Tampa Bay Comic Con

August 5th, 2014

Hello everybody!

We had a blast at the Tampa Bay Comic Con this last weekend. Along with my Twilight Times Books colleagues, Scott Eder and Maria DeVivo, we enjoyed an exuberant celebration of fantasy and science fiction in books, television, movies, and videogames. The Con was a triumph of the human imagination. It was fun, chaotic at times, but supremely entertaining. My favorite? The panels.

Maria, Scott and I sat on several panels together with authors Tracy Akers and K.L. Nappier, to discuss the best novel-to-movie adaptations, building believable worlds, and character development. It was the first time that writing panels were included at the Tampa Bay Comic Con, thanks to the efforts of Tracy Akers and Scott Eder, who organized the panels.

The result were great. Not only were the panels extremely well attended, but they were also full of clever readers who knew their fantasy, promising aspiring writers, geniuses disguised as kids, and a host of fascinating characters.

We had awesome discussions with amazing audiences. I really enjoyed hanging out with my fellow authors, meeting so many smart and interesting readers, and sharing my writing experiences with folks who love writing, reading and fantasy as much as I do.

Twilight Times Books colleagues Maria DiVivo, Scott Eder and me in the middle.

Twilight Times Books colleagues Maria DiVivo, Scott Eder and me in the middle.

Dear friends and family stopped by the TTB booth.

Dear friends and family stopped by the TTB booth.

 

Yours truly at one of the panels.

Yours truly at one of the panels.

Signing books.

Signing books.

At one of the panels. From left to right, authors Scott Eder, Tracy Akers, K.L. Nappier, Maria DiVivo and yours truly.

At one of the panels. From left to right, authors Scott Eder, Tracy Akers, K.L. Nappier, Maria DiVivo and yours truly.

Thanks to all of you who stopped by the booth to say hello, all the attendees of the awesome panels, and to the organizers, employees and volunteers of Tampa Bay Comic Con for putting together such a great event.

D.

 

 

The Curse Giver by Dora Machado Wins the 2013 Silver IndieFab Book of the Year Award

June 30th, 2014

CurseGiver_Front Cover Final

Hello everybody!

I’m delighted to share the good news below with all of you.

Thanks for sharing this moment with me.

Best regards,

D.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 30, 2014—The Foreword Reviews’ IndieFab Book of the Year Awards, judged by a highly selective group of librarians and booksellers from around the country, were announced on June 27th, 2014 at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. The Curse Giver, written by Dora Machado and published by Twilight Times Books, won silver in the fantasy category. Ms. Machado, who lives Florida, is the author of the award-winning Stonewiser series. Her latest novel, The Curse Giver, is also a Finalist in the Fantasy category of the 2013 USA Best Book Awards.

Midwest Book Review praised The Curse Giver as follows:

“Lovers of dark romantic fantasy will relish The Curse Giver. This was a wonderfully entertaining, absorbing read. The stakes are high, the conflict compelling, and the sympathetic hero and heroine will make you fall in love with them. Lyric at times, Machado’s prose flows beautifully throughout the pages, bringing to life her fictional world in full, vivid detail.”

Ms. Machado adds the distinguished 2013 IndieFab Book of the Year Award to her growing list of credits, which also include the 2012 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Silver Medal for SF/F, the 2010 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Gold Medal for SF/F and the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Debut Novel.

Foreword’s IndieFab Book of the Year Awards program was created to discover distinctive books from the indie publishing community across a number of genres. What sets the awards apart is that final selections are made by real judges—working librarians and booksellers—based on their experience with patrons and customers. Representing hundreds of independent and university presses of all sizes, IndieFab winners were selected after months of editorial deliberation over more than 1,500 entries in 60 categories.

The editors and staff at Foreword Reviews love indie books and the art of great storytelling. They discover, curate, critique, and share reviews and feature articles exclusively on indie-publishing trends. Foreword Reviews’ quarterly print magazine is distributed across the United States to librarians, booksellers, publishers, and avid readers, and is available at most Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, indie bookstores, and by subscription. Foreword’s website features a daily stream of reviews of indie books written by a team of professional, objective writers.

For a full list of the winners searchable by category, publisher, title, and author, visit Foreword Reviews online.

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Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for readers and writers and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two very opinionated cats.

