It’s fitting that D. Eric Maikranz’s debut novel, The Reincarnationist Papers, begins with discovery. The three notebooks that detail the lives of Evan Michaels—a man capable of reincarnation—are found among the clutter of an antique store in Rome, unwanted and unread.
But The Reincarnationist Papers itself lay undiscovered for some time. Maikranz attempted the traditional publishing route (get an agent, find a publisher) and received the traditional response: Thanks, but no thanks.
However, Maikranz believed in his book and chose to self-publish. He discounted the sale price and created an audience for himself. He even offered his fans an agent fee for anyone who could get The Reincarnationist Papers in front of a Hollywood producer and turn it into a movie.
Fast forward a decade, and The Reincarnationist Papers has become a film starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The works are now part of Blackstone Publishing, and The Cognomina Codex—the second book in the series—already has a starred review from Library Journal and a glowing endorsement from Diana Gabaldon.
I spoke with Maikranz to learn more about his journey, his movie, and his books.
The Cognomina Codex (which publishes March 7, 2023) is a sequel to your debut hit, The Reincarnationist Papers. The story follows Evan Michaels, a member of a secret society whose members possess total recall of their past lives. What challenges did you experience in creating a new incarnation of an established character like Evan for this sequel? Did you draw inspiration from any particular story?
The challenge is always that the character could be anyone in their new incarnation. So Evan could come back as anybody, but I drew inspiration from one place. When I started The Cognomina Codex, the war in Syria was raging, and all of these refugees were walking from the Middle East to Central Europe. It made me think that they could be any one of us. So that was my inspiration for bringing Evan back as Yousef from Syria in the second book.
You have said previously that an H.F. Hedge quote adequately captured your obsession with time and how time changes us all: “Every man is his own ancestor, and every man his own heir. He devises his own future, and he inherits his own past.” Other than a main character, what does The Cognomina Codex inherit from The Reincarnationist Papers?
In The Reincarnationist Papers, I introduced a group of a few dozen people that remembered all of the memories and experiences from their past lives and then I explored what life would be like if you were essentially centuries old. How would you live your life? What choices would you make? Would you live a virtuous life? Or would you lead a hedonistic life? I wanted to put the reader into the mind of these characters and see if they would identify with some of the choices these characters made.
In The Cognomina Codex, I take that same theme of ‘every person devises their own future and inherits their own past’ and put it into a longer timeline. Then I thought, what it would be like if you had seen the change from 1800 until now, from 1400 until 2023, from the year 800 until 2023?
I put that in the context of the destruction we're seeing with the world around us, even in our own lifetimes. That led me to two primary thoughts and two camps of Reincarnationists: 1. those who place their hope on mankind for a positive change, and 2. those who blame mankind for the changes that they've witnessed over the centuries.
What skill or knowledge would you say you have inherited most from your work on this series, from the first draft of the first book until now?
The knowledge I've inherited from the first book up to now is that writing a big series is really hard. You have a lot of information to come up with, a lot of world-building to do, a lot of characters to build, and a lot of history to research. But the hardest part is keeping it all accurate. As you flow in and out of current time into historical flashbacks, I have to make sure every historical flashback for each individual builds their character over the many different incarnations. It's harder than I thought it would be at the beginning.
Many first-time authors struggle to fight through the frustration and disappointment that comes with early rejection. While your first book earned both acclaim and success, it hasn’t always been an easy road, has it? What was it like to self-publish your novel, and what advice would you have for other aspiring authors?
The book has had some acclaim and success: it won an award and was adapted into a major motion picture, but it has not been an easy road. This is the road that most authors travel, especially at the beginning. It's one that's filled with rejection. And it's really hard to get a single agent or publisher to take you seriously and want to take a chance on you. But it's actually easy to reach an audience yourself. I learned that by self-publishing. You can get your book out there in front of people.
