No Expectations


This writing finds me looking out over the Vale of Porlock in Somerset, England, cheese and pickle sandwich in one hand, pen in the other. Surely, Paradise on Earth? Wait. One more ingredient before it’s perfect: no expectations.

I don’t have anywhere to be. No one, and nothing, is waiting for me. Anywhere. Anywhere in the world. Family is a continent away, doing what grownups do when independent of their mother or spouse. They are ever present in the heart, but, for now, their needs are their own. Friends don’t expect me back at any particular time. No rain to chase me away from this bench or act as time keeper. No hunger or thirst. No pain. And no hireth, that longing for home I sense so much of my time. That hireth that has me looking at a lovely view, wherever I happen to be in the world, but picturing somewhere else. Because today, I’m in that somewhere else. This sense of … what? Equilibrium? Contentment? Stasis? It’s momentarily strange. It takes a while to settle and accept it.

My novel, Dunster’s Calling, contemplates the premise that life is but a journey to find “home.” Well, in this moment, I’ve found it. Quiet. Internal and external quiet. I like it. Does it matter that I can’t find a word for it? Just enjoy it, Tracey. And wish the same for others.


Finding “home”


Spring has come to Wisconsin. After a late frost that had me running in my pajamas to cover the vegetable garden, the blossoms are on the trees, the peonies are about to burst, and the lilac fills the house with heady scent. And as I’ve done every year for the past ten years, I ask myself this: was winter just an illusion? How could weather that tough simply disappear under sunny skies, gentle rain, and stunning blooms? Spring seems almost unbelievable.

My husband and I sit on the porch and take in the glory of a May evening. We look at that bucolic view, think of those great friends coming over later for drinks, and marvel at the lucky lives we lead. So why is it we want to move again? Why do we want to change countries again? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Then a scent wafts across the garden from the apple tree blossoms and I’m back in the English country village I grew up in, picking apples. A dog barks and it’s a Sunday evening, I’m in bed as a child, way too early as the sun is still up and the neighbour’s dog is still awake. The scent of fresh cut grass takes me to hay and horses as a teenager. A message comes through on my phone from England. Family over there is thinking of me. And so it begins again.

But I have to admit, I feel more “at home” these days. I can only put it down to the fact I’m writing. And I don’t mean just writing about England, which is a joy, of course. I mean it’s just that I’m writing. I’m comfortable here in this world of pictures built one word at a time. I’ve found something I’ve been looking for, and I’ve been looking for it for a long time. I’m a novice at the art, but somehow it’s so familiar to me. An old friend, a new friend, a refuge, a home.

All this begs the question: is “home” a place, a person, a time in your life, a niche you finally find? Is it a career, a friend, a lifestyle, an era? I’m assuming it’s really a combination of all of the above, but how lucky one has to be to find it.

Winter’s over. I’ve found spring. And I’ve found a writer’s home I can live in anywhere in the world.

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Old Worlds. New Words.


I love to roll new words around my brain, watch where they settle, wait for what the sounds make me feel. Looking at them on a page can be equally as satisfying, as I study the shapes or the way various nations adjust the spelling to suit their needs or proclivities. As a linguistics major, briefly, at university, I found it tremendously satisfying to explore combinations of phonemes (sounds) and relate them to morphemes (the smallest units of meaning in a language). It was all so … miraculous. Think about it: early man sits in a cave in ancient Wales. He looks at his cavemate, who is trying to get his woolly mammoth chop out of the new-fangled fiery thing as his fingers disintegrate. The combination of sounds, “ffŵl” (because only the English cavemen were spelling it “fool”) escapes the observer’s lips for the first time. Miraculous, really. And now you know why I was only a linguistics major for a short time. According to my professors, there was way more to the development of language than “It’s a miracle!”

So these days, I focus on the way words make me feel or what they conjure up. “Struth” makes me think of my father, watching the evening news as a child while some politician shared the latest hare-brained idea for increasing taxes. I never hear that word anymore. It’s been replaced with harsher words, usually including the ‘k’ sound at either the beginning or the end. “Whortleberry” is another evocative word for me. I don’t even really know what one is, but the word evokes gentle English countryside and jam while necessitating lingual gymnastics.

