Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Joy is Where You Find It

By Tim Smith

I’ve always tried to be an upbeat, positive person, the Pollyanna in the crowd, trying to find the good in any situation. Throughout life, one of my mantras has been “It could be worse…”

Recently there’s been little joy in my life. Last month, I voluntarily left my post-retirement job as the editor of a weekly arts and entertainment publication. I still work for them from home as a freelancer and copy editor. The publisher turned out to be the worst boss I’ve ever worked under, a cross between Hitler and Atilla the Hun. I didn’t come out of retirement to be verbally abused every day, so I chose to leave. This came at the end of a summer that was so stressful, I couldn’t enjoy many of the things I typically do. We didn’t even get to celebrate the Fourth of July, because he refused to close the office that day.  

At first, I was relaxed and content. Then I began to miss the daily interactions with my former co-workers, with whom I have remained friendly. We got along well and made a good team, working together against the common enemy. Then, my life partner’s work schedule changed, resulting in a lot of double shifts and overtime. I found myself spending a lot of time alone in a big empty house.

One thing people don’t consider about retirement is that many of your work friends are still employed, and have their own things going on. When you leave someplace after 25 years like I did last year, among the tearful goodbyes are the false promises “We’ll keep in touch” and “Let’s do lunch.” Funny how these folks are always too busy to get together.

I’ve never been one who likes attending events by myself or dining out alone. I have done the solo travel thing and for the most part, I didn’t care for it. Even the times when I went to the Florida Keys alone, the aura wore off after the first couple of days. Times like those are when I tend to get myself in trouble. 

It occurred to me long ago that sometimes, you have to make your own joy, your own happiness. It’s important to do things that bring you pleasure, whether it’s writing, or watching a movie, or doing some project around your house, or just settling back with a good book. I had forgotten about these simple pleasures.

I finally decided to get out of my self-induced funk and rejoin the human race. I took stock of my situation and realized that I didn’t have it so bad, after all. Anything I perceived as being wrong could be fixed. I started keeping the same routine I had when I was working and forced myself to focus on writing. I reached out to a few friends and family members I hadn’t spoken to in a while. Social media, like Facebook groups, took on more importance and I reconnected with a few people from my past. A friend I used to work with included me in a group that plays trivia at a local sports bar every week. It turned out that those former co-workers actually had time for an occasional lunch or Happy Hour.

Sometimes, you have to be your own cheerleader.      

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rediscovering the Joy of Writing

I write under several pen names. Some of my pen names even have pen names. (Like, for example, I write my young adult gay romances under the name “Dylan James”, which is the YA-friendly pen name for “Cameron D James”, which is in itself a pen name.)

Altogether, my bibliography, ranging from a few magazine articles, to a crap-ton of short stories, to full-length novels, comes out at 103 publications. I’ve got two more books pretty much ready-to-go and I’m in the planning stage for perhaps a dozen more projects, again ranging from short stories to full length novels.

For me, sometimes writing and publishing can be a revolving door of projects. I finish one and I quickly move on to the next. Often I hit the “publish” button with little fanfare, really doing not much more than simply sharing it in my newsletter.

I treat writing like a job — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I sometimes lose the joy in all of this. I’m so focussed on getting my next project done and out so that I can move onto the project after that — and I sometimes forget to look at the milestones I’ve accomplished or to celebrate the joy of a book well-received.

(As well, it might be because of this sometimes lack of joy on my part that leads to very little fanfare on social media and very few reviews. I used to think it’s because I don’t flog my books. But now I think it’s that I don’t celebrate the joy of my books, so few people in turn celebrate that joy on my behalf.)

Last week was the publication of my first young adult romance novel, Gay Love and Other Fairy Tales. This was really a risk for me. Well, not a risk, but certainly a step outside of what I normally do.

