any of your other works inspire The Warehouse?
Not really! The Warehouse felt so completely different for me.
Mike Mayo: What has surprised you about this best-seller rollercoaster you’re on?
The level of anxiety and fear that comes with this. Not that I wasn't taking it seriously before, but there are a lot of people invested in this book, and the sale allowed me to quit my job and write full-time. Everything in publishing feels very impermanent but the entire thing suddenly feels a lot more precarious. Like it all may disappear at any moment. Plus, I don't want to let anyone down.
Terri Hart: Who is your favorite parent??
Dwayne Anderson: What is the dumbest Amazon review you have received?
Someone left me a one-star review on New Yorked because it was “too New Yorkie.”
Karen O’Donnell: Do people from your real life inhabit your fictional life?
Of course. I’d never say who because I don’t want them to find out. But, there’s a lot of me in these characters too. The three main characters in Warehouse—Gibson, Zinnia, and Paxton—are definitely three different aspects of my personality.
To leave a comment