But my new favorite word is “slobbies.” You can’t find it in a dictionary. You can find “slob,” meaning “a lazy or slovenly person,” according to Collins. But no one’s yet thought to formally define “slobbies” in the academic annals of language.  It came to me via my friend, Steve. He’s from the north of England. He spends as much time being teased about his accent in his south of England home as I do about my accent in Wisconsin. Anyway, on my recent visit home, Steve told the gathered group we should all “get our slobbies on” before settling in to watch the evening’s entertainment. “Slobbies?” Was it a northern term for “alcoholic buzz,” seeing as wine was on the table? No, “slobbies” means something comfortable, like sweatpants, or pajamas, or anything that allows you to feel completely relaxed. Slovenly. Like a slob. The word even sounds lazy. Perfect! I love wearing slobbies! I’m a slobbyist! I just didn’t know it until I heard the word. I now look around clothing stores for the Slobbies Department, and relegate old clothes no longer fit for human observation to the “slobbies” pile. (A homebound writer needs a large slobbies pile.) Anyway, the word makes me feel good and reminds me of home and family and good times and comfort and, yes, wine too. Thanks, Steve.

I wonder: did cavemen wear slobbies? And what did their “slobbies” word look and sound like?

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Almost Certainly Uncertain


I am certain of two things: I want to return to England to live, and I want to publish my first novel. All else seems to be a confusion of indecision. “Why?” I hear the dear reader ask. “It sounds easy enough. You sell up in the United States and you get on a plane. You buy an ISBN and call You’re not exactly being asked to reinvent the immigration or publishing wheel, Tracey.” Well, true. It all does sound easier, and far less important, than finding that last sock in the laundry, or outsmarting those auto spell programs that change your aunt’s name into something you’ll never live down at the dinner table. But I always seem to second guess myself into complete inertia. Like the gorse on Exmoor, inertia can look beautiful from a distance, but those spiny thorns of yellow cowardice will get you up close.

There is uncertainty in returning to England. How will the vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union impact returning ex-pats, and the United Kingdom as a whole? How will my American husband adjust? How will it impact my children, though they are often a plane flight away from me wherever I am? What of taxes, weather, petrol prices? Will these concerns outweigh being closer to extended family, with easier access to European holidays, and the joy of being back in the English countryside? Fish and chips? Cream teas? I can’t answer that yet.

But there is also uncertainty in remaining in the United States. Will I always have a choice to return to my homeland? Will I look back with regret if I don’t go soon? Will the homesickness I feel just dissipate one day and leave me free to settle, finally? Will my children visit me more often if I’m in America or in England? Inertia means I continue to straddle the Atlantic, holding on to each culture by my fingertips.

There is great uncertainty in publishing Dunster’s Calling. Will readers like it? Will they laugh, and here I mean at the funny parts of the story, not just at me as an author? Will they cry at the sad parts, and not just for me as an author? Then there are so many paths to choose from for getting the story out: traditional publishing, where I find an agent and they contact a publisher, who may or may not market my book. Or self-publishing, where I am my own agent, publisher, and marketer. Or, perhaps, a hybrid of the two? Will choosing one option over another lead to certain success – or certain failure? Inertia, in this scenario, means the now professionally edited Dunster’s Calling will become a dusty paperweight on my desk. The book cover that is being designed as we speak will never see the light of a Barnes and Noble bookstore, nor a light on a potential reader’s bedside table.

There is uncertainty in inertia. Deciding to do nothing would be a conscious decision to remain in the limbo I’ve been experiencing for years now, both as an ex-pat and as a writer who has dreamed my stories for decades.

Of all the options, inertia seems the least palatable, which means the second guessing has to go. Make a choice, Tracey, and run with it.

That’s great then! I’m certain I’ve ruled out inertia. Well, almost certain.

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I am the victim of cybernagging. Surely a criminal offence? It’s daily and, quite frankly, getting on the one nerve I have left. Facebook nags me about exactly how many days, hours, minutes it’s been since I last posted. WordPress nags me about exactly how many people I haven’t reached this week, and exactly what percentage increase in unreached persons that is from previous weeks, because I haven’t updated my website. Cybernagging: exact, irrefutable, statistical proof that I have fallen down on the job.

So I looked for the Excuse Button. Because I have a constitutional right to defend myself, correct? The right to invoke the EB. The EB that would let me explain myself to you, my loyal followers. And to explain myself to the powers that be at Facebook and WordPress. The button that allows me, with no limit on the number of characters I can use, to request a recategorization from ‘delinquent’ to ‘busy’ in the data columns.

You know what? There isn’t one! No Excuse Button! But…but… how will they all know I’ve been busy? Mine is not a life of eating bonbons and swimming up to the pool bar, you know. I went to England, sanded and varnished umpteen window sills, let the dogs out (in, out, in, out…), read up on publishing, searched for a graphic designer for the book cover, processed (sometimes curled up in a fetal position on the shower floor, sometimes swinging from the chandeliers) feedback from beta readers, took time out to catch up with my geographically distant son and daughter, let the dogs in (sorry, guys – forgot you were out), shoveled snow, and completed a million other tasks of vital importance that no one, including me, will ever remember or appreciate.