For one, there’s no sex in a young adult novel. (Well, big publishers can sometimes get away with implied sex, but as a small press or an indie author, that’s a no-go for YA books.) It’s been years now since I’ve written something that didn’t include at least one fully explicit sex scene. It was … unusual.

It was also the book that we chose to launch my publishing company’s young adult imprint with — so it was the first book for Deep Hearts YA. If the book is a flop, then the publishing imprint gets off to a very weak start. It’s not impossible to recover from, but it can be challenging.

It’s also a brand new start for a brand new pen name — Dylan James. While it’s loosely tied to Cameron D. James, it is still separate. I had to build a platform in a matter of weeks without relying on my Cameron D. James clout — though I did try to flex that clout whenever I could.

Understandably, I was quite nervous about this book.

So it was with this book that I finally slowed down … finally re-discovered the joy of writing and publishing.

I got my first review the other day — five stars — and I’m currently on two top-100 lists on Amazon (teen LGBT romance and teen LGBT fiction). While of course reviews ride on the strength of the book, I can’t help but wonder if some of the success is due to me being joyful about the book. I talk about it on my Dylan James Twitter and I post about it on my Dylan James Instagram — I talk about it more than I usually talk about my books.

I think I need to do this more often.

I’ve also been talking a lot (especially on here) about my upcoming book New York Heat. I’m joyful about that one too. I’m excited to get it out and get people to read it. I haven’t felt this joyful about writing and publishing for a few years now. This is new. I like it.

I think I want to make this joyful attitude a regular thing. I should be excited about my writing and my books. Really, I am, but I need to show it more. If people can see I’m excited and joyful, hopefully they’ll feel the same. And that can only lead to good things.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay smut. His upcoming publication is the (surprisingly smut-free) gay YA romance, Gay Love And Other Fairy Tales, under his YA pen name, Dylan James.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Joy Is to Happiness as an Orgasm Is to a Backrub

Am I overdoing this? Sure. But joy is an eruption, a boiling over of emotion and/or senses. Your cat may show pleasure, purring and rubbing against your leg, but your dog greets you with frenzied, tail-wagging joy. Joy may well up inside you until you shed tears of joy, or come with metaphorical blasts of trumpets. In the Christmas carol “Joy to the World!” the implied trumpets come with implied angels. “Merry Christmas” speaks of fun, of enjoyment, while the supposed French equivalent “Joyeux Noel” seems to up the ante with a wish for a high pitch of joy.

Joy and enjoyment are not quite the same thing. Enjoyment seems to apply to an extended period of pleasure. You can enjoy an entire concert, or movie, or book, or conversation, or meal, but joy is the peak of enjoyment, the height of the crescendo.

All of this is, of course, just my spur-of-the-moment opinion. Joy, like pleasure, or happiness, or contentment, is an entirely subjective matter. When it comes to discussing writing about sex, as we so often do, joy plays a large role, not just in the climax but in as much intense foreplay as we can fit in. Okay, yes, I’m contradicting my “peak” claim above. Getting there can be almost as joyful as reaching the goal.

I’d better stop trying to analyze the meaning of joy and just post an excerpt that demonstrates, I now realize, how much I overused the term in a scene that I should have edited more carefully. I guess I was having too much fun.

A bit of context. This is from my story in Delilah Devlin’s anthology Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors, and it’s as het as het can be. As the Golden Horde of the Mongols pours across eastern Europe, the strong-minded Lady ruling a province of Armenia is entangled with the Mongolian Governor taking over her lands and people. Much strife ensues, until, just after she has saved her hunting falcon from his much larger gyrfalcon by shooting an arrow between them…