Author Contact Information:

E-mail:Dora@doramachado.com

Website: www.doramachado.com

Blog: http://www.doramachado.com/blog/

Newsletter: http://doramachado.com/newsletter.php

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DoraMachado101

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DoraMachado

Publisher Contact Information:

Lida E. Quillen, Publisher

Email: publisher@twilighttimesbooks.com – or –

publisher@twilighttimes.com

Website: http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/

ForeWord Contact Information:

Contact: Jennifer Szunko, Director of Marketing/Circulation

Foreword Reviews jennifer@forewordreviews.com 231-933-3699

The Story Behind The Curse Giver

May 28th, 2014

Dear Readers.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from you regarding how I came up with the original concept for The Curse Giver. In an effort to answer these questions, I’d like to share this essay that I wrote for The Curse Giver‘s release.

Enjoy!

D.

******

So, you’ve been wondering: How on earth did I come up with the concept for The Curse Giver?

The Curse Giver was an accident, a professional indiscretion, if you will, conceived during one of my little escapades, and born out of unchecked passion. Yep, I might as well come clean. Even the most disciplined writer can be unfaithful to her projects, and no matter how thoroughly taken one is with one’s current novel, the danger for a tangent is always there when venturing into the world of research.

So there I was, researching one book, working hard to finalize the Stonewiser series, when I came across this insidious little idea that kept disrupting my train of thought.

Now, to understand the story behind The Curse Giver, you must understand me and my writing habits. I’m not easily distracted. When I’m writing a novel, my brain goes into hyper mode. I’m disciplined, motivated and focused to the point of obsession, which is why The Curse Giver was such a surprise to me.

The subject of curses has always fascinated me, not only because curses are such a vital part of magic and fantasy, but also because they are so prevalent to the human experience. To be honest, I had always been intrigued by the subject, but didn’t delve into it, until one very late night—or was it very early morning?—when the wind rattled my window as a coastal storm blew in from the sea.

The clay tablets that popped up on my screen dated from 600 BC and were part of the library of Nineveh, also known as the library of Ashurbanipal, the oldest surviving library of cuneiform tablets. This is the same collection that gave us the famous Gilgamesh epic. Visually, the tablets weren’t much to look at, chicken scratches on clay. But the translated words had an impact on me.

May all these [gods] curse him with a curse that cannot be relieved, terrible and merciless, as long as he lives, may they let his name, his seed, be carried off from the land, may they put his flesh in a dog’s mouth.”

I know, hardly an inspiration for most. Me? I immediately thought of the man who had been thus cursed, of the pain and hardship such curse would bring upon him and his people, of the character that eventually became Bren, Lord of Laonia in The Curse Giver.

From there on, the curses flowed before my eyes, mysterious ones from ancient civilizations in Egypt, India and the Far East; thin lead tablets dating from the Greco-Roman world, judicial prayers, secret invocations, warnings and love spells that streamed into my consciousness. I knew I should get back to my original research, and yet I was smitten with the subject.

There were curses quoted from the Bible, medieval curses, real and forgeries, Viking, Celtic, Germanic, Visigoth, Mayan, Incan, Hopi, you name it. There were ancient curses but also modern curses, some associated with Santeria, voodoo and the 21 Divisions, religions that are common in the Dominican Republic where I grew up.

Who would cast these curses and why? What kind of creature could be capable of such powers? What would motivate a person to curse another one? As I explored these questions, a character profile began to emerge in my mind, someone whose understanding of good and evil was very different from my own.

Sorting through the research, I could see that some curses had practical applications to make sure people did what they were told. They served as alternate forms of law enforcement in lawless societies. Some were obviously malicious. They were meant to frighten and intimidate. Some were more like venting or wishful thinking. It turns out that mankind has been casting curses since the beginning of time and will probably continue for as long as we have the imagination and faith to do so.

A new question formed in my mind. Once cursed, what could a person do to defend himself? A third character emerged from this question, Lusielle, a common remedy mixer, a healer of hearts and bodies, someone who didn’t realize the scope of her own power until it began to transform her life.

Eventually, I wrestled myself out of the trance. I had a book to write and a series to complete. I had deadlines. But my little detour had made an impact. The concepts were at work in my subconscious, coalescing into a new novel, fashioning these powerful characters who demanded their own story. My encounter with curses had been but a slight detour from my research plan, a tiny deviation, an indiscretion to my schedule, but the seed had been planted and The Curse Giver thrived, even if I didn’t know it yet.

The Curse Giver from Amazon

American English and British English, and Learning to Write Both

May 15th, 2014

A guest Post

by

Stephanie Osborm

Stephanie Osborn Author Picture

Hi Folks,

I’m delighted to welcome my Twilight Times Books  colleague, Stephanie Osborn, to my blog. Stephanie is celebrating the release of the fifth book in her stellar Sherlock Holmes Displaced Detective series. Today she talks about the challenges of writing a British character in the context of an American novel.


