Six Bridges Book Festival: Rob Hart
Visionary Thriller The Warehouse Warns that Dystopia Looms Near
Rob Hart was already a successful author when he began work on his latest novel, The Warehouse. With a number of crime thrillers under his belt and another novel co-authored with megauthor James Patterson, Hart’s future looked bright. But when The Warehouse garnered a six-figure book deal and was optioned for film by Ron Howard, Hart proved that he had the elusive blend of talent, timing, and topic to create a true breakthrough novel.
The Warehouse takes the reader on a frightening tour of the near future, when global monopolies have devastated local economies. In this quietly desperate America, most people are left with no choice but to give away their freedom to become workers for those monopolies, living in corporate compounds and working under constant surveillance and exploitative conditions.
Even the first fifteen pages will raise the hair on your arms with a vision of abandoned towns and brutal “corporate efficiency.” The novel extends today’s workforce trends to their logical consequences to show what’s ahead for workers. Like the best futuristic satirists of the twentieth century—Bradbury, Orwell—Hart harnesses the power of truth to tell a tale that is more disturbing for its plausibility. It’s no surprise that The Warehouse sold in over 20 foreign markets and that Ron Howard optioned the film rights before the book even hit shelves in summer 2019.
The dangerous power of global monopolies
Hart’s passion for his subject was clear when he spoke with us about his inspiration for The Warehouse, which features a massive company called Cloud that is modeled on Amazon.
“I think the best way to explain what’s going on in our economy right now is that every single human being who reads this article is going to have paid more in income taxes than Amazon did all last year,” Hart said. “And if you look around at our crumbling infrastructure, schools, and services, that’s the reason why. I truly believe corporate welfare is more dangerous than anything else. We give everything away so they’ll give us jobs, but the jobs are never really good or well-paid. And I’d like to think that’s not a partisan issue, and that demanding that our workers be treated better ought to cross the divide.”
Hart, who grew up in a working-class family himself, was originally moved to explore working life in America by a real-life incident. “I read an article years ago about a woman who worked full time in a fulfillment center and how terrible the working conditions were,” he said. “The corporations were setting up these centers in depressed areas where the workers wouldn’t have a lot of other employment options. That was back in 2012, and I kept coming back to the research and seeing patterns and dropping notes in my files. Eventually I knew that if I didn’t write this novel, someone else would, and I had to write it.”
Folksy manner of novel’s CEO hides corporate ruthlessness
Hart frames the novel from the perspectives of three major characters. Paxton is an ordinary guy who ends up snagging a coveted job at the Cloud living/working campus, while Zinnia is a secret agent hired to infiltrate the same facility. Their viewpoints are opposed by the blog entries of Gibson Wells, the aging founder of Cloud who is now dying of pancreatic cancer but still runs his company with ruthless efficiency masked with folksy charm.
Though the most powerful aspect of the novel is its near-dystopian world, Hart is an accomplished writer of suspenseful thrillers, and his characters keep the pages turning with their interesting backstories as well as the mystery of Zinnia’s mission at Cloud.
“Paxton and Zinnia came to me fully formed,” Hart said. “It wasn’t really an analytical decision where I said, ‘I’m going to make Zinnia a really strong woman.’ I already knew who she was. And Paxton and Zinnia are in a way dueling aspects of my own personality. Each of us when placed in a situation like this has elements of Paxton, of not wanting to rock the boat. But each of us wishes we could also be like Zinnia, proactive, independent, and clever. Truthfully, I think most of us end up acting more like Paxton.”
“We give everything away so they’ll give us jobs, but the jobs are never really good or well-paid. And I’d like to think that’s not a partisan issue, and that demanding that our workers be treated better ought to cross the divide.”
Living every writer’s dream with book deal, film option offer from Ron Howard
Hart lived out every writer’s dream with the lucrative sale of his much-in-demand novel, followed by several film companies making offers for the film rights.
“We were getting offers from film and TV. I got a nice email from a CEO of a major cable company,” Hart explained. “But when Imagine came in with an offer, I just thought, wow, if Ron Howard wants it, how can I say no? There were 7-8 good offers, but Ron Howard made Apollo 13, so we said, let’s do it!”
Hart is grateful for the career freedom that his breakthrough novel has allowed him.
“It’s incredible—I’m going to get off the phone with you and go pick up my daughter because I’m at home instead of working another office job,” he said. “I still don’t really have downtime, so giving myself a few minutes to watch a movie can be hard, because I’m setting my own schedule. But it’s great that I now have the freedom to think about this idea I’ve had for a TV pilot, and maybe develop it. Before, when I was running a small publishing company, I had to do a lot of my work late at night or early in the morning. It’s nice to have the opportunity to write full time instead of squeezing it in around the edges of another job.”
Hart has more vibrant commentary about his novel, the writer’s life, and what we can do individually to help our society overcome negative economic trends and the rise of monopolies. Don’t miss the chance to hear him at the Six Bridges Book Festival in April!
Rob Hart is also the author of the Ash McKenna crime series and the short story collection Take-Out. He co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson. He has worked as a book publisher, a political reporter, and a communications director for a politician, and was a commissioner for the city of New York. He lives in Staten Island, NY.
feature by Rosslyn Elliott