In 2010, Rafi Crohn picked up a paperback called The Reincarnationist Papers in a hostel in Nepal. On the first page, author D. Eric Maikranz (Russ’91) offered a cash reward to any reader who could help get the book made into a Hollywood movie.
As an assistant to a movie producer, Crohn was instantly intrigued by both the proposal and the book’s puzzle-box plot.
Part sci-fi thriller, part mystery and part historical fiction, the novel follows a shadowy society called the Cognomina made up of reincarnated individuals with total recall of their past lives.
“They’re very cosmopolitan and educated people who’ve led very enriched lives,” Maikranz said. “Some characters go back 10 or 20 lives.”
How the self-published paperback found its way to Nepal remains a mystery. At the time, there were only a thousand copies in circulation.
“I had no idea if it would work,” said Maikranz. “It’s even more mind-blowing that Rafi found it halfway around the world.”
The idea sprung from Maikranz’s work as a programmer at Oracle, which often uses collaboration and customer input to improve its products. “Essentially, I crowdsourced my readers to become my agents,” he said.
And — it worked. Crohn and Maikranz paired up on a quest for a movie deal.
For the next nine years, Crohn championed the book in what would be a rollercoaster ride of emotions. They’d get a nibble from a production company one month, an option here, a producer interested there. Right when it seemed like a done deal, the project would get shelved. Finally, in 2017, it sold to Paramount. The film, titled Infinite, stars Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor and was released on Paramount+ in June.
In 2019, Maikranz traveled to an abandoned Victorian mansion-turned-movie-set in England to see the filming of Infinite and to meet Wahlberg between takes.
“I was absolutely terrified. I speak in front of thousands of people for work; I don’t really rattle. But I couldn’t even hold a cup of tea,” said Maikranz. “Wahlberg said to me, ‘Eric, I hope to make you proud of my portrayal of your character.’ I was floating like a butterfly.”
Maikranz gained inspiration for this unique adventure through a combination of travel, historical study and personal experience.
After graduating from CU, Maikranz moved to Italy to serve as a foreign correspondent. On the side, he gave tours of the Coliseum and the Forum, bringing the past to life through historical characters.
“Every generation has its Kardashians and Clintons,” he said. “That was killer training for storytelling on the page.”
Maikranz also found inspiration for the novel through his own curiosity about reincarnation.
“I have three memories that don’t belong to me,” he said. “The oldest one is from around 1880. I’m a little boy holding a man’s hand as we watch huge black steam locomotives pull up to the tracks.”
Does he believe in reincarnation? “I don’t have a strong metaphysical stance on it. I don’t necessarily believe in it, but I don’t not believe in it.”
Maikranz also credits his time at the university.
“In a way, I’m equipped to write this novel because the 22-year-old version of me went to CU and studied the Russian giants.”
He is inspired by the idea that even in our current existence, we’re different people at different parts of our lives.
With the release of Infinite, Maikranz plans to take a six- to 12-month leave of absence from Oracle to focus on writing — and to take time for dropping in on Zoom book clubs. The second book in the series, The Cognomina Chronicles, is in the works.
“After 30 years, I’m finally getting to use my degree in literature to the fullest,” he said.
Photo courtesy Paramount+