Enjoy!

D.

****

I’m sure you’ve all seen it.

We in America would say, “I don’t recognize this caller ID on my cellphone; I thought this app specialized in emphasizing identification. Could you wake me up at seven in the morning? Everything has been taken care of, but I have to run over and see Mom before the announcement is publicly known.”

But a Brit would say the same thing like this: “I don’t recognise this caller ID on my mobile; I thought this app specialised in emphasising identification. Would you knock me up at seven in the morning? It’s all sorted, but I have to pop over and see me Mum before the announcement is publically known.”

It’s the difference between the American version of English, and the British version of the same language. Sometimes people who travel back and forth between the two countries — the US and the UK — have been known to remark, “We speak the same language, but we don’t.”

And the difference encompasses terminology, slang, and even spelling.

Did you know that J.K. Rowling was made to change the name of the very first book in the Harry Potter series before it could be published in the USA? The original title, the title you’ll find on bookstore shelves in London, is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But publishers felt that Americans might not recognize the alchemical reference, and so it was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And you may, or may not, be familiar with the use of “trainers” to mean athletic shoes, or “jumper” to refer to a pullover sweater. Cell phones are “mobiles” and refrigerators, regardless of brand, are “Frigidaires.” (I suppose this is analogous to our referring to all disposable facial tissues as “Kleenex” and cotton swabs as “Q-Tips.”)

Americans may call it a plow, but Britons call it a plough — that was even a major clue that Holmes found in one of the original adventures, denoting the suspect wasn’t British as he claimed. There is, it seems, and has been for something like a century and a half at the least, a tendency for Americans to eliminate so-called silent letters and spell more phonetically than our British counterparts. But at least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle only had to write in one version thereof.

When I started writing the Displaced Detective series, which has been described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” I made a deliberate decision: If the speaker was American, dialogue (and later, thoughts and even scenes from that character’s point of view) would be written in American English. If the speaker (thinker, observer) was from the United Kingdom, dialogue etc. would be written in British English. This has held true right down to the book currently being released, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, book 5 in the series (with at least 3 more in work, and more in the planning stages).

The series itself traces the exploits of Sherlock Holmes — or one version of Holmes, at least — when he is inadvertently yanked from an alternate reality in which he exists in Victorian Europe, into modern, 21st Century America. Because in his particular alternate reality, he and Professor Moriarty were BOTH supposed to die at Reichenbach, if he is returned, he must die. So he wisely opts to stay put and come up to speed on the modern world. Working with Dr. Skye Chadwick, her continuum’s equivalent to Holmes and the Chief Scientist of Project Tesseract (the program responsible for his accidental transition), Holmes ends up being asked to investigate unusual and occasionally outré situations.

In his latest foray, after an entire English village is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, London contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Holmes goes undercover to find a terror ring. In Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and mustangs, believing Holmes has abandoned her. Holmes must discover what caused the horror in Stonegrange and try to stop the terrorists before they unleash their bizarre weapon again, all the while wondering if he still has a home in Colorado.

And the cast of characters includes an American FBI agent, several members of the US military, two entire units of MI-5, and more. All of whom have to be rendered in their appropriate version of English.

Simple, you say? Just set Word to use the British English dictionary.

Right. Except then Skye, Agent Smith, Colonel Jones, and the other Americans would then be speaking Brit.

“So set both dictionaries operational,” you suggest.

Great idea. I’d love to. But Word doesn’t have that option — the two dictionaries would conflict. And even if it could use both, how would it know whether an American or an Englishman were speaking? More, one of those characters — Holmes himself — actually uses a somewhat archaic form of British English, in that he is a man of the Victorian era, and speaks in such fashion. So I am really using three different forms of English.

Well, the end result is simply that I have to make sure I read back through the manuscript very carefully, looking for places where either I’ve slipped up, or autocorrect replaced the British with the American equivalent (which it does every chance it gets). I’m also pleased that my publisher has assigned me a regular editor who is quite familiar with the British version of English, to include the euphemisms, exclamations, and general slang. She’s been amazingly helpful, and I do my best to stay up to speed on the latest version of slang in both the US and the UK.

So what has been the response?

Well, I’ve had one or two Amazon reviews refer to “misspellings,” and there’s one venerated author (of whom I like to refer as one of the “Grand Old Men of Science Fiction”) who is currently reading the first couple of books in the series and is amazed that I even attempted to pull such a thing off, let alone that I’m doing it.

