Hayden's Ferry Review


Not Your Standard Undead Tale: An Interview with Jason Mott by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum & Matthew Huff (Part 3)

[Check out part one and part two of the interview!]

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 on March 9, 2014.

This conversation took place in May of 2013.

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum & Matthew Huff: The Returned takes place in the small, Southern town of Arcadia. When Arcadia is selected as a location for a Bureau internment camp (as more and more returned flood the streets of America, the Bureau decides that “temporary” incarceration is their only option) the novel changes from a story about a small town to a story about a small town taken over by Colonel Lewis and his camp. The story also takes on a lot of historical weight from this point on. The Holocaust, for example, is referenced. A pretty serious risk.

Jason Mott: There were some delicate steps taken when I was working on this part of the novel. You know, once you tread into that territory there are so many things that people start bringing to the reading and interpretation of the book.

At the same time, when I was in grad school I did this project which focused on Japanese internment camps during WWII. So I spent a couple of years researching camp Topaz out near Salt Lake and learned a lot about that type of life and what those people endured. Many of the camps were quite nice but others were just devastating. These were just ordinary U.S. citizens who happened to be Japanese and all of a sudden they were jailed in these camps. That stuck with me for a long time. I think that this section of the book was largely a reaction to this past and also from a fear that it might happen again. It seemed important to me to write about.

Given the unique circumstances that occur during the book, you would need these pre-built/fabricated rural areas to put these camps in (old schools, for example). The town of Arcadia (modeled more or less of the town my mom is from) fit that purpose perfectly. And it made logical sense for the story too. The returned were growing in number and the US reached a point where they had to figure out what to do with all of these unaccounted people. Not all people are wanted back by their families—

AMK&MH: Right, when Agent Bellamy asks Harold if he wants to keep Jacob, he first says “No.”

JM: Exactly. Imagine how many people might reject the returned. There are only so many people that any one place can hold. Ergo, you have to keep these people somewhere. These camps made the most sense. So I don’t think it’s fair to say I’m making a political statement here but to deny the historical/political reference it makes would be ludicrous.

There certainly are shadows of the Holocaust here. Any time you have a group of people who are perceived to be different based upon race, religion, creed, etc., (in this case they people discriminated against used to be alive!) you have, I think, the potential for a lot of turmoil, chaos, and instances of regular, everyday people making poor choices. But you also have extremists. That’s why the Colonel Lewis shows up. I try to make characters who counter one another.

AMK&MH: The Returned doesn’t have a huge, explosive ending, which makes it (aside from the writing itself, its pacing and structure) a shade more literary than it might be with a more punctuated climax.

JM: I didn’t want a terribly dramatic ending. In small towns, you can have feuds, but there are limits to how far they will take them. It’s very rare that any feuds end in bloodshed. You’ll shoot someone’s dog, but you won’t shoot them. There’s lots of animal theft and weird things like that but not much more, While you can fight all you want in a small town, when something bigger comes along, you head over to that person’s house and help them out, even if you hate them. If a hurricane comes through a town like that, you’ll find sworn enemies helping to rebuild each-others homes. You can hate them later.

I really wanted this small town dynamic represented in the characters. I wanted these characters, when they finally confronted one-another, not to be strangers. They still live in the same town and are both part of that community. So when Fred finally confronts Harold, when Fred demands he let him kill the returned Harold is keeping safe, when that big, explosive climax should happen, it can’t.

AMK&MH: They’re also cast in extreme circumstances. Harold seems pretty cognizant of that. He basically gets what’s going on; he understands what Fred is up to. That’s one of the things about the book that I really liked, when they finally get to the big confrontation Fred’s like, “I’m gonna burn your house down, but it’s cool cause you have insurance.” Hilarious!

JM: That’s kind of what I’m saying, no matter how much you dislike someone, there are limits to what kind of damage you’ll do. You can absolutely hate someone, but you still won’t want to do them permanent damage, and if push comes to shove you help them out. In small towns, there isn’t a lot of outside help, so you’re somewhat forced to rely on one another.