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Happy Hogmanay

For most of the world December 31 is New Year’s Eve, but in Scotland it’s something much more important: Hogmanay. So what is it? Hogmanay is a very big deal in Scotland. It’s the biggest day in the festive calendar, a celebration that makes Christmas Day seem very small indeed. It’s what the Scots call their New Year’s Eve celebrations—but these celebrations date back centuries, indeed, Hogmanay’s origins are viking. Norse invaders celebrated the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, with wild parties in late December. Those parties began to incorporate elements from the Gaelic Samhain winter festival, which celebrates the beginning of winter, and Yule, whose celebrations were known as ‘daft days’ in Scotland. Like many annual celebrations, the end result is a mix of its various influences.

Why is it such a big deal? Because until very recently, Scots didn’t do Christmas. The party-loving Protestant Reformation effectively banned Christmas for 400 years, and Christmas Day didn’t even become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958 and Boxing Day didn’t become a holiday until 1974. So while the rest of the world celebrated Christmas, the Scots toiled. Their family get-togethers happened at Hogmanay instead.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the biggie: it starts with a massive torchlit parade on December 30, includes a huge fireworks display, has musical performances, and pulls a crowd from more than 60 different countries. Other Scottish cities have big parties too, but Edinburgh’s one is the biggest.

How can one celebrate Hogmanay properly? There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Hogmanay, but if you want to do what many Scots do you’ll have a nice meal with family and/or friends with plenty to drink–including whisky, of course–to toast the new year.

So, I wish you Happy Hogmanay and Happy New Year! Sláinte!

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In 2 weeks I’ll be in #Ardmore, Ireland

In 2 weeks I’ll be in #Ardmore, Ireland doing an author event at the #Cliff House Hotel. Very beautiful place.Visit.

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Ice Cream and Aliens…and Dragons…and Time Travel…and Mad Scientists

Here is the Guinness Malt Cake recipe we enjoyed at my SF/F critique group author event last night at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton. Thanks to my friend Jules for the recipe. Oh, and we had ice cream and Titanic life savers. The readings were awesome with some great questions. Thanks to all who came out and shared the evening.


Guinness Malt Cake

1 cup Guinness (or other stout beer)                     Frosting:

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter                                     1/2 cup Guinness (or other stout beer)

1 Tablespoon molasses                                             4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed                 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

1 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder                1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons powdered malt                                2 1/2 cups or more confectioner’s sugar, sifted

2 eggs

2/3 cup plain yogurt

2 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup superfine (baking) sugar

Pinch of sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan; line it with parchment.

2. Melt the Guinness, butter, molasses, and brown sugar over medium heat.

3. Beat in the cocoa and malt, then remove from heat.

4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and yogurt, then add the stout mixture.

5. Sift the remaining dry ingredients into the bowl and beat to combine. Pour in the loaf pan and bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan.

6. For the frosting: Bring the 1/2 cup Guinness to a boil. Simmer just under a boil, stirring occasionally, for 13 minutes or until reduced by half. Refrigerate until cool.

7. In a mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy and light. Add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar, then add the cooled, reduced Guinness and beat until creamy and light. This is a very loose frosting. Beat in more confectioner’s sugar for a thicker version, or put frosting in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out of its pans and spread the frosting on top.
Jordan Bernal and her Guinness Malt Cake

Check out the photo of me with a sample of the Guinness Malt Cake. Do you see my dragon wings?


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Author Talk video redux

Lets try this again. Let me know if you can’t see this.

My Author Talk at John Green Elementary School link. Or go to:


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Author Talk – New link for video

Sorry Folks,

I inadvertently used an ‘S’ where I should have used a ‘5’ in the link.

Here is the correction: Check out my video here.

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Author Talk – November 22, 2013

On Friday, November 22, 2013, I spoke to Ms. Moylan’s 4th grade class at John Green Elementary School in Dublin, CA about my experience of writing and publishing my first novel. But let me back up about two weeks to when I had received my ‘proof’ copy of my novel, The Keepers of Éire, and shared it with some friends. That’s when Jake asked me if I’d come talk to his class about being an author. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I’d get to talk to youngsters about the importance of reading, studying punctuation and grammar, and research.

Of course I was a bit nervous, after all, my novel is written for adults. What would I say? I decided I’d bring some props (several dragons from my collection & some of the books I enjoyed reading as a youngster) and emphasize using your imagination. I tailored my discussion to include:

▪   Write what you know or what interests you

▪   The main elements of a story

▪   Reading & research

I talked for about 20 minutes and then opening it up for questions and answers. The students asked some well-thought-out questions, such as: What are the steps to getting a book published? What are my favorite types of books to read? What does my writing day consist of and where do I typically write? Why do I write under a pen name? And my favorite: Who inspires you as a writer?

I was able to video the first 10 minutes of my talk (not the part where I had the students close their eyes while I read a paragraph about one of the dragons and asked if they could imagine the dragon, or the Q&A session. Bummer).

Check out my video here.

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What I’ve been up to lately

I’ve been remiss in my posting in the last year, but for valid reasons. The first and foremost: Finishing the writing and editing of The Keepers of Éire. Yes, I have completed the manuscript, several rounds of edits (from my critique group, from my beta readers, and from my independent editor), finalized the front and back cover design, and am now working on formatting. Looks like I need to learn InDesign. I expect The Keepers of Éire to be available for purchase in the next 4-6 weeks, hopefully sooner.

In addition, I have taken on the role of vice-president of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch as well as our 2013 anthology assistant editor and committee member. This bi-annual anthology of our members’ works will be published and available before the end of the year. I have two poems and one travel/memoir piece in Voices of the Valley: Encore. I also have two poems in Las Positas College’s 2013 anthology All That Remains.

I have created, and am currently expanding, my website:

Oh, and I am writing the second novel in the series. Never fear—my story world continues. Now what are those dragons and their riders up to?


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