From "A Hawk in Flight"
Connie Wilkins

At first Ardzvik rode Yul, her long dark hair flailing across his body as she savored the exquisite joy of easing inch by inch onto his great length and breadth. Men were more like stallions than she had ever dreamed! Then he growled low, lurched atop her, and thrust deep and hard. Her hips arched upward to take him in still deeper. Her passage gripped him, yet let him slide in its wetness just enough to drive her to a peak of intensity close to madness. Sounds burst from her that were not words, and from him as well, until all she could hear was her own voice rising in a cry of triumph, her body wrenched by joy.
But Yul, she saw, when she could focus on anything outside herself, was braced above her on stiffened arms, face twisted, jaw grimly set, the cords of his neck standing out like tree roots. “I must…” he forced out the words. “I would not get a bastard on you!” He struggled to lift his great weight from her, to withdraw.
“Then you had better wed me!” Ardzvik cried. “I will have now what is mine!” Need surged in her again. She dug her hands into his clenched buttocks, gripped him close, and tightened her inner walls about his hardness until he had no words at all, only rough groans accelerating into a mighty roar. That sound, and the hot fierce flow of his seed, sent her into a second spasm of joy.
At last Yul rolled aside. She lay beside him, both breathing in the sunwarmed air as though they could never get enough. “I too will have what is mine,” he said at last. “But what of your priest?”
“Father Kristopor?” Ardzvik gave a short laugh. “I’ll wager that one will already have ordered extra candles for the ceremony in the chapel.” She lifted her head enough to rest it on his damp chest. “What of your Shaman? And the ceremonies of your people?”
A low chuckle made his chest rise and fall. “Much simpler. We pledge to each other outdoors under the Blue Eternal Sky, with respect for Mother Earth, and the Shaman chants such ancient songs and burn such herbs as he thinks proper. Each has his own ways. Then there is feasting, but that must be the same the world over.”
“Well then, we have made good progress already under the Blue Eternal Sky. But more would surely not be wasted.”
There was time, now, for Ardzvik to lean over Yul and explore his long, strong body, tracing the contours of his wide shoulders with her fingers, pressing her mouth into the hollow of his throat and feeling the vibrations of a moan too low for ears to hear, moving her lips across his great chest and around his nipples. She licked at salty traces of sweat all the way down past his belly to where his skin became paler and more tender. By then the sounds of his pleasure were loud enough to signal renewed arousal, already clear from the rising of his shaft. Still he remained unmoving, letting Ardzvik enjoy her journey.
The temptation to take him into her mouth was great, but she moved past with only a teasing flick of her tongue at the dewy pearl on his tip. His hands tightened painfully on her arms. She kept on downward along his strong thighs, heavily muscled as only those of a man who’d spent his life on horseback could be.
“Let me…” Ardzvik twisted so that she knelt between Yul’s widespread legs, gripping those powerful thighs and bending at last to savor the taste and feel of his hard, jutting shaft. His hips rose to thrust himself deeper into her mouth. She matched his rhythm, hearing the harsh sounds tearing from his throat, feeling them vibrate into her own core as though he touched her between her legs—and suddenly she needed him there more than she needed breath.  
She lifted her head. “Ride me!” she pleaded, rolling onto her back, and at once Yul was on her, in her, his thighs gripping her flanks. They raced together, soared together, until both shouted their triumph in tones as keen as any fierce pair of mating hawks. The sun, when they came to earth, was warm on their naked skin, and even clouds would not have diminished the inner heat they shared.                
The horse grew restive. The falcon, knowing there was meat for her in the saddlebag, began to make her hunger known. They could wait. Life would seldom be easy, peace was always fleeting, but nothing that bound together in joy the Lady of Aragatsotn and Yul Darugha would ever be a waste.

Ahem. Yes, one of those books with a naked, muscular male chest filling the cover image, except that in this case it’s a naked, muscular male back, with quite an artistic sword being held right down the middle. Very, um, tasteful. I do seem to have used my other name for this one. Just as well.

Note: I've been trying since last night to post this, and getting a "too many redirects" message. Thus morning I found a way around that, but the original problem is still there. Maybe fate was turning up its nose at the excerpt I chose. I probably should have gone with exhibitionist sex on a ledge in the Grand Canyon. That was joyful in its way, too.        

