Jason Mott is a poet and novelist. His first two collections of poetry, We Call this Thing Between us is Love and Hide Behind Me, were published by Main Street Rag in 2009 and 2011, and his first novel, The Returned, was released in August 2013 with Harlequin MIRA and has been adapted for the television show, Resurrection, by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B. Mott was nominated for an NAACP Award in the category of “Outstanding Literary Work—Debut Author” in 2014. Resurrection airs TONIGHT on ABC.
This conversation took place in May of 2013.
Jason Mott: I’m a very rational person. I love science, but at the end of the day this is an event that could never happen. So this question about the explanation comes up a lot. This is impossible. I’m not going to insult my readers by giving them some condescending answer. Instead, I ask the readers to ponder the question for themselves and, at the end of the day, the returned are whatever the reader decides they are. The reader can fill in the backstory of the returned however they see fit.
AMK&MH: Even if it did happen in the real world, we probably would be able to determine how, right?
JM: Precisely. To me, the returned are representative of so much more than whatever the answer to who or what they are could answer. It really comes in a far second to what they offer and what they fulfill in people. I just don’t really care what their backstory is or how they got there. If my mother showed up today, I wouldn’t give two shits about the how or why, I’d just be happy she was there. I would take circumstances as they were and make the best of what was given.
AMK&MH: This is another reason The Returned crosses over from genre to literature in my opinion: you don’t ask, “What’s going to happen next?” you ask, “What would I do if this happened to me?” You ask, “Why has this happened, not just what is going to happen.” I suspect that’s what will draw folks to The Returned... the novel as well as the TV show. Do you really believe you’d accept your mother if she returned, no questions asked?
JM: Oh yeah. I would love to have her return just to see how far I’ve come. I wanted to create this world where you had people who weren’t excited about those who were coming back. Every death is different, and it affects those connected differently. I’m not the same person I was when my mother passed in 2001; I’m not the same person I was when my father passed in 2008. So… in a way, part of me is worried, if she did come back, would she like the person I’ve become? Would we have friction? Would there be anything about me now that she wouldn’t like or approve of? I wanted to put those ideas into character as well.
AMK&MH: I hadn’t really thought of it that way before.
JM: Yeah, you spend years apart and you change and grow and develop; you get new interests, hobbies, you develop new outlooks on life. Take the pastor for example: his love interest (when he was 17) returns, but now he’s a married man, he has a wife. But she’s still 17; she still sees him at that stage in his life and, he has to ask himself if he is comfortable with who he has become in order to stay in the role he lives now. I think that’s a big friction point for people; I like to provide friction points for characters.
AMK&MH: How long did it take you to write The Returned?
JM: About ten months.
AMK&MH: Woah! That seems quick.
Then I sent out queries way earlier than I should have….. I got lucky that my agent didn’t reply back until October; by then I had made some very heavy revisions. It wasn’t a complete train wreck by the time I actually got to speak with someone about it.
She did do a great job of making The Returned a viable book. I think this experience taught me as much if not more than my MFA program did. I’ve learned to be more self aware about what the art is doing and how it is working. For instance, the character of Lucille was a character who was pretty far down the row, to me. The novel was Harold’s; she was important but not extremely prevalent. In the original version, Lucille died four chapters before the end of the book. To me, that seemed like an appropriate departure for her as I didn’t view her as a particularly important character, I wanted the ending just to focus on Harold and Jacob. But when my agent read the script, the first thing she said was that Lucille died too early.
And something else I hadn’t considered while writing is that other people view the story through different characters. She said that Lucille was her main lens through which she read the book. Lucille was her filter. To have her die really didn’t work.
AMK&MH: Well, if we did a page count, I’ll bet Harold and Lucille actually share roughly the same page space. Like you said, they’re a unit.
JM: Lucille was as equally invested in the narrative as Harold was, and Harold was invested in her. But at the time, I was so engrossed in Harold and Jacob that I kind of forgot Lucille. That’s one thing my agent pointed out. She said you have to keep her alive longer, your climax is too early—you can’t forget that this is her story as well. At first I really resisted making these changes, but she talked about it again with my buddy, Justin, and he agreed with her. Then he came to me and reiterated that she does this for a living and that I needed to trust her judgment. From that point forward, I made any changes she suggested with no reservations. I didn’t even blink; I just did it. If she told me to get dressed up in an animal costume and go dance on the street corner I’d do it.
AMK&MH: So what are you working on now? I feel like I keep hearing about another new novel and some Retuned spinoffs.
JM: I just finished a draft of a second book set in the mountains of North Carolina. A small move from the coast to the mountains. A novel focusing on a father/daughter relationship, based loosely on one of my good friends from college. The novel has a few elements of the fantastic involved in it. Religion and a few other more characteristic elements of Southern fiction come into it.
AMK&MH: It’s unavoidable. Religion plays a huge role in those parts of the country.
JM: So I’m focusing most of my energy on that and also tying up a few loose ends with this novel. On the backburner I have a couple of fun graphic novel projects I’m working on. So hopefully if this does well and someone comes knocking on my door I can be like, “Hey! I got this too!”
As for the spinoffs, they’re prequels. They’re short stories that give early readers a chance to get a sense of the premise and tone of the novel, as well as my writing style. I’m a debut author. No one knows me. So these prequels are a good way for both The Returned and me to say “Hello” to readers.
AMK&MH: Thank you for your time, Jason.
JM: Thank you!