But other than that, it’s rather strange; not one reader has volunteered the observation that I am writing in two different forms of the English language. Yet the sense among fans of the series is that I have captured Doyle’s tone and style, despite the fact that I do not use a first-person Watson narrative, despite the fact that we see what Holmes is thinking, at least to a point.

I believe the reason is because, subconsciously, readers are picking up on the fact that Holmes speaks, thinks, and observes in proper, Victorian, British English. And even when referring to more modern conveniences, maintains a solid British presence. Consistently. Throughout.

And that’s precisely what I intended, from the very beginning.

I love it when a plan comes together.

DDSpontaneous Combustion

http://amzn.to/RVzzfb

****

About Stephanie Osborn:

Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery, is a veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, with graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy.

She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.”

In addition to her writing, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

Website:http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

The Science of Mind Magic

May 2nd, 2014

I’m delighted to welcome Christine Amsden back to my blog. Her new release, Mind Games, the next book in the beloved Cassie Scot series, recently hit the shelves. I just finished reading it and folks, it’s awesome. Check it out if you can. Today Christine talks about fantasy–my favorite subject–and the science of mind magic.

Enjoy!

D.

Fantasy and The Science of Mind Magic

A Guest Post

By

Christine Amsden

MindGames_med

The trouble with mind magic is: How do you know if someone’s controlling you?

You could drive yourself crazy wondering if your thoughts are your own or the product of someone else’s superior will. In the world of magic, there is something inherently sinister about the idea that one person can mess with someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and desires. This is a theme I’ve been building from the first book in this series, Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective, when Edward Scot says:

“Magic itself is never black, only the uses to which it is put, but mind magic is already tinted a deep, dark gray.”

Matthew Blair, a telepathic mind mage who takes center stage in Mind Games(Cassie Scot #3), disagrees. His response to this statement is:

“Any kind of power is already tinted a deep, dark gray. Haven’t you ever heard that power corrupts?”

Of course Matthew would say that. He’s a mind mage and he’s actively trying to manipulate our heroine, but as with all skilled manipulators he understands the power of truth and subtlety.

Mind control is not a uniquely magical phenomenon. People try to influence us wherever we go in subtle and overt ways. When you go to the store, the packaging of the products you browse screams at you, “Pick me! Pick me!” Retailers know how to use product placement to maximum affect (as every mother who has ever taken children through a candy-filled checkout knows). Advertisers bombard you with messages that work on your mind even when you don’t know it. Drug companies fill the airwaves these days with medicine most of us don’t need at any given moment, but they know you’ll remember when the time is right.

There are people in the real world who possess charisma – a trait I’ve lent a quasi-magical aspect to in my series. But you know what I mean. Some people just exude charm and grace and a little bit of “trust me.” Trendsetters. Natural leaders. Born politicians. Shapers of men and of the minds of men (and women). These people fill our minds with thoughts we embrace as our own, sometimes without our even realizing we have done so.

Before you ask – no, I’m not one of those people. I could wish, but in person I tend to be a little bit awkward. I’m much better at expressing myself through the written word.

One of the pointless (circular) existential questions I sometimes like to ask myself is: What do I fervently believe that is simply not true? And since I am so certain of this truth, why would I ever seek to correct that impression? I don’t consider myself to be a close-minded person (who does?) but I can only be open-minded when I am aware of a possible discrepancy. I must see that something in the world is inconsistent with my core beliefs. I have to get caught in a lie.

Getting back to the world of magical mind control, I often see authors going to extreme lengths when it comes to mind magic. Direct, obvious controls that the hero is just strong-willed enough to throw off because he or she has a superior… spirit? Intellect? Force of will? A little bit of all those things, I suppose.

In Mind Games, I wanted to show how hard it would be for even a strong-willed individual to throw off competently woven mind magic. This isn’t about strength at all, but skill. Matthew Blair tells Cassie in chapter one that he is a telepath and “hears” everything she thinks. He says this to her because he senses that Cassie will be drawn to the truth, and drawn to the genuine sense of alienation he feels because of his power. Cassie has always been drawn to help people in need. Matthew knows this about her, and he uses it against her.

To beat Matthew, Cassie will have to learn things about herself that make her stronger. She is going to have to face certain truths that she has been running from for two books.

Ultimately, she has to figure out that it’s happening. How can you change your mind if you don’t know it needs changing?

