Living

His debut novel got him fame and a TV show. But author's North Carolina home keeps him grounded.

"The Crossing" by North Carolina native Jason Mott.
"The Crossing" by North Carolina native Jason Mott. Park Row Books

North Carolina native and bestselling author Jason Mott writes a cautionary tale about the end of the world as we know it if good people turn a blind eye to the chaos around them.

In his new dystopian novel, “The Crossing,” orphaned twins Virginia and Tommy Matthews are travelling to see a space launch before the world comes to an end. Between wars and a disease wiping out whole populations, the siblings must fight to survive. They are faced with tests and challenges that could destroy them.

Kirkus Review describes Mott’s new novel as “beautifully written and touching on some fascinating ideas.”

His first novel, “The Returned,” a New York Times bestseller in 2013, was adapted into the ABC supernatural TV series, "Resurrection," which lasted two seasons. Inspired by his mother, it tells the story of how people who have presumably died mysteriously return to the living and attempt to reclaim their lives.

RAL_ Jason Mott (c) Michael
North Carolina native and bestselling author Jason Mott writes as a warning about the end of the world as we know it if good people turn a blind eye to the chaos around them in his new dystopian novel, “The Crossing.” Michael Becker

He’s also the author of the novel, “The Wonder of All Things,” and two poetry collections: “We Call This Thing Between Us Love” and “…hide behind me…”

The 39-year-old Mott is the writer-in-residence at UNC-Wilmington, where he received a bachelor’s degree in fiction and a MFA in poetry. He was nominated for a 2009 Pushcart Prize award, and Entertainment Weekly listed him as one of 10 “New Hollywood: Next Wave” people to watch.

During a telephone interview from his home in Bolton, a community in Columbus County, Mott took a few minutes to talk about “The Crossing,” his success as a writer and his love for North Carolina. He will be at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh May 22.

'The Crossing' inspiration

Q: What inspired "The Crossing"?

A: Honestly, a lot of it was inspired by the daily news cycle. "The Crossing" was a mixture of the news and my childhood love of science, and my love of the space program growing up. I remember watching the Challenger disaster on television in class at school and the impact it had on me … The book does talk about the Challenger explosion and how that changed America and the perception of people in science.

It also comes back to the news cycle and this unease, fear, uncertainty and worry that we all have now. Not just in terms of international politics, in terms of North Korea and Syria and all the things going on there. But it seems like there is so much in the U.S.

I think writers across the board will be funneling that tension into their work by whatever means they can. For me, "The Crossing" is an extrapolation of all these tensions and fears that I have and other people have now about war and the fate of ecology. What happens if you stretch and play them out as they could possible go and put characters in the mix?

Q: "The Crossing" is a dystopian novel. Talk about why you set your novel in a world with such duality.

A: The more you press characters, the more pressure you put upon them, the more you are able to explore who they are. This dystopian kind of landscape the characters are moving through is my personal nightmare of what America could become. … There’s a healthy element in explaining what things could be, even as if only as a warning to say to people, this is how things could possibly go without us doing a certain due diligence.

Sweet Surreal Success

Q: Your first novel, "The Returned," was made into the television series “Resurrection.” Talk about having that kind of success out of the gate?

A: It was pretty overwhelming and a little bit intimidating and scary, but also a whole lot of fun. Having that kind of success is so rare, it’s like a lottery ticket experience. You never expect it to happen. You go from working at a job 40 hours a week, a job you don’t really like, to suddenly being able to the things you wanted to do your entire life. … It’s a big lifestyle change. It’s a big moment. It’s all those things at once. ... It’s still very surreal and strange to me.

Resurrection TV.jpg
"Resurrection," an ABC TV series starring Omar Epps, left, Frances Fisher and Kurtwood Smith, was based on the debut novel by Jason Mott, "The Returned." It was on ABC for two seasons. Guy D'Alema ABC

The Art of Poetry

Q: You have an MFA in poetry. How does that inform you work?

A: I began with a bachelor’s degree in fiction. Fiction was my first love. But once I got into college, I discovered my love of poetry. Poetry forces you to be reductive and to be very to the point in phrasing. It forces you to boil down things in very articulate ways.

In fiction, you can sprawl out and take long time to say something. In poetry you don’t have that space. You have to do it in the most economic and efficient form and still somehow make it seem beautiful. Poetry trains you in that method. That was something I was able to translate into my fiction.

I used to have a really overly long-winded style of writing in terms of my fiction. I would have a whole page of meandering writing. Once I got into poetry, I could take a whole page and boil it down to three or four sentences while having the same feeling and impact. Poetry gives you a really strong skill set for brevity and function in a small space.

North Carolina is Home

Q: At this point, you could live in New York or L.A. Why do you still live in North Carolina? What keeps you here?

A: It’s a mixture of several things. I really love North Carolina as a whole. I’ve lived here my entire life, so this is home to me. Beyond that, my family and friends are all kind of rooted here. We spend a lot of our lives looking for people who make us feel like family and places that feel like home. I’ve been fortunate enough to find that in a pretty small location range.

I have sisters in High Point, friends in Durham and Morehead City and all kinds of places around the state who are really important to my life. Rather than live somewhere else, and not get to see them, I chose to stay here, where I have a house and place I love.

Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at bridgettelacy@att.net.

Details

Jason Mott will talk about his novel, “The Crossing,” (Park Row Books, $26.99) May 22 at 7 p.m. Quail Ridge Books, 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, in North Hills Shopping Center in Raleigh. For more, go to jasonmottauthor.com.

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