Sometimes you have to give it away. Sometimes you can charge. But the most important thing is getting your book in front of readers. An author who writes a book but who never has readers is like an incomplete circuit where you don't get feedback on what you're doing well, what you need to improve on, and what readers like. But if you do get your work in front of readers through self-publishing, you will attract readers who like your art.
Is it true that you offered an agent’s fee to any reader who could get the story in front of a Hollywood producer and help make it into a movie? What was that process like?
That is true. It was part of the self-publishing process that I did back in the 2008 2009 2010 timeframe. I'd already resolved to pay an agent's fee for getting the work in front of the wider audience, so then I thought why not just empower my readers to be agents for me?
So I put a reward on the first page of the self-published version, which said if you read this book and love it, and you know anybody in Hollywood, I will give you 10% of whatever a movie studio pays me if you will introduce it to someone who gets it made into a movie.
Then I just tried to get the book in front of as many readers as possible. So I priced it at 99 cents, and I priced it for free for a while. I priced physical copies for basically the cost of printing them. And it sounded like the craziest idea in the world until Thanksgiving Day 2010 when I got an email from a young man who had been working in Hollywood for just a couple of years.
He found a copy of The Reincarnationist Papers in a hostel in Katmandu, Nepal. [I have no idea how it got there.] He read it in a single sitting and emailed me about the reward right after. This was the man who got the book in front of Bellevue Productions and then eventually got it in front of Paramount Pictures who made the movie Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg.
The lesson is: Don't be afraid to take chances, and get your work in front of your readers. Good things can happen when you do.
I imagine that seeing your novel become adapted into a major motion picture must be a surreal feeling. Did you ever have a moment during that time where your experiences felt as though they came from someone else’s life?
The most surreal experience was going on set in England, in 2019. When we arrived we saw all of these people, hundreds of people, working on location at this former Rothschild family mansion in the English countryside. I met Mark Wahlberg, the director, and the crew, but the most surreal thing was walking back from the craft tent with Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the producer who had made all this happen.
He put his arm around me as we were walking and he said, “Take a good look around at this. All of this is happening because of an idea that came out of your head.” That was like an out-of-body experience. I flashed back to all the time I spent writing the book, trying to get it to a wider audience, and getting it in front of people in Hollywood. It was just really over the top and surreal.
Just as there is a cyclical nature to reincarnation, there’s a cyclical nature to drafting a novel: writing, self-editing, revisions, rewrites, etc. Is there a particular phase of the project you especially enjoyed or dreaded while working on The Cognomina Codex? How do you navigate that workflow?
Each book feels like it goes through many lives before it ends up in the hands of a reader. I enjoy the research, and I enjoy the writing. I almost always do a first edit of each chapter right after I finish it, then I go on to the next chapter. I set the book down once I've completed the first complete draft and let it cool for a while. In my mind, the new fresh manuscript is like a red hot piece of metal that I've just forged and I need to let it temper and cool until I can hold it again.
I usually set it aside for at least a month, then I pick it up and read it again with fresh eyes. On this reread, I try to imagine myself as the reader experiencing it for the first time and seeing if the book makes sense and works in the same way it did when I wrote it. That's how I navigate the writing workflow.
I hate that time between when I put it down and when I let it cool and pick it up again because I think about the book and wonder, “Oh my God, is it good enough? Is it going to hold together? Is it going to be a functioning book?”
When I read the book again and I see that it works, that's a very satisfying feeling that lets me know: “Hey, I guess I can do this.”
Is there anything else about The Reincarnationist Papers series (or other projects) that readers should know?
There will likely be two other books in the main series of The Reincarnationist Papers. I have those outlined now and will begin working on Book Three later in the year. I'm also planning a side project of a series of books based on Poppy, one of the main characters in the Reincarnationists.
My idea is a series of interviews, very similar to Interview with a Vampire or Stella Maris from Cormac McCarthy. I think that would be a very interesting way to explore her as a character – and she’s everyone’s favorite.
More to come.