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Jason Mott's Debut Novel The Returned Has Some "No-answer Questions"

What would you do if your dead loved ones came back to life? Just walked up to the front door and said, "Hey, I'm back." Author Jason Mott explores that idea in his debut novel The Returned. Along with earning Mott legions of readers, the book has inspired the ABC television series Resurrection.

Mott's "overnight success" took a few years. After graduating from the creative-writing program at the University of North Carolina, Mott worked as a customer service representative during the day while writing at night. The Returned was the first title he sold, but it was the sixth manuscript he shopped around.

The soft-spoken Mott says the response to The Returned has made for quite a "whirlwind ride" over the last several months. Although he's worked at becoming a writer since he was 14, Mott says some aspects of his success have been unexpected.

"One thing I never saw coming was the e-mails from people who talk about how the book has inspired them, how they're remembering people that they lost," Mott tells us. "They've been very personal, very private stories and that people feel comfortable enough to share them with me has been very exciting, very special. I never saw that coming."

The book centers on society's response when the dead are mysteriously reanimated. The returned haven't aged while they were gone and have no memory of where they've been. Some people believe a miracle has brought the returned back to life. Others see their presence as a sign of the end times. As society grapples with what to do with the newly-undead (quarantine them seems a popular option), families struggle with the choice of embracing or fearing their returned loved ones. Among the most traumatized are the parents of dead children who have returned. They move between elation and hysteria.

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Mott purposefully left some questions in The Returned unanswered. For example, Mott never clarifies exactly where the returned were while they were away. Were they in heaven? In limbo? Hell? Readers have speculated and offered up their own theories in an effort to cajole Mott into revealing the answer. "[Readers] always want me to answer the question for them and I have to tell them that's a no-answer question," he laughs. He admits that's not a very popular response but adds that overall the book, unanswered questions and all, leaves readers happy.

"I wanted to write a book that when people finished it, they could think about it and so far that seems to be working. This is a book about coming to terms with things that are often hard to come to terms with. It definitely tackles what can be a very difficult topic but when people come away from it, they're rejuvenated and happy.

"There's a moment for the characters where they have the catharsis that they need and hopefully the readers are able to have something similar. I didn't want to write a book where people are sad at the end, or frustrated or even exhausted. I want people to be uplifted by the ending and hopefully readers are getting that."

Jason Mott signs and discusses The Returned at 7 p.m. on April 2 at Blue Willow Bookshop, 14532 Memorial. For information, call 281-497-8675 or visit bluewillowbookshop.com. Free.

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