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Cure for Social Isolation, a post by @GiselleRenarde

I've had a rough couple weeks. Pretty common, for a depressed person. The difference this time was that I was started to feel socially isolated. I can't remember another time when I would have plastered that label all over myself, but it got so bad I started reaching out to actual humans. And I never do that.

I got in touch with my oldest friend. We have a close bond. I know stuff about her that she doesn't tell most people. I knew her when she was going through some tough PTSD shit. She knew me when I was young and foolish.

Now we live in different cities and we rarely see one another. We rarely even talk, but somehow that doesn't matter. The bond between us is so strong we don't need to be in constant contact to feel connected.

But sometimes I need support, and sometimes she does, and that's usually when we reach out to each other.

It was me reaching out, this time. We made plans to see each other. Unfortunately, the father of a friend of hers died, and she had to drive clear across the province for the funeral. We formulated new plans for when she'd be passing through Toronto on her way home, but the thing about my friend is that she has a very serious health condition and her depressed immune system meant she became quite ill and stuck in the small town where her friend lives.

So none of our plans panned out. I don't blame her, obviously. But that doesn't stop me from being sad that we didn't get to see each other.

Depression and social isolation mingle in this weird way where the isolation is crying out, "I want to see someone," and the depression is whispering, "No you don't.  You just stay right here by me."  It's so seductive, the way it holds you close and runs its fingers through your hair. Depression has such a good grip on a person like me. It knows how to keep me from seeking out solace in the social sphere.

Through all this, my girlfriend's been working her ass off getting ready for a charity event she helps to run. She called me one night when she'd planned on coming over and said she was just too tired.  She'd been doing hard physical labour for 12 hours. I understood.  But I was so sad about not being able to connect with anyone, not even my own girlfriend, that when she called I was just silent on the phone.  I couldn't speak. I was too sad, but I couldn't explain why. I literally couldn't produce words.

It led to a very unfortunate misunderstanding, which I couldn't clear up because... Depression. Sweet was upset with me.  She didn't know everything that had happened with my friend getting sick and all that.  She just thought I was being a selfish brat.

When I woke up Saturday morning (okay, afternoon), life wasn't looking good.  The only thing I had to look forward was picking up a hold at the library.  And, to be honest, sometimes I get really jazzed about that.  But not when Depression's got me in her grip.

Thank goodness for radio. It's gotten me through some really rough times. And not just the music, but the hosts too.

I was listening to an indie rock station, and the host was talking about how she'd been feeling really irritated because she knew the streetcar she took to work would be diverted. The route change had to do with King Street being turned into a pedestrian walkway during the Toronto International Film Festival.

The radio host said that, after feeling disgruntled about the change in her commute, she decided to simply leave the house early, get off the streetcar where the road closure started, and walk through the pedestrian section of the street. And doing so took her from being irritated that her route was interrupted to feeling elated by the buoyant energy of all these people trying to get a glimpse of movie stars.

So I thought... you know what?  I'm going to King Street.

I'll tell you something about me: I don't even like movies. I have the attention span of a fruit fly. I cannot sit through a movie.  Just ask my girlfriend. She's a movie buff.  But she has a movie friend who goes to the movies with her, because I just can't.

I didn't go to the film festival for the movies.  I went for the people.

And you know what?

It worked.

As soon as I got to King Street, where it was blocked off for pedestrian use, the energy all around was just electric. There were people of all ages snapping photos, laughing and talking, lining up to try samples of products.  Restaurants had spilled out onto the street. Roads became patios.

But it was the people that helped me shake this bout of depression. Their excitement was frenetic.  There were big screens set up, I guess to broadcast celebrities getting out of limos?  I don't know. I'm really not up on pop culture.  But just that sound of teens squealing, the general frenzy, the joy and anticipation--it lifted me out of the pit I'd been living in for weeks.

