Rob Hart: Five Things I Learned Writing The Warehouse

Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.

Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities. 

But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering.  

Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him. 

As the truth about Cloud unfolds, Zinnia must gamble everything on a desperate scheme—one that risks both their lives, even as it forces Paxton to question everything about the world he’s so carefully assembled here. 

Together, they’ll learn just how far the company will go…to make the world a better place. 

Set in the confines of a corporate panopticon that’s at once brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, The Warehouse is a near-future thriller about what happens when Big Brother meets Big Business–and who will pay the ultimate price. 

Dream a Little Bigger, Darling

You know that scene in Inception, where Tom Hardy tells Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “You musn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” And then he dreams up a grenade launcher to blow the shit out of a bad guy? I think about that scene a lot, and not just because Tom Hardy is a snack. It’s because that has become my mantra.

My first five books, which followed amateur private detective Ash McKenna, was small—one POV hardboiled first-person… intimate, almost, in large part because it was me working out some of my own shit related to growing up.

Those books came out from a small press, and they sold pretty well for small press books, but I knew when I was done with the series, I wanted to level up. That’s the goal, right? Yes, I wanted a bigger publisher and, potentially, a bigger payday, but I also wanted to push myself and do something that scared me. I wanted to grow as a writer. Which meant looking for a bigger sandbox to play in.

It paid off—foreign sales in more than 20 countries and a film option with Ron Howard. Yes, that’s a flex. And all I had to do was write a book I wasn’t sure I was capable of even writing. Which brings me to my next point…

Trust Your Guts

Your guts are smart. They will often tell you what you should be doing. I like to pretend mine sound like Gilbert Gottfried, which brings a great deal of urgency to the proceedings. Unfortunately, I am not always smart enough to listen to them.

I’d been laying down notes for The Warehouse since 2012. My first novel, New Yorked, didn’t even come out until 2015! And then I wrote four more books. This thing has been percolating for a loooong time.

So when I finished out the Ash books, instead of writing The Warehouse, I wrote an entirely different novel! It was a shiny-thing idea, a horror novel with an insane meta narrative that, looking back, I’m not even sure makes sense? I did it because I was afraid to write The Warehouse. Despite what my guts were telling me—Warehouse is the book, do this one—I thought I wasn’t smart enough or a good enough writer.

Eventually I realized that if I didn’t write this book, someone else would. And hey, maybe I needed that 70,000-word detour. I was scared, but it’s always scary to start a new book, because you’re staring down the barrel of months of work that may or may not pay off.

But sometimes you need to use that fear to push you forward, rather than hold you back.

The Value of Bestsellers

Before I wrote The Warehouse, I spent about a year reading bestselling fiction. Like, a lot of it. Because it’s not usually what I skewed toward, and I felt like there was a gap in my writing education—that elusive skill of readability. The thing that keeps a reader hurtling through a story. I read a whole bunch of James Patterson—hell, I even wrote a novella with him—and let me tell you, I am out of runway with people who bash the dude.

Here’s the thing: if he’s not your jam, fine, don’t read him. This is America, where you are free to do anything! *checks earpiece* …you are free to do most things! *checks earpiece again* …um, well, shit.

Seriously though, Patterson clearly understood something about the writing process I did not, because he has sold more books than I had. Millions of them! (He also makes a ton of money for his publisher, which allows them to take risks on debut/midlist authors, and he donates a ton of money to bookstores and libraries, so maybe chill just a bit…)

Here’s the distinction, though: I didn’t want to write like him. I don’t want to write like any other writer. I want to write like me. But other books are an opportunity to learn. It’s why the advice I always give younger writers is to put down the pen for a bit and read like a lunatic.

Reading a lot of bestselling books was a chance to see the mechanics of how successful authors constructed their plots and build their worlds. And after a little while, you do see the Matrix code behind it. Not to call it formula. But, for example, short chapters with hooks at the end are popular for a reason—they give the reader a sense of accomplishment and compel them to read just one more

Point/Counterpoint

I knew The Warehouse was going to have two narrators—Paxton, the company man, and Zinnia, a corporate spy who saw through the bullshit. And as I was chipping away at the story, it just was not clicking for me. It felt like there was something missing.

I needed a third voice. I needed someone to make the argument that the kinda-shitty world they were living in was actually good. So I created Gibson Wells, a messianic, Steve Jobs-like figure, and the owner of Cloud. And I had him announce to the world he is dying (which is like the first line, so it’s not a spoiler). And I had him write a series of blog posts, recapping his life, but also litigating the company’s history.

Which is exactly what the story needed. Paxton and Zinnia are caught up in the system, and even though Zinnia is a touch sharper, they’ve both been gaslighted into believing that sometimes you should consider yourself lucky just to have a job. They’re not freedom fighters. They’re not trying to destroy the machine. They’re cogs stuck inside. Which is fine—but it limits the view into this world.

Introducing Gibson allowed me to fuck with the reader a bit—because even though he’s a corporate overlord who is worth more than $300 billion and has single-handedly taken over the American retail economy, you can kinda sorta see where he’s coming from. Not all of his points are bad, and it helped underscore what I think ultimately made the book effective—calling out large corporations, sure, but also calling out us, for buying into and perpetuating that system. Without him, you don’t get that.

Draw a map!

The hardest part of the worldbuilding process was constructing a Cloud facility. Because I was literally creating a city from the ground up. How the hell do you even do that? I struggled a lot, and would sometimes sit down and work on the draft and realize… I don’t know where my characters are standing, or what they should be walking to, because all I could picture was this gigantic, formless facility… and that was it.

So I drew a map. I got a big piece of poster board and, first, I made a list. What’s supposed to be in a city. Hospital, transit, police, fire, Starbucks, etc. Then I roughed out the major components that made up the facility, starting with the main one, and then adding dorms—three sounded good!—and then the energy processing facility, which I made further away from the rest of the compound, for plot reasons

I realized, wow, this place is so vast, I should have a regular transit system, but also, one that was dedicated to ambulances, so they could all get to the health care facility, which I called Care, which felt creepy.

Then I put that map up in my office. I even screenshotted it and made it the background on my laptop, so when I was working on the road and wanted to reference something, all I had to do was minimize a window. Turns out, I’m a visual thinker. And this was like having the Marauder’s Map. Once it was in front of me, I could see the paths the characters were tracing.

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Rob Hart is the author of the Ash McKenna series and the short story collection Take-Out. He also co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson. His latest novel, The Warehouse, sold in more than 20 countries and has been optioned for film by Ron Howard. He is a former journalist, political aide, and book publisher. He lives in Staten Island, NY, with his wife and daughter.

Rob Hart: Website, Twitter, Instagram

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