D. Eric Maikranz has had a multitude of lives in this lifetime. 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 epidemic, and was once forcibly expelled from Laos. He has worked as a tour guide, radio host, bouncer (at legendary Denver nightclub Rock Island), and Silicon Valley software executive. He lives in Denver.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Maikranz: The story idea for “The Reincarnationist Papers” originated from three short memories that I have which don’t belong to me. I can’t explain them, and they are not mine, but they are as real as all of my memories. I took this idea and stretched it out to create characters who remember every detail and experience from their past lives. This includes languages, loves, losses, and everything they had ever learned in one, two, or even twenty past lives.
What inspired me to expand this idea of accumulating experience from past lives into a novel, was the old saying: if I only knew then what I know now. These Reincarnationists have remembered enough past lives to know (from experience) that they will come back into a new body after their death and they know they will remember who they were, but they don’t remember their past lives right away. The memories from their past begin to creep into their minds at age 17-18 (in their new bodies), so after they fully remember and reintegrate all their past life experiences they have the wisdom and knowledge of a 200-year-old or even a 1200-year-old in a 20-year-old body.
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This provides some great wish fulfillment for the reader (and for me as the author) in imagining how they would live as a young person with lifetimes of experience, but in a way this wish fulfillment is true for us in our regular lives as well. I was further inspired by a quote that I keep at my desk: “Every man is his own ancestor, and every man his own heir. He devises his own future and he inherits his own past.” – Fredrick Henry Hedge, 19th-century Transcendentalist.
This quote hit me with a realization that each of us are different people 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 allow the person we will become at the next stage to inherit those gifts from our past or present selves. For example, I am writing 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 these were the gifts that Eric Maikranz the author needed in his thirties and forties to complete this work.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? 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 he is not the only person in the world who can remember everything from his past lives.
In this scene, Evan has been shot in the foot as he fled the scene of his latest arson-for-hire job. He hides behind a church in an industrial neighborhood in Los Angeles where he is rescued by the church’s lone occupant, an enigmatic woman [Poppy]. Poppy has expertly addressed the young man’s injuries and now suspects Evan might be more than he seems. She has given him an expensive, antique walking cane to help him to her favorite picnic spot, where she plans to share her secret in an attempt to discover his.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually 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 influences on spiritual questions and consequences that arise from characters who reincarnate over and over regardless of whether they were virtuous or villainous in their previous lives, I read (and re-read) Dostoevsky and Bulgakov, but I also drew on some favorite reads from Camus and Kafka to explore existential points like what does your life mean if it is not entirely yours and you are an amalgam of collected [past] personalities.
Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with 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 it happens. I remember I was at the keyboard writing dialogue for a character and some clear voice came that was not my own, but it was perfect for the character.
I think that’s the kind of moment as a writer where you turn around and look behind you, and then pray that voice stays with you for a while as you return to the page.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in getting this book published?
My biggest challenge was getting the book out to an audience. After I finished the novel, I tried to get it published traditionally but was unsuccessful. So to overcome that challenge, I borrowed a lesson from my day job as a software engineer to get some help from readers.
In software and systems design, we often engage early users for their feedback and assistance in improving a new program via a technique called “crowdsourcing.” Linux operating system does this, Wikipedia does this, too. I created a self-published version of “The Reincarnationist Papers” and I put a reward for readers on the first page. The reward was an agent’s commission to any reader who read the book, loved it, and introduced it to a Hollywood director or producer who would adapt the book into a movie. It was a message in a bottle marketing plan where each reader was empowered to act as my agent.
It seemed like an outlandish 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 reward, claiming that he could get the book adapted into a movie. The rest is history, as “The Reincarnationist Papers” was adapted into the 2021 movie “Infinite” starring Mark Wahlberg.
This led to the traditional publishing deal that had been so challenging at the beginning and “The Reincarnationist Papers” was formally published in 2021. It has been a wild and surprising journey to get this book onto bookshelves.
Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Yes, some find the book provocative because it removes karma and consequence from traditional themes of reincarnation. These characters keep reincarnating, but there is no improvement or decline in their next life based on their behavior in the previous life.
So this naturally raises a question to them (and to the reader): how would you live your life if you knew there would be no reward for good behavior and no consequence for bad behavior? Would you live for others, or would you live for yourself?
Some readers recoil from this peek into what could be a moral abyss, but most readers enjoy the paths different characters take to justify (or not justify) their decisions and direction lifetime after lifetime.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
I write in the morning. I get up at 5 a.m. most days and get right to the keyboard with the goal of 1,000 words a day during the first draft. I’m a plotter, not a pantser, meaning I outline and structure the entire book versus writing by the seat of my pants.
When I sit down to start a new book, I brace myself for the climb because looking up from that first blank page, the outlined book looks like a mountain before me. The routine is to press on 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 being allowed to cool enough to be able to pick it up again) before I start on draft 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 that you experience now (think practical reincarnation), how would that change the way you live today? Would you take more risks? Would you go on more adventures? Would you ignore the consequences of possible failure of pursuing your dream?
Perhaps you should live that way now because you will be a different person in 10 years – and that future version of you may look back with regret that today’s you didn’t believe that you would become someone new.
Tell us about your next project.
I have just finished draft 9 of “The Cognomina Codex” book II in “The Reincarnationist Papers” series. It is with my publisher now and should be on bookstore shelves in March 2023.