That said, I know you deserve better, dear follower, dear Facebook “Statistical Prodding Department”, and dear WordPress “We’re just Trying to Help You Achieve Optimal Performance Department.” So here’s my plan: I won’t nag you about the fact you haven’t liked, or followed, or shared, or analyzed, or whatever the heck else it is you’re supposed to have done but were too busy to do, if you don’t nag, or harass, or unfriend, or unfollow me because I got busy with life. Deal?

And Mr. Zuckerberg and Mrs. ummmm…WordPress, you’ll be hearing from me about the lack of an EB. Just as soon as I’ve got time. Alright?



Homesickness, Novels, and Editors


I was homesick. That’s all. Nothing exciting or earth shattering. Just homesick. So I started to write. I sat at my computer and transported myself home anytime I wanted to. It was satisfying. But not sufficient. I wanted to share these feelings. (Ahhh, the arrogant assumption that I was interesting to others!) But misery loves company and if I was going to be homesick, I sure as heck was taking others with me. Turned out it didn’t take much. I found kindred spirits on Facebook ex-patriot pages, on homesick blogs, in song lyrics, in grocery stores, restaurants, airports. I wasn’t alone.

My first attempt at a ‘novel’ was nothing more than a rambling, rather morose, description of Exmoor in England, the place still closest to my heart, despite my thirty-year absence. There was no plot to this novel, no character development, no considering the audience. Just wistful me, sitting with my eyes closed, trying to recall every detail of the sights, sounds, and smells of a place sorely missed. It was more a recapturing of the sense of home, a reminder of why I wanted to be there. But it certainly wasn’t a novel. It was, however, the beginning of something.

My default setting: humour. So the morose had to go. The flowing descriptions had to go. The setting had to be beautiful, but real and jolly. There had to be quirky characters and, of course, a cheeky pony. We’re talking Exmoor after all. And so, Dunster’s Calling was born.

The manuscript is now in the hands of my editor; a truly terrifying thought. Someone else is going to walk through that door and see my attempt at recapturing my home while trying to entertain; while trying to elicit thoughts of home in kindred spirits. From wanting to share to wanting to hide in one click of the mouse. Will she get the humour, British as it is? Will she cry when she’s supposed to? Will she be entertained?

And in the end, will it matter? This novel has done its job already. I know where my home is. And I got to live there again, for a while.

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Time Travel


The New Year evokes a sense of awe in me these days. Daily life looks more and more like the opening credits of Star Trek: laundry, dog walking, work, phone calls, responsibility, minutia, all coming at me like the stars and galaxies streaking into and out of view through the massive screen on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Life is warp-speeding away.

I am made fully aware of this by two suitcases. The tweed case is thirty-one years old. I bought it during my first trip to America, when, loaded down with Fluff (I love this country!) and tee-shirts from various locations up and down the East Coast, my old duffle bag gave way. Who could have know then the miles that suitcase would travel with me? Two hemispheres and countless countries, first carrying my worldly goods, then mine and my husband’s, then mine, my husband’s and my two children’s. The contents of that suitcase documented the ebb and flow of life as it carried outfits and gifts for weddings, outfits and grief for funerals, outfits and books for holidays, outfits and toys for children. Like me though, the case began to show the effects of time: multiple patches on the handle, worn fabric, and finally an unreliable zipper that required a silent prayer and closed eyes as the baggage carousel began to turn: Please don’t let my knickers come round the corner first…

Replacing that old, battered ‘war case’ was bittersweet. The shiny, new, blue case, with roller wheels and sturdy handle that promises to save countless visits to the chiropractor, looks devoid of character at the moment. I’m not sure I want it to accompany me yet, already missing my old friend. But I’m sure it will gain my trust and see me through the next phase of life as it carries my world – my husband got his own case and I vowed never to share space again in this liberated era of empty nest travel.

It seems fitting that my old, tweed friend’s final trip was to help my son start his independent life in a new location. He packed it with childhood memories and set off for his new home, with tape along the zipper to spare his own stuffed bear/soccer trophy embarrassment at the baggage carrousel. Once home, he will jettison the suitcase with the rubbish, and leave it to RIP in a landfill. I knew I couldn’t watch.

So off I go on the Starship Gemmell – into the future with a space-age suitcase. To boldly go where the AARP card takes me. Actually that’s a lie – I refused to get the card. I’ll go where my heart takes me instead.