If that’s too heavy for you, feel free to enjoy this book as a fun magical mystery. Here are a couple of lighter reader questions to ponder:

1. Would you want to be a telepath? (Why?)

2. Would you want to date a telepath? (Why?)
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Personally, even with all the downsides that it would entail, I’d want to be a telepath.  As to dating a telepath? Absolutely not. A girl has to be able to keep a few secrets. Don’t you think?

If you haven’t read Cassie Scot yet, now’s your chance. The first book in the series, Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective, is on sale for $.99 for a limited time.

Have a wonderful day!

D.

NCassieinetyninecentbanner3

Amazon

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Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

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MindGames_med

Mind Games (Cassie Scot Book 3)

Beware your heart and soul…

Evan broke Cassie’s heart two months ago, and she still doesn’t know why. She throws herself into family, friends and her new job at the sheriff’s department, but nothing helps. The only thing that finally allows her heal and move on is the love of a new man, mind mage Matthew Blair. Cassie finds him…irresistible.

Matthew may also be the only one who can help keep the non-magical residents of Eagle Rock from going crazy over the murder of a beloved pastor’s wife. It looks like a sorcerer is to blame, but while Cassie tries to figure out who, others take matters into their own hands. With tensions running so hot, a single spark might set Eagle Rock ablaze.

First Chapter: http://christineamsden.com/wordpress/?page_id=3118

Buy Links

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

The Writing Process

April 17th, 2014

My dear friend, the talented Maria De Vivo, author of The Coal Elf, passed me the baton for the Writing Process Blog Tour. In turn, I passed the baton to three writers who I think you might enjoy meeting. This means all of us get to answer four questions about our work. Here are my answers:

What are you working on?

Oh, my! And I thought these would be easy questions. I have several projects going. I’m about halfway into a contemporary urban fantasy novel with a Latin twist. I’m also in the research stage of three different projects, one of them a fantasy/time travel adventure. And of course, I’m also in the process of writing the companion novel to The Curse Giver, a fantasy epic adventure with a hint of romance tentatively entitled The Soul Chaser.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I think I bring a different perspective to the fantasy genre. I grew up in Latin America and I’ve seen and experienced the advantages and disadvantages of living in a developing nation. My stories are usually nuanced by issues of poverty, inequality, corruption and injustice. I like a complex plot with flawed, multidimensional characters engaged in passionate and meaningful relationships at many different levels. I write characters that are a product of changing environments and yet have to evolve with the circumstances.

I don’t mind a little length if it allows me the chance to ramp up the journey’s intensity and explore the richness of diverse and innovative worlds. My style is a little different too. I like to tell an epic story with lyrical flare. Finally, I bring some gritty realism to my fantasy worlds, a taste of the world we live in.

Why do you write what you write?

I straddle many worlds in real life, so fantasy is a perfect fit for me. I love the freedom of creating my own worlds. In many ways, fantasy is a reinterpretation of the human experience, as current and enduring as the world we live in. To me, fantasy is the most interactive of all the genres, the most flexible. I get to play and experiment with concepts, settings and ideas in all kinds of different frameworks. Who wouldn’t love that? I write fantasy because it’s fun.

What is your writing process?

It usually begins with an idea that gives birth to a character. Then that character takes over. I’m quite obsessive when I’m writing. I write all the time, wherever I am. The bulk of my writing takes place late at night. I write best during those uninterrupted times and I write for as long as I can. Sleep deprivation is usually a challenge. I can typically churn out a draft in three or four months. After that, I go into a compulsive editing phase, where I might be writing something new while editing the draft. It’s a grueling process and yet I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

There you have it. My writing process in a nutshell. I’m passing the baton to:

Jerry Hatchett

My friend Jerry Hatchett writes thrillers you can’t put down. He’s the author of several Amazon bestsellers, includingSeven Unholy DaysThe Pawnbroker and the upcomingUnallocated Space.

Linda Au

My friend Linda Au is a novelist, a humor writer and the funniest woman I know. She’s the author of several humor books, including Head in the Sand and the award nominated Fork in the Road.

Eleanor Khuns

My friend Eleanor Khuns is a writer of historical mysteries, winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition and author of A Simple Murder, Death of a Dyer and Craddle to Grave.

