Jason Mott’s ‘The Returned’ scores big for first-time novel


Jason Mott reads and signs "The Returned" noon, Sept. 1 at the Decatur Recreation Center Gym, 231 Sycamore St., Decatur. Free. www.decaturbookfestival.com

Jason Mott is the envy of many authors.

The North Carolina resident's debut novel, "The Returned," got a starred review from Kirkus, and a TV series based on the book debuts on ABC in March 2014. Called "Resurrection," the hour-long drama is filmed locally and costars Omar Epps, a "House" alum, and Kurtwood Smith of "That 70s Show."

Is this a dream? No, but it began with one.

Mott’s mother died in 2001 and his father died six years later. In 2010, around the anniversary of his mother’s death, he had a dream that he came home from work and there she was, sitting at the kitchen table waiting for him. The two talked about what had been going on in his life over the last nine years. He told her about his friends and his desire to be a writer. She gave him a hard time about not being married.

The dream was “warm and cathartic,” said Mott, 35, a 2009 nominee for a Pushcart Prize. “I woke up almost expecting to find her sitting at the kitchen table still.”

He later shared that dream with a friend, who proposed the “what if” question from which good ideas are often born. What if it really happened? What if others returned as well?

Mott wrote a story about the premise and gave it a few public readings. The response was so good, he decided to make it into a novel. It paid off.

He’s still reeling from how quickly things have happened for him — especially considering the book doesn’t even go on sale until Aug. 27.

“I’m still trying to keep up with things,” he said. “I’m waiting for this train ride to end at any moment.”

Mott, who was was recently named one of Entertainment Weekly’s “New Hollywood: The Next Wave” people to watch, will give a reading of his book and sign copies at noon Sept. 1 at the Decatur Recreation Center Gym during the AJC Decatur Book Festival.

“The Returned” focuses on Harold and Lucille Hargrave of Arcadia, N.C., whose only son, Jacob, drowned on his eighth birthday in 1966. They’re older now and life has sauntered on when one day their son suddenly appears at their door — the same age as when he left.

But he’s not the only one.

Across the globe, people who have died are mysteriously returning to life at the same age as when they left. Are they real? Is it a sign of End Times? A miracle? The book raises complicated questions about faith and relationships.

“There are elements of ourselves that change over time,” said Mott, who was in Atlanta recently for the National Book Club Conference. “I’m not the same person that I was when my mother passed away.”

So, if his mother really returned, the initial conversations would be smooth, he said. However, “six months from now when we find out we have different political views or different views about whatever, what happens to that conversation? How does that go?”

Writing “The Returned” proved to be a release that helped Mott process his grief over his mother’s death. There is a reason the characters who return are sympathetic. Mott said he wanted to explore the innocence of people wanting to pick up where they left off.

“I didn’t people to put down the book and think about the murder character who came back and the bad things he did,” he said. “I really wanted this to be a novel that when people finished it, they get the photo album out and flip through it and remember someone or, better yet, spend time with someone who’s here now.”

The book is published by Harlequin MIRA, an imprint of the publishing house best known for romance titles, which is branching out into other genres such as literary fiction. Editorial director Tara Parson said everyone on the acquisitions team had a strong reaction to “The Returned.”

“We knew right away it would hit the emotions of so many different people.”

So how do you follow success of “The Returned?”

Mott is working on a second “magical realism” novel set in a small town in the South. He says that’s about all he can disclose — for now.

“We’re still kind of fine tuning it,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I think it’s a really good project.”