Finding the Answer to the Meaning of Life

Photo © 2007 “spinster” on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

I’ve been absent here, because I’m working on a new novel. After collecting mounds of marketing data, I’ve discovered that I absolutely must write Confessions of a Veteran Software Developer— That’s not a novel, but a true story of my years as a professional software developer. However, I have to find a new title. (Apparently, lots of people love the concept, but no one—and I mean literally no one—cares for the title.) So I have to write Confessions, but I can’t yet, because I’m still planning that book.

Another thing I discovered is that when it comes to fiction, it really doesn’t matter what I write. Really. At some point, it probably will matter, because I’ll have fans that expect certain characteristics from my books. But for now, if I wan’t to be a novelist, the first thing I believe I have to do is to write like Nora Roberts (or Danielle Steel). That is, I don’t have to write the same kind of material they do—Thank God! But I need to write as prolifically as they, or at least as close as I can get.

Nora Roberts has published 211 books over the past 28 years, about one book every 7 weeks. Danielle Steel works at a similar pace.

I have quite a bit of catching up to do.

(Side note: I love ratting on pop writers like Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel. In reality, I enjoyed Safe Harbour by Danielle Steel, because of her deep characters and character interactions, and I have another one of her books in my to-read pile. As for Nora Roberts, I’ve been struggling my way through Northern Lights—my third-and-a-half attempt—and it’s just now starting to get interesting.)

The Meaning of Life

So right now—and this is where I was going—I’m zero-drafting a novel about finding the answer to the meaning of life. See, I don’t believe the meaning of life is as mysterious as we often make it out to be. (And for the record, I don’t believe the answer is 42.) Finding meaning in life is about extending ourselves beyond what we’ve already accomplished. This is a core psychological need, and each of us must find a way to meet it, whether through career or hobbies or study or friends or family or politics or faith…

A great degree of meaning in my life comes with writing, and not just relaying facts, but telling stories, and not just any stories, but stories with a purpose, life-expanding stories, stories dominated by deep characters, conjoined in their separate journeys, stories that challenge us to open our minds and inspire us to think about what we read and believe, and above all, stories that provide hope.

Every book I’ve written up until now has reflected this purpose:

I recently NetFlixed the Babylon 5 episode “Comes the Inquisitor”. When I first saw it years ago, I didn’t understand what it meant. But I think I get it now. Fulfillment is not just about getting what you want—and fans of Babylon 5 will see exactly what I’m referring to. Fulfillment is about being who you are, no matter how big a mountain you must face in order to do so.

Or as Washington Irving is said to have written: “Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.”

A Love Story about Finding the Answer to the Meaning of Life

The story I’m novelizing right now focuses on two characters, who find meaning in each other, set in the context of a complex, heart-wrenching love story. Here’s the one-sentence summary:

A single-minded businesswoman and her fun-loving ex-husband find the meaning of their futures, at a romantic, seaside cottage on Ardor Point.

As a taste, here’s a scene from the zero-draft. (This is terse and incomplete, but that’s part of the definition of “zero-draft.” I’ll be rewriting it completely. But expanding the outline into a zero-draft helps me work out the plot and flow of the story—the riskiest part of writing a novel—without committing to writing thousands of words, which I might otherwise need to throw out if they don’t work.)

When Eddie called her, Gail’s first question was how he got her cell phone number.

He explained that he had convinced Ann to let him ask her.

Ask her what?

He was throwing a dinner party Friday night at his parents’ cottage at Ardor Point, and he wanted to invite her. Ann and Bob were coming, too, and he thought that Gail might also like to see his parents again, because they always liked her.

Of course, they liked everyone.

Ardor Point, where’s that?


Gail was taken aback. “You’re all traveling to Maine, just for a dinner party?”

“Well, we’re also staying the weekend. Didn’t I mention that?”

“No. I don’t see how–”

“Before you decide, just tell me, what would I have to do or say to get you to come?”

Why is he so interested? He just wants to be friends, had a good time the other night and wants to continue in that vein. He’s not proposing anything untoward. She has her own room, and it’s a wonderful, relaxing place with some nice people she’d really enjoy meeting. And she needs to get away once in a while, like everyone else. And it’s completely free, no commitment, no cost. When is she going to get another offer like this again?

Okay, but no funny stuff. “I mean it.” She had decided that she did not want a repeat of their marriage. And that was final.

“No funny stuff,” he confirmed.