My girlfriend's volunteer event was only a few blocks away, so I walked up to meet her.  She'd been on her feet for ten hours by that point, but she wasn't too busy talk.  I was finally able to tell her everything that had been going on, and she said that if she'd realized all that she'd have cut me some slack instead of arguing.  We spent the rest of the evening together and it was great.  And a big part of the greatness was being out in the city, in these big crowds of people.

So the cure for social isolation is... people?  That seems a little too simplistic.

I've been thinking about those who are depressed and living in smaller communities. If they go out to a community gathering, they're probably going to see people they know.  The key, for me, was in being able to go out and be around people I didn't know. For me, that first step toward integrating myself more fully into the world is being anonymous in the world. Being around people, but being a nobody.  Enjoying the energy and excitement of an event without really being part of it.  I don't drive. If I lived in a tiny community, I'm not sure what I'd do.

But for those of us who live in active, vibrant cities, the cure for social isolation might simply be to find a crowd that's excited about something fun.  Steal that collective energy before it dissipates.  If you're anything like me, you need it.

It's funny--I was on the subway the other day and a man got on with his leg in a cast.  He was having trouble negotiating the crowd and I asked him if he needed a hand.  He thanked me, but said he was doing okay. He told me: "My motto is I'd rather have pain like this, that's visible on the outside, than pain on the inside that no one else can see."

I swear that man was reading my soul.
By the way, if you need something to look forward to every day, you can visit my Donuts and Desires blog every day in September for Erotica Every Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. I'm posting a different flash fiction story each day at this link:

Why don't you visit more often? heh

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Eyebrows": A Joyful Poem

Stepping from the shower
Without your morning clothes 
you are merely nude. 
Without your make up, there you are naked. 

Wandering the room unarmored,
 in your curlers is so much more. 
 Without your eyeliner
Is something more than without your bra. 

Your bare face is so tender without your eyebrows 
Your unpowdered belly kindles something so keen, so mortal
                                                                         It makes me want to fuck. 

Without your lipstick to meet the people you will greet
your unreddened lips are something more
Maddening than that hole in your panties. 

Your untailored hair aloft like wind blown weeds above
That unconsummated longing  in your bare morning eyes
As you bring me cookies
Climbing into the precious wild field of our unmade bed
Spreading, wide and green in the morning sun
Opening for a feast.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Joy? What even is it?

I checked on Wikipedia (usually the fount of all wisdom) and came up with zilch. So I dug further and found a bit of information. Definitions of joy are out there, and they seem to focus on the source of the feeling of wellbeing joy brings. There is even a branch of psychology dedicated to joy which sounds useful, but don’t even get me started on the Christian definition. It seems to boil down to this - happiness and pleasure are, we are told, created by external events or circumstances whereas joy comes from within.

Fair enough, but a bit wishy washy and probably a matter of opinion anyway, as are most attempts to define slippery words. So, I’ve decided to fall back on reflecting on what gives me joy, I think it has to be people. People who matter to me, their company and companionship. People whose presence in my life I relish and can’t start to imagine their loss.

I suppose the list of people who fall into that category is not long, I wouldn’t have the emotional energy to sustain my relationships if it were. I’m not merely talking of people I like. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of those in my life, in the world of authorly things and in real life too. Friends who I care about, who I can rely on to answer my texts and lend me a tenner when I go out without any cash. Joy bringers are closer than that and I think I could count them on my fingers probably. My close family, my husband and daughter, a handful of friends who I love.

There are not that many instances of pure joy in my books. There are lots of descriptions of happiness – happy events, pleasure whether sexual or otherwise, people who get lucky or find their happy ever after. Joy is more than that, more intense, more grab you by the balls life-affirming. Joy is fundamental, soul-deep, a powerful emotional response when something fabulous happens.

