Sometimes Straight Up Stockholm Syndrome: An Interview with Rob Hart

The Warehouse August’s MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, has been a much talked about book this summer. A thriller set in near future corporate workplace environment, The Mother Cloud Complex, where the workers live in the factory. It is viewed through three characters Paxton, a security guard new on the job, Zinnia, a corporate spy infiltrating The Cloud as a worker, and Gibson Wells, the CEO and founder of Cloud who mainly speaks to us through his blog. Hart has created a frightening real world of the one percent and those who work for them. We got in touch with Rob to talk about the book and the dystopian future he created. 

1.) How did you decide on your two protagonists, Paxton and Zinnia?

Right from the start I saw it as two driving voices. One would be the slightly naïve company man (Paxton) and the other would be the more skeptical person with an agenda (Zinnia). I think for a story as big as this, in order to examine the different facets—especially in terms of the work environment—it needed multiple points of view. But I really didn’t crack it until I added the third: the CEO, Gibson Wells. Because someone needed to take on the role of defending the company, and litigating the history of it. Because otherwise, it was too black-and-white.

2.) How did you go about building the world of The Mother Cloud Complex?

I had to draw a map! The MotherClouds are essentially small, self-contained cities, so the first thing I did was create a list of everything you need in a city (police, fire, transit, schools, hospitals, etc.). Then I drew a map. I was actually really struggling with the layout of the facility; I needed to see it before I could move forward with the story. I ended up referring back to it constantly, just to get a sense of geography. So in a sense, it was great—I could create whatever I needed to suit my storytelling needs. But at the same time, it was a lot to keep in my head.

3. Was there anything you had to keep in mind while writing in your world?

You hear a lot about show-don’t-tell, and that’s something I thought about a lot with this book. There was so much world-building, and I felt like it was important to reveal that all organically. Stopping the story every ten minutes to explain stuff would have pumped the brakes too much. Rather, I needed to figure out how to reveal the world through the experience of the characters, so you’re sort of seeing what they see, and processing it the way they would. That way I hoped it would feel more natural.

4. I really thought the way you portrayed Gibson Wells was interesting. You are sympathetic to him, since he is dying of cancer and his arguments on his blog make sense in the beginning, so you don’t know through his blog if he is misguided, rationalizing his actions, or he’s masking something evil. How did you approach him so he wouldn’t be the corporate fat cat stereotype?

The villain of the story never thinks they’re the villain. I just kept coming back to that. Gibson believes that might makes right; for as much as he’s accomplished, he obviously must be doing the right thing. How else would he have succeeded? As I mentioned previously, I think giving him that voice, and that opportunity to explain his side, really opened up the story and gave it the balance it needed.

5. You have the Cloud corporate speak of being “a team” down well. In fact, I couldn’t help but think of an Amazon help wanted ad I read. What is the key to doing that authentically?

Lots and lots of reading and research, plus calling on my own experience, working in jobs where there was a lot of groupthink and gaslighting and, frankly, sometimes straight-up Stockholm syndrome, where your employers treat you like shit and you rationalize it, because at least you have a job. The trick was not making it feel too cult-like. I didn’t want to go toward a sense of fantasy with it. For a while I considered having all the employees be forced to run through a group chant or exercise at the start of their shift. Which on one hand, feels completely absurd. But on the other hand, is a thing Wal-mart employees actually do. So it was also recognizing that, sometimes, the reality is so absurd people might not believe it.

6. Can you tell us what you have in store for us next?

I’m working on a book now that isn’t a direct sequel to The Warehouse — it’s more of a spiritual sequel. The Warehouse is about the way corporations treat us like disposable products, and it poses some questions that I hope this new book answers. And it’s about power. That’s all I want to say for now.

You can purchase a copy of Rob Hart’s The Warehouse from BookPeople in-store or online now.

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