Jason Mott’s The Returned has an elevator pitch most writers would envy: A family gets caught up in a worldwide event in which loved ones return from the dead exactly as they last were in life. Lucille and Harold Hargrave wonder: Is their dead eight-year-old son’s return a miracle or an impending sign of something horrible?
Mott says the book was inspired by everything from literary classics like The Odyssey to movies like Soylent Green—but the idea can also be traced to a single dream he had two years ago. "My mother passed away in July 2001, and each year, as the anniversary of her death approaches, she seeps into my mind," he says.
"In July 2010, I had a dream that I’d come home from work and found her sitting at my dining room table, waiting for me." But the thing he found most vivid and strange was the lack of “dream elements"—and how ordinary the vision was. "For the course of the entire dream, we simply talked. I told her about my life since her death. We just caught up, talking about grad school and life in general. We shared something only possible within the confines of the dream: a conversation between a mother and son."
The dream stayed with Mott for weeks, until he brought it up to his friend who asked him: "What if that really happened?" And then: "What if she wasn’t the only one?"
But if the dream was the final element of the puzzle for The Returned, the first pieces were things Mott read and watched as a teenager. "When I was in high school I remember having to read John Gardner’s Grendel for English class," Mott said. "I didn’t think writers were ‘allowed’ to reinterpret classic, canonical stories in this way." Gardner’s book, Mott said, showed him that the stories he grew up on were still alive and breathing, and could still teach him something new. "Not long after, I started scratching out my first short stories."
Thereafter, Mott went to school for both poetry and fiction, with each informing the other as his writing developed and matured—line integrity, rhythm, and tone particularly signified. And as Mott was writing, he continued reading—his tastes by this point included comics and graphic novels, classic sci-fi like Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, and contemporary fiction like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But the one book that keeps him writing? That would be William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which Mott revisits often and says is one of the best novels ever written.
So when he finally started tinkering around with what would eventually become The Returned, Mott knew what he wanted it to do. "I was going for a more human aspect," Mott said, “I wanted to take the magical and make it real." And that desire for reality all goes back to the dream: "I simply tried to bring a reader into a dream I once had, and I hope that they find some part of themselves there."
(Year: 2013 / Pub Month: September / Title: The Returned / Author: Jason Mott / Format: Hard Cover / ISBN: 978-0-7783-1533-9 / Price: $24.95 U.S. and $27.95 CAN.)