This excerpt is from Red Skye at Night, a book I released in 2015 but I’m intending to re-release it in the next couple of months, with a sequel which I am working on now. It’s a story about two people who go on a journey together, a road trip with benefits you might say. They end up on Skye in the Scottish Highlands in search of the family roots of the hero. His grandfather grew up on a remote croft but left there fifty years previously after a family argument and never returned. In this excerpt, the elderly parents, now in their nineties, receive the news they’ve waited a lifetime to hear.

Back at the tiny bungalow, Ann-Marie insists on making the tea while we all park ourselves in her living room again. Angus carries the tray in, and we help ourselves.
As the clink of teacups echoes around the tiny space, Angus at last broaches the subject I’ve been dreading, “So, lad, ye spoke to Ritchie last night, I suppose?”
“I did.” Harry puts his cup down and meets Angus’ level gaze.
“He was surprised tae hear yer news, I daresay?”
“He was. They both were.” I note he mentions his grandmother carefully, deliberately, as though gauging Angus’ reaction today.
The older man just inclines his head. “I can imagine. An’ did he ask about us? Our Ritchie?”
“Of course. He was keen to know how you both are.”
A silence follows, the silence in which Harry should be saying that Ritchie sent his regards, that he wished his parents well, or some other message of familial greeting. There is none.
“He didna ask for our phone number? We do ha’ a telephone now. Did ye tell him that?” Ann-Marie leans forwards, her face anxious. “Or perhaps ye could let us have his number. We could make the call. I ken it’d be long distance, but that’d be fine, wouldn’t it, Angus?”
“Aye, lass. D’ye have his number, Harry?”
“He won’t talk to you on the phone.”
Angus heaves a long sigh. “I can understand that. It’s been a long time, an’ I had hoped… Well…” His voice trails off but he rallies. “If Ritchie won’t talk tae me, what about his mam? He’ll talk tae her, surely.”
Harry shakes his head. “Not just now.”
Harry’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he pulls it out to check the incoming text. We all wait, hoping it’s some reprieve from Ritchie. That he’s relented. Harry merely nods and slips it back into his pocket.
Ann-Marie launches in with what must be her plan B, “I’ll write tae him. He’ll accept a letter from us, surely. Ye could take it wi’ ye. An’ he’ll reply. Or maybe Sarah would. She’s a good lass. Me an’ her had ne’er a wrong word. Ye could ask her, lad. Ye’ll do that for me, aye?”
Harry smiles at her. “Of course. A letter might be a good move. But I won’t deliver it for you.”
We all three turn on him. Angus and Ann-Marie are trying to be reasonable, determined to remain polite. I have no such scruples.
“Why the hell not? You could at least do that.”
His raised eyebrow is signal enough that I’m going to be apologising for my outburst, but not before he’s made certain that I won’t be sitting in comfort for a while. Undaunted—well, almost—I open my mouth to resume my protest. He halts me with one raised finger.
“I won’t be passing on a letter because there won’t be any need. My grandparents can’t talk on the phone because they’re in airplane mode. Or they were. That text just now was from Ritchie. Their plane landed in Glasgow just over an hour ago.” He pauses as if to let that sink into the stunned silence. A slight smile on his lips, he continues, “They already cleared customs and baggage control and are now headed for car hire. What is it, a six hour drive up here?” He glances at the clock on the mantelpiece, which is showing ten past two. “They should be here by about eight o’clock then. Perhaps closer to nine. Then you’ll be able to tell them anything you want to say. Yourselves.”
We all gape at him. I’m stunned. I expected Ritchie to calm down and respond to his parents’ overtures, but not in so rapid and decisive a fashion.
Ann-Marie gropes blindly for Angus’ hand. “My boy? He’s here? In Scotland. He’s really here and coming home?”
Harry nods. “He is. And he’s not alone. Two of my uncles are with him. Your grandsons. And my mother follows in two days. My other uncle flies in tomorrow from New York. We’ll be having a family reunion.” He turns to me. “Should we invite Auntie Janet, do you think?”