Will my new case survive thirty-one years? Will I? Only one way to find out…

The Twelve Days of Authorhood


On the first day of authorhood, my ego said to me, “Why don’t you write your first novel?”

On the second day of authorhood, my children said to me, “When will you be J.K. Rowlings?”

On the third day of authorhood, my ego said to me, “Designing a website will be easy.”

On the fourth day of authorhood, my barista said to me, “I take great photos, want to see?”

On the fifth day of authorhood, my ego said to me, “STILL DON’T HAVE A STORY!!”

On the sixth day of authorhood, my ego said to me, “You can write it all off on taxes.”

On the seventh day of authorhood, my neighbour found for me, a graphic designer (aged 10)

On the eighth day of authorhood, my editor gave to me: eight other editors’ names -and a bill.

On the ninth day of authorhood, my ego said to me, “Now, traditional or self-publishing?”

On the tenth day of authorhood, my ego said to me, “Probably should buy ten ISBNs”

On the eleventh day of authorhood, my husband said to me, “When will you start making money?!”

On the twelfth day of authorhood my ego realized: it forgot to write the #@!* book!

So to recap:

Twelve forgotten story lines

Eleven empty bank accounts

Ten unnecessary ISBNs

Nine pre-ordered book copies (Thanks, Mum)

Eight unreturned phone calls from editors

Seven Star Wars-like cover designs (For a novel about homesickness? Seriously?)

Six folders of tax receipts


Four awful headshots

Three abandoned websites

Two disappointed kids

And a deflated author ego…

Happy Holidays, Writers!


The Writer’s Cake Tin

Jane Austin had a pen and a ream of paper or two. Those days are gone, my friends. At my first writer’s conference, the term ‘Writer’s Tool Box’ was used to preface every seminar and promote every How To book, magazine, website, punctuation mark, or new social platform-building tool out there. Social platform? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, oh my! Then there’s the actual writing process: software to help write drafts, do research, check grammar, prevent plagiarism. And let’s not forget all the tools to stop you wasting time on line. I wasted hours researching those. As I looked back over my list of everything I needed to purchase, set up an account for, pay for, commit to, I realized something: Miss Austin could never have lifted a tool box as heavy as that! I was left overwhelmed and at a loss as to where to start in my writing career. My head spinning, my palms sweaty, I needed to refocus.

So I switched the term ‘Writer’s Tool Box’ to ‘Writer’s Cake Tin.’ I understand cake tins; not that we needed a cake tin when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong – my mother made cakes. Many, many cakes. But with three sisters and 80 sweet teeth between us, a cake didn’t last long enough to need storing. In my current empty nest, with a non-sweet toothed husband, I, at last, have a cake tin. Used in moderation, its contents can calm the frazzled nerves, inspire the tired imagination, lift the flagging spirits, and refocus the energy. Using this tool, I actually want to reach out on my social platform, I like my characters better, productivity rises, SpellCheck doesn’t seem like it’s out to get me. I highly recommend the chocolate espresso cupcake from the Fat Cat Coffee Shop near my home.


But, like all tools, the contents of the Writer’s Cake Tin must be used sparingly. Too much of even the best of aids will distract from the only piece of equipment a writer really needs: a good story.

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Photo: Anne Miller


Thankful – truly.

Thankful: the most overused word in November. We don’t act thankful, complaining about the journey, the family, the over-hyped Christmas commercials, the ridiculousness of Black Friday – and now Blackish Thursday. The work, the weight gain, the noise, the chaos. I, too, have complained. And Thanksgiving isn’t even a traditional holiday for me, being British.

But this year I can truly say I am thankful. Not because I finally found a stuffing recipe everyone liked. Or because I snapped up that watch/coat/smart phone someone wanted; the existence of which they will have forgotten by February. I’m simply thankful for the opportunity to write. Just write. Full time. About anything I want. Unshackled from the constraints of medical reports, research papers, formulaic necessity. No more SOAP notes – an acronym for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan – the way our medical interactions are documented in our charts. These notes come with impossibly tight deadlines and constant fear of error. No, now I write to my own specifications. My timelines. My imaginings. The sense of liberation is all the more fantastical because I never realized how constrained I was until I broke out; how tight the bindings were until they were released. I can’t imagine doing anything else now; living in my own world, following that path a novelist follows – or rather veering off to make a detour through the woods. No need to explain, or justify, or defend. “Because that’s where the character wanted to go,” if anyone asks. Which they don‘t. My support group knows better. So I’m thankful for them too. And I’m thankful if you have taken a moment to read this. After all, I’m only ever half of this communication equation; sometimes the writer half, sometimes the reader half. But always the thankful half.

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