On February 22nd (yesterday!), Rob Hart's latest novel—after his breakout hit, The Warehouse—hit store shelves. This time around, Hart isn't going for easy thrills. He's taking a page from captivating suspense like Gattaca and Universal Soldier, mysteries, and speculative-laden crime thrillers to create the eponymously named The Paradox Hotel, where rich and powerful people have the ability to travel between time periods.
We were lucky enough to get a chance to speak with Hart about his twist new novel, time travel, and more.
The Paradox Hotel masterfully blends dimensional shifting with that of commercial tourism, particularly industries built on catering to the wealthy and their interest in “touring” historical tragedy, poverty, etc. How did you conceive of the novel’s fascinating thematic balance?
I first got the idea visiting Sleep No More, an interactive theater experience in New York, which made me think “time travel hotel.” From there, it was gaming out what would happen if time travel were real. It’d be massively expensive, so it’d be available probably only to the government and the super-rich. And then I saw a parallel with what’s happening to the space industry; started with the government, now all these billionaires are trying to get in on the game. And billionaires are the best villains; they’ll let the world burn just to add a single penny to their stock portfolio. Once I made that connection the whole thing really started to come together.
At the beginning of the novel, the summit is scheduled to happen, i.e., the bidding war on privatizing time travel. Much like your previous novel, The Warehouse, you blend sociopolitical commentary with page-turning speculative elements. I’d love to hear more about your approach, both writing process and personal drive, in seeking tales that err towards caution.
I started as a crime fiction writer, and to my mind, I’m still writing crime fiction. I just prefer writing about white collar crime; the way billionaires get to create their own set of rules, aided and abetted by government officials. Not to diminish it, but I’m less concerned about the street hustle of the heroin trade—I’m more interested in tracing the blame back to the pharmaceutical companies that created the opioid crisis in the first place. I like punching up with my books. It’s a target worthy of punching.
The Paradox Hotel
While we’re still talking about The Warehouse, I’ve got to ask: What was your experience publishing with the venerable indie, Polis Books, versus the big jump to Crown/Penguin Random House? What sort of pressures amounted from the book, particularly as The Paradox Hotel enters the marketplace?
Polis was a great place to start out, because in terms of indies, they punch well above their weight, getting trade reviews, traditional media, library buys… but there’s also a lot of hustle on my end. A lot of working overtime to make sure the book is getting out there. With Crown on Warehouse and Ballantine on Paradox Hotel, it’s great to suddenly have a killer team and a big machine behind me. For example: I joked in a marketing meeting that it would be cool to make up mock hotel room key cards as a giveaway. They went and made them. That’s something that, previously, I would have looked into doing and skipped because I couldn’t afford it. That said, yeah, bigger house means bigger expectations, so I tend to be a lot more anxious about my sales numbers and media hits. Warehouse did good but it didn’t light the world on fire, so I’m going into Paradox Hotel feeling like—okay, I hope all the groundwork I laid on the last one pays off here.
You posted on social media about researching to capture the look, feel, and the conceptual backbone of The Paradox Hotel. I’m beyond curious... how extensive was your research? What literature and which locations did you peruse?
I love the research phase. I used to be a journalist so that’s my wheelhouse. I read a lot: time travel stuff, the self-published memoir of a house detective, quantum physics, Eastern philosophy… and I revisited movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel and, of course, Timecop. I also visited the TWA Hotel at JFK, because I was looking for a sense of place and a “feel,” and that was perfect—it’s mid-century modern; both retro and futuristic. As with most of the stuff I write, I just fall down research spirals until I realize, oh geez I should be writing…
January Cole is a compelling protagonist; she’s unstuck in time, meaning she is not only unreliable in character perspective but also in her ability to comprehend and keep track of reality. Fact that the novel is told in first person also further blurs the narrative. How did you go about mapping her psyche, the process of being unstuck and “haunted” by her dead lover, Mena?
On one hand, writing January was like slipping into a comfortable pair of shoes. My first five novels were first-person present, and then Warehouse had three POVs. It was a fun sandbox to play in, but writing January felt like coming home. That said, yeah, keeping track of a narrative where someone’s perception is completely out of whack… it was a challenge. It involved a lot of outlining. And then a lot of mapping and close editing after I was actually done.
You know, I feel like The Paradox Hotel could make for a great video game. I’m imagining the hotel acts as the hub, and each flight essentially is a historical Battlefield style FPS conflict. Have you delved into interactive mediums or other narrative-focused mediums for that matter?
Paradox Hotel is optioned for TV by Working Title and I just read the pilot and it’s brilliant. The writer took a lot of what was in the book and spun it out in some fun and interesting directions. The more I think about it, the more I think there might be something else fun here… maybe a comic book series, or sure, why not—I would be quite pleased to see a video game based on my book. I think out of anything I’ve written, this one is the biggest sandbox with the most toys in it. I’ve already got an idea for a sequel…
If you had the financial means, what flight would you take and why?
I would go to the Library of Alexandria, thinking, wow, how much knowledge and information is here, and was subsequently lost… but then I’d show up and realize I can’t read anything, because none of it would be in English.
You’re no stranger to working on multiple projects and, by and large, keeping productive. What are you working on now?
I can’t say! I’ve got a comic book I wrote with a friend that’s done, and hopefully we’ll announce soon. With the same friend, I’m co-writing a novel, and the pitch for that is out on submission. I’ve got another comic book project I’m working on, and laying some groundwork on what I hope will be the next book… so I’m in this weird liminal space of working on a whole bunch of stuff but not exactly being able to discuss it!