Red Skye at Night, by Ashe Barker

Monday, September 10, 2018

Joy is a signal you can trust -- #Joy #Satisfaction #Insight

Dancing Girl

By Lisabet Sarai

About a week ago, I had an “aha!” moment. I’d been feeling terribly stressed due to increased demands at my job and my author commitments, plus some impending travel that will make it all the more difficult to fulfill my obligations. I was obsessing about everything, when it hit me: even though I have way too much to do, I enjoy almost all of the tasks on my long list —writing, teaching, research, making covers, reading, writing reviews, creating blog posts, entertaining friends, sending birthday cards, cooking, even exercising. When I asked myself what I’d give up, if I had to make a choice, I really didn’t have a good answer.

That realization flipped my thinking and drained some of the stress. First, I felt a surge of gratitude that my life is so full of meaningful activity and so rich in joy. Second, I understood that joy is a reliable signal as to whether you’re on the right path.

If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Am I talking about sex? Yes. Writing? Yes. Keeping fit? That too.

The Calvinistic/Puritan tradition views life as bitter and hard, an exercise in self-denial, a continuous series of trials one must endure in order to reach the promise of Paradise in the hereafter. I just don’t buy that. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t match my personal experience.

For me, life is something to celebrate, a continuous unfolding, a twisting and often surprising path. And when I’m wondering which branch to follow, I’ve learned to turn within first, to ask myself how the path feels. Does it feel right? Does it generate joy?

I remember when I got my first job in my second career. (I’ve had several since.) I had no prior professional experience in this field, just a couple of university courses. I got hired on the strength of my academic credentials. When I started working, though, something clicked. I really “got” the concepts. I found I had an aptitude that I would not have expected. The job tapped into my creativity and developed my interpersonal skills. It was definitely the right path at that time.

When I met my husband (at a technical conference), I tried to give him the brush-off. We lived on different coasts and I didn’t want a long-distance relationship. Besides, I was already juggling four lovers. When he persisted, however, I discovered that being with him felt inexplicably comfortable. We spent the first three weeks of our life together driving across the US, a trip that could strain even a well-established couple. We had a fantastic time—and despite the newness of our relationship, the whole process turned out to be incredibly easy and natural.

Thirty nine years later, I understand: it was so much fun because we were obviously doing it right.

Note that joy is not exactly the same as happiness. It’s not about pleasure or entertainment. Joy is something deeper, a spiritual quality, a sense of satisfaction, order and symmetry. Sometimes it’s a quiet, soothing warmth humming under your solar plexus. Sometimes it’s laughter bubbling up out of nowhere, an urge to sing or to dance. Joy can be wordless, or it can spill out in poetry or paint.

I believe we are meant to feel joy and that when we do, we can trust we’re being our best and truest selves.

The fact that something kindles your joy doesn't mean it will be easy. Climbing a mountain, running a marathon, getting a degree, raising a child, or writing a book all take a huge amount of effort, but joy is the ultimate reward. And of course every life has its pain and its tragedies. But joy makes you more resilient.

Writing can be tough, frustrating work. We all complain when the words don’t flow or the characters don’t obey. We fight with incompetent editors, flinch at poor reviews, feel discouraged when our royalties don’t even begin to reach the level of minimum wage. In the face of all these negatives, why do we—why do I—keep writing? Out of love. Because of the joy.

Almost nothing compares to the sense of delight when I am in the groove, the words are flowing and the story is unfolding just as I’d imagined. It’s worth every bit of aggravation and every ounce of effort.

At least that’s how I feel. Your mileage may differ. But if you are truly suffering for your art, why bother? If what you're doing doesn't fundamentally satisfy you, give you that deep level feeling of rightness, maybe you are doing the wrong thing.

Not that I’m counseling my fellow authors to give up. Just stop and ask yourself: is it fun? And if not, what can you change so that it will be?