D. Eric Maikranz had a multitude of lives in this life. He worked as an industrial welder before attending the University of Colorado to study Russian literature, was a foreign correspondent in Rome, translated for relief doctors in Nicaragua during a cholera outbreak, and was once forcibly deported. from Laos. He’s worked as a tour guide, radio host, bouncer (at Denver’s legendary Rock Island nightclub), and software executive in Silicon Valley. He lives in Denver.
Sunny: Tell us the story of this book. What inspired you to write it? Where does the story/theme come from?
Maikranz: The story idea for “The Reincarnationist Papers” was born out of three short memories I have that are not mine. I can’t explain them, and they’re not mine, but they’re as real as all my memories. I took this idea and extended it to create characters who remember every detail and experience from their past lives. This includes languages, loves, losses and everything they had learned in one, two or even twenty past lives.
What inspired me to develop this idea of accumulating the experience of past lives in a novel is the old adage: if i knew then what i know now. These reincarnationists have remembered enough past lives to know (from experience) that they will be come back in a new body after they die and they know they will be remember who they were, but they don’t immediately remember their past lives. Memories of their past begin to creep into their minds at the age of 17-18 (into their new body), so after they fully remember and reintegrate all of their past life experiences, they have the wisdom and the knowledge of a 200 year old man or even a 1200 year old man in a 20 year old body.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
This provides great wish fulfillment for the reader (and for me as the author) imagining how they would live as a young person with a lifetime of experience, but in a way this wish fulfillment is also true for us in our regular lives. I was further inspired by a quote that I keep on my desk: “Every man is his own ancestor, and every man his own heir. He designs his own future and he inherits his own past. –Frederick Henry Hedge, 19e-transcendentalist century.
This quote struck me with a realization that each of us is a different person at different stages of our lives. We are children, students, workers, parents, retirees, grandparents and teachers. And the work, experiences, and wisdom we gain at each stage hopefully enables the person we become at the next stage to inherit those gifts from our past or present. For example, I write these words to the readers of the Colorado Sun now because I studied composition in high school, then literature at the University of Colorado, then I wrote as a journalist, and those were the gifts that Eric Maikranz the author needed in his thirties and forties to complete this work.
Put this excerpt into context. How does it fit into the whole book? Why did you select it?
This 2,000-word excerpt is a key discovery scene where the main character, 22-year-old Evan, who is troubled by complete memories of two past lives [Bulgarian soldier Vasili, and American boy Bobby]suddenly realizes that he is not the only person in the world who remembers everything from his past lives.
In this scene, Evan was shot in the foot while fleeing the scene of his latest arson job. He hides behind a church in an industrial district of Los Angeles where he is rescued by the sole occupant of the church, an enigmatic woman. [Poppy]. Poppy has expertly treated the young man’s injuries and now suspects that Evan might be more than meets the eye. She gave him an old and expensive cane to help him get to his favorite picnic spot, where she plans to share his secret to try to discover his.
Tell us about the creation of this book. What influences and/or experiences influenced the project before you sat down to write the book?
I studied Russian language and literature at the University of Colorado, so all the Russian giants really had an impact on me. For the influences on spiritual matters and the consequences that flow from characters reincarnating over and over again, whether they were virtuous or wicked in their past lives, I have read (and re-read) Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov, but I have also drawn from some favorite readings of Camus and Kafka to explore existential points like what your life means if it’s not entirely yours and you’re an amalgam of [past] personalities.
Once you started writing, did the story take you in unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe the treatment of a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Yes, it did a few times and it felt a bit like a magic trick. I love when that happens. I remember I was at the keyboard writing dialogue for a character and a clear voice came through that wasn’t mine, but it was perfect for the character.
I think it’s the kind of moment as a writer where you turn around and look behind you and then pray that the voice stays with you for a while when you come back to the page.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face or surprises you encountered when publishing this book?
My biggest challenge was getting the book out to an audience. After finishing the novel, I tried to get it published in the traditional way, but without success. So to overcome this challenge, I took a lesson from my daily job as a software engineer to get help from readers.
In software and systems design, we often engage early adopters for their feedback and assistance in improving a new program through a technique called “crowdsourcing”. The Linux operating system does it, Wikipedia does it too. I created a self-published version of “The Reincarnationist Papers” and put a reader reward on the front page. The reward was an agent’s commission for any reader who read the book, liked it, and pitched it to a Hollywood director or producer who would adapt the book into a movie. It was a message in a bottle marketing scheme where each reader was empowered to act as an agent.
It seemed like a wacky idea, until it worked. A young Hollywood assistant to a director found a copy of “The Reincarnationist Papers” in a hostel in Nepal. He read the book, loved it, and he contacted me about the award, saying he could have the book adapted into a movie. The rest is history, as “The Reincarnationist Papers” was adapted into the 2021 film “Infinite” starring Mark Wahlberg.
This led to the traditional publishing deal that had been so difficult in the beginning and “The Reincarnationist Papers” was officially released in 2021. It was a wild and surprising journey to get this book on the shelves.
Did the book raise questions or spark strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Yes, some find the book provocative because it removes karma and consequences from traditional themes of reincarnation. These characters continue to reincarnate, but there is no improvement or decline in their next life based on their behavior in the previous life.
So that naturally raises a question for them (and for the reader): how would you live your life if you knew there would be no rewards for good behavior and no consequences for bad behavior? Would you live for others or would you live for yourself?
Some readers recoil from this look at what could be a moral abyss, but most readers appreciate the paths that different characters take to justify (or not justify) their decisions and direction in life after life.
Tell us about your writing process: where and how do you write?
I write in the morning. I get up at 5am most days and go straight to the keyboard with the goal of 1,000 words a day on the first draft. I’m a plotter, not a pant, which means I’m outlining and structuring the whole book rather than writing by the seat of my pants.
When I sit down to start a new book, I prepare myself for the ascent because looking up from that first blank page, the book described looks like a mountain in front of me. The routine is to press day after day until the first draft is done, then I have to let the work rest (I imagine it as a newly forged work that can cool down enough to pick it up again) before starting on the repechage 2-8. And yes, it will take me 8-10 drafts to get it where I want it.
If you knew you would live again in a new body and remember everything you experience now (think practical reincarnation), how would that change the way you live today? Would you take more risks? Would you like more adventures? Would you ignore the consequences of a possible failure in the pursuit of your dream?
Maybe you should live like this now because you will be be a different person 10 years from now – and that future version of yourself might wish you hadn’t believed you were going to be someone new today.
Tell us about your next project.
I have just completed Draft 9 of Book II of “The Cognomina Codex” in “The Reincarnationist Papers” series. It is currently with my publisher and should be on bookstore shelves in March 2023.