Screenwriter Goes Spooky in Her New Mystery Novel, 'Jane Was Here'

After four decades in the movie business, Sarah Kernochan found her bliss writing a book about reincarnation and dark karma

By Jessica Testa
Sarah Kernochan Jane Was Here image
Photograph: Kelley & Hall Book Publicity

The hard part was really playing the part of God. You have to put yourself in the place of a divinity who is designing the next incarnation to balance the previous incarnation. You have to say, how shall this person answer for sins of the past? What things will they carry over? Sometimes if you die of a certain thing in a previous life, it returns as a phobia or a weakness in your body. Someone who died of tuberculosis might have asthma. For all of the characters who have corresponding incarnations in the past, I had to contrive present lives for them that were very full and rich in detail and yet had echoes of the past so that the reader can make the connections.

More: What kind of reader did you have in mind?

SK: I was hoping to appeal to the reader who is interested in the more gently paranormal mystery, like The Lovely Bones. Obviously with young adults, they’re all interested in the paranormal. It’s always been an interest of mine, but I feel like vampires and werewolves are really tired stuff. I’m more interested in exploring my own beliefs through a richly plotted story so readers aren’t really aware of the author’s spiritual beliefs—in the same way that Alice Sebold had her own views of heaven in The Lovely Bones, but she didn’t hit you over the head with it.

More: Your last book came out in 1977. What was it like to return to writing in novel form, reinventing your career nearly 40 years later?

SK: Nora Ephron is a friend and is very inspiring to me. She seems to reinvent herself every decade. She was one of the early bloggers at a point when she felt like she hit a bump in the road. She was blogging because, like me, she just has to write. That led into a complete resurgence of her career. If you just keep expressing yourself, the means in which you express yourself are going to change according to your life changes. I never sat down and decided, I’m in my sixth decade now, I’ve got to be completely different, I’ve got to write a novel. It’s all the same urge that has ruled me my whole life. I don’t know what retiring is, and I know other people like that because they’ve never needed permission to do what they do. I don’t need anyone’s permission to write.

More: You prefer writing novels, then?

SK: It’s all I ever wanted to do. But it’s a very difficult way to make a living. Now, in particular, when not as much fiction is being bought by publishers and it’s not being read as much, it feels like a luxury to write novels.

More: You made a trailer for Jane Was Here. Did your roots in the movie industry have anything to do with that?

SK: Making trailers for books is being done more and more. If you’re lucky enough to get it to go viral, you can really sell your book. This is something I know how to do, so it’s pretty easy. I wrote a script and I went up to Boston where I was teaching advanced screenwriting at Emerson College and directed it using the Emerson students as crew and the cinematography teacher and Emerson equipment for free.

More: Can you see the book ever becoming a movie?

SK: I’m a screenwriter and I’m not sure how I would adapt that book. There are very few reincarnation movies—maybe four or five. That’s because if you’re really going to show those parallel lives, the audience can get very confused. If you’re doing it properly, no one resembles himself from one life to the next. If you have Cameron Diaz living one life and Mel Gibson living the next life, the audience can’t follow it. I’d love to see Jane Was Here as a movie, but I’m not holding my breath.

More: Books with supernatural themes are very popular right now. What do you think sets Jane Was Here apart?

First Published June 29, 2011

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