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Jason Mott: Happy to have readers, time to write

SALISBURY — There’s no hint that Jason Mott went from college student to bestselling author to having a TV show made from his debut novel, “The Returned” when you talk to him. He’s just happy to be writing.
Maybe you’ve seen the ABC TV show, “Resurrection,” with a cast of familiar and talented actors. If you haven’t, you can always read the book, and, if you’re at Rowan Public Library Monday night at 7, you can talk to Mott himself.
Mott was scheduled to be here for the Rowan Reading Rendezvous Saturday, but was double-booked. He felt bad about that, and worked out the Monday night appearance. Mott says all the attention is a double-edged sword, but he loves talking to readers and hearing their stories.
In fact, he laughs when asked about his sudden celebrity. He’s still living in Bolton, a small town in the Wilmington area, where he was born and raised. He’s still sitting down every day to write, just sending his second novel, “The Wonder of All Things,” on for the publishing process. And he was able to give up his day job as a Verizon customer service representative.
Some have said Mott’s good fortune is a combination of luck and good timing, and he laughs about that, too. It is, he says, a mix of “luck and talent, preparation and good timing. I spent a lot of years learning to be a better writer, making a better product.” You have to have a good product to get that knock on the door, he says. “I’ll never discount timing, but I worked hard and long.”
The plot of “The Returned” is that people long dead are returned to their loved ones at the same age they were at death. The primary characters in the book, Harold and Lucille Hargrave, lost their son 50 years ago when he drowned at age 8. He is returned, without explanation, triggering a wave of returned people, raising multi-layered, emotional questions. Some people are ecstatic their lost loved ones have returned. Others are more ambivalent. Can the dead really come back to us?
Mott has told the story of his inspiration over and over. He lost his mother in 2001, and his father in 2007. One day, years after his mother had passed, he had a vivid dream of sitting at the kitchen table with his mother and talking for hours. He was so convinced it was true, he expected to see her in the living room when he got up, but, of course, she wasn’t there.
Already a writer of short stories and poetry, Mott wrote a short story about that dream, and it gradually developed into the novel. Mott calls the novel magical realism, a genre quite popular with today’s readers. He was influenced by a life of reading. “When I was a kid, my Mom and Dad would drop me off at the town library and it was so small everyone knew everyone. … I read ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘The Iliad,’ a lot of classics,” fairy tales, folklore and mythology. “It was when I read ‘Grendel,’ by John Gardner, that I realized what I could do. I didn’t realize you could do that, take a classic story and make it your own. I had never seen someone do that.” Mott says he “needed permission to write this (‘The Returned’)” and that book gave him that permission.
Mott, who also has published two books of poetry, “We Call This Thing Between Us Love” and “… hide behind me …,” says his poetry is a little different — it focuses on superheroes. He’s a big comic book fan. The second collection is about his father’s death and superheroes.
“The Returned” took him about a year for a draft, and the editing went on for six to nine months. In a year and a half, it was ready. “I try to do a manuscript a year, one big project every year. ‘Returned’ was my project for the year. I didn’t expect everything to happen, then all at once, it did.”
He cites good work habits. He gets up about 6:30 or 7 a.m. and sits down at the computer to write. He goes at it until about 11, takes a break, and finishes up about 1:30 or 2, then runs his errands, answers email and does some phone interviews.
He learned “a dramatic amount” from his agent and editor. “They help you see what readers see.” His agent and editor helped him to “understand entry points into the book, where to make stronger emotional moments.”
Every day he writes, he finds something new about writing, he says. He is avoiding reviews and stays away from sales numbers, advice he got from other writers. He’s still friendly with and listens to advice from other UNC-Wilmington writers, especially Philip Gerard, who he says was a massive help, David Gessner and Rebecca Lee.
Though some expect his book to be in the horror genre, or supernatural, Mott says his goal is for people to focus on the here and now and cherish time with individuals. As he worked on the project, it revealed to him the people in his life “and their value and what they contributed to me.” After his parents died, people embraced him and acted as a stand-in for his parents. That’s who Lucille and Harold are based on. “It’s great to have that feeling of love and being welcomed. Hardships come and go, and they will hurt, but you must value the time you have with them while you have them.”
Mott heavily outlines his work, building a narrative and playing through to find out what the responses would be. “The elements of the outlines are very fluid,” but when he’s going full bore, he likes to have some kind of plan. He doesn’t stay up late sweating bullets. “The computer will never call you back once you leave it,” he says. The key is to be disciplined.
He hasn’t had much to do with the TV show, but he likes what he sees. He loves the cast and thinks Omar Epps is perfect as Bellamy, the detective.
The best thing all this has brought him is the opportunity to have an audience, for people to read his work. “Writing full time is still challenging, more so than anything I’ve ever done.”
He never expected it to work out this way. He expected “like seven people to read it, like the poetry. Then everything happened very quickly. … I’m a very private, low-key guy. I don’t get that chance now. I’m not 100 percent comfortable with it, but I’m still adjusting. The feedback from readers, their personal stories, balance it all out.”
Mott will be at Rowan Public Library Monday at 7 p.m. to discuss his book.

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