Bookish: The Returned was born when, after the anniversary of your mother’s death, you dreamed of her. A few months later, you talked to a friend about your unrest with trying to reimagine the dream every time you went to sleep. Your friend posed the question, “What if she actually did come back, just for one night? And what if it wasn’t just her? What if it happened to other people, too?” And from that conversation, your idea for the book was conceived. How did the finished book evolve from the original idea you had that day?
JM: Great question! The primary evolution that occurred was that I, eventually, throttled back on how much of the story was about me. When I first started writing it, the story was centered around a man whose mother returned. But that simply didn’t work. It was too confessional, too clunky—it was all over the place. So I stepped back. I stopped trying to make the novel about myself and really started trying to think about the reader first. In the end, it was a much better decision.
Bookish: Did any other books, movies, or TV shows influence your plot and/or themes?
JM: Jose Saramago’s Blindness was a large influence. I read the book about a year before I started writing The Returned, and while I was writing, I remembered the feelings of fear, anxiety, and unease that book gave me when the characters began to feel overwhelmed by their circumstances. I wanted my reader to have a similar feeling in my book.
Also, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies served to influence my writing. That novel is a bit of a touchstone for me. I always go back to it and find something new. And Golding’s ability to let his characters’ confinement and isolation lead to conflict was something I really wanted to bring into The Returned.
Bookish: Your bio mentions that, years after their respective deaths, it’s difficult for you to remember the sounds of your parents’ voices, but the more painful memories you wish you could forget, you inevitably remember. Did writing The Returned help you reconnect with any of the positive, happier memories you have of your parents?
JM: It most certainly did. Working with the Hargrave family—the central characters of the novel—I was able to watch a son reunited with his parents and, to an extent, I was able to share in that reunion from both sides of the equation. I felt Lucille’s joy at being reunited with someone she lost, and I was able to experience Jacob’s elation at seeing his parents again. Those moments helped me remember that I cannot let my memories of my parents be defined by memories of their deaths. I learned to remember their lives.
Bookish: Lucille Hargrave, mother of one of the young Returned (Jacob Hargrave) is devoutly Christian. Her husband Harold, though not in practice, is also loosely tied to faith. What role did you intend religion and spirituality to play in the novel, which clearly asserts the possibilities that exist beyond the realm of science?
JM: It’s difficult to write Southern characters and separate them from religion. I’ve lived in the South my entire life and religion is everywhere here. But it’s also a very complicated subject. So, with Harold and Lucille, I wanted to have characters that reflected that. In many ways, Harold and Lucille’s religious stances reflect those of my parents. My mother was devout, and my father was more passive in his religious views. Sometimes they went back and forth on things but, in the end, they made it work.
Bookish: Arcadia, where the novel is set, is a real town in North Carolina. How similar is it to the Arcadia in the book? Did living in North Carolina influence your decision to set the novel there?
JM: Living in North Carolina was a huge influence on my decision to set the novel here. I love NC. My family’s lived in this state for generations. It will always be in my blood, so I’m eager to set my stories here. It’s my home, after all.
The fictional Arcadia is a melding of several small towns near me. My mother was born and raised in a town called East Arcadia, so I wanted to use the town’s name as a tribute to her. The fictional Arcadia is pretty similar to the real one, just a bit larger.
Bookish: On April 1, a prank news brief was released on your site about an obviously fictitious sequel to be co-authored by actor and martial arts master Steven Seagal—because The Returnedneeded more martial arts to highlight the story’s physical and emotional impact. Did anyone actually believe it? Any real plans for a sequel or new novel?
JM: Haha! I had one or two people who actually fell for the prank. But, for the most part, everyone seemed to enjoy the joke. I was a little nervous about it at first, but then even my editor seemed to get a kick out of it, so that made me feel pretty good.
Right now there aren’t any plans for a sequel, but I’m not the type to completely close the door on any idea. So we’ll see what the future holds.
Bookish: The Returned was optioned by Brad Pitt’s production company and will air on ABC starting this month under the title Resurrection. The cast includes Omar Epps of House and Kurtwood Smith of That ‘70s Show. Did you ever imagine your novel would be adapted into a TV show? How involved were you in the production?
JM: I never dreamed The Returned could be optioned by anyone. It just wasn’t something that entered my mind at all. In fact, when my agent said she was sending the manuscript to a film rights agent my first reaction was “Why?” Next thing I knew the rights had been sold. It still amazes me to this day.
I don’t have much involvement in the production, and that’s perfectly okay with me. My plate is pretty full right now and, even more than that, I have a deep respect and trust for the people involved in the production of the television show. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the showrunner, the producers, and even the cast members. All of them are approaching the project with such a level of passion and enthusiasm that I can’t help but be thrilled. They’re all amazingly talented professionals, the best thing I can do is stay out of their way and let them work their magic.
Jason Mott holds a BA in fiction and an MFA in poetry and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Jason lives in North Carolina.
This post originally appeared on Zola Books.