Dora Machado's Books (640x237)

Introducing Elfie

April 15th, 2014

It’s my pleasure to introduce Barb Caffrey, my editor at Twilight Times Books, who has just published her first novel, a comic urban fantasy romance entitled An Elfie on the Loose. We’re doing a “book blast” to encourage folks who might like to buy the book to download it today to help the ratings soar! Here’s what one reviewer is saying about it:


“Barb Caffrey’s
An Elfy on the Loose is a fresh and unexpected take on the urban fantasy genre with a charming and original protagonist. You’ll want to read this one.” – Rosemary Edghill, author of Dead Reckoning, Music To My Sorrow and the Bast Mysteries.

So without further ado, here’s a little bit about this enchanting story.

Enjoy!

D.

AnElfyontheLoose_med

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JMSPR5Y/

One Elfy for an entire planet?

He’s supposed to be the Watcher for his people, the representative on Earth from his dimension, but the small being known to his enemies as “Jonny-Wonny” wakes up to big trouble — trapped in a bizarre house in Knightsville, California with humans straight out of reality TV. Jon knows that something has gone dreadfully wrong — he’s starving, lonely and dressed in funny clothes.

Enter the couple’s ten-year-old diminutive daughter, who is “Not Daisy!” but is brilliant, sweet…and using high level magic with ease. She’s also desperately in need of a friend.

Insisting her name is really Sarah, and christening him Bruno, his new friend asks him how they’re going to get out of there.

The only thing that comes to mind is for Bruno to ask his teacher, Roberto the Wise, for help. But Roberto’s attempt at help only enmeshes all three of them further in a web of deceit and treachery. Bruno finds out that, unfortunately, most of what he thought he knew about himself was very wrong…and much of what Sarah knows about herself is also wrong, including her age.

Worst of all, a Dark Elf is on the scene and is intent on corrupting the local Humans, including Sarah’s parents.

New names, new locations, a new mission–Bruno is going to get to the bottom of all the craziness, and Sarah will be there for him every step of the way.

Watch out, universe–an Elfy is on the loose!

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Barb Caffrey is a writer, editor, musician, and composer. She holds two degrees, is an inveterate and omnivorous reader, and is the writer of the comic urban fantasy romance AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE (book one of the ELFY duology), available now from Twilight Times Books. She follows politics, loves sports, watches far too much reality TV and is mystified by the “Maury” show.  What all this says about her is anyone’s guess.

http://elfyverse.wordpress.com/

Japan Wrap-Up

April 6th, 2014

Hello everyone,

Some final thoughts about our trip to Japan and a few helpful recommendations from http://marianaonthemove.com.

Enjoy!

D.

POSTED ON APRIL 6, 2014 BY

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It’s been over a month since mom and I returned from Japan, and 14 blog posts later I’m still struggling with how to adequately summarize our weeks in this confusing, enchanting place. It would be impossible to wrap this trip up perfectly with a neat sparkly bow as I’d prefer, but I’m going to try! After lots of reflecting, a little head scratching, and a few good fits of giggles, here is my best attempt at reviewing our top Japan experiences:

Best Place We Stayed

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The Courtyard Tokyo Ginza Hotel

It was one of the pricier places to rest our heads on this trip, but the value of having an English-speaking staff was priceless to us. Not only were the rooms comfortable and (by Tokyo standards) spacious, but the concierge was enormously helpful in pushing us in the right direction when our heads were otherwise spinning. Since Tokyo was our first stop on our Japan tour, I totally took all of this for granted. But after weeks of navigating Kansai with little-to-no English spoken at our hotel & ryokan, I found myself breathing an audible sigh of relief to return to theCourtyard on our last night before flying out of Tokyo.

In addition to the wonderful staff and amenities, the location is perfect for exploring the city via walking and public transit. The hotel is walking distance to several subway stations and major sights, including the Tsukiji Fish Market, Kabuki-za, and many of Tokyo’s most famous eating establishments.

Best Thing We Ate

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Kagari

I have lived in very touristy areas of both Boston and New York City, and so while the eating options are numerous in Tokyo, I suspected it would be difficult to know where to get the most for our money. While we were eager to sample various Japanese staples, we didn’t want to get sucked into the overpriced, low quality tourist traps that any big city shelters in abundance. We found ourselves in just such a trap on our first night in Tokyo, and as we stomached some of the toughest soba noodles in all of Japan (at least as far as we could tell) we vowed to ourselves ‘never again.’ After that we got into the habit of researching our dinner options thoroughly before hitting the streets in an effort to make the most of our time and stomach capacity.

Now this didn’t always work mind you – we even found some of the suggestions by our guidebook and concierge to be disappointing. But we got it right when we googled ‘best ramen in Tokyo’ and picked Kagari out of our search results. I will never think of noodles the same after tasting this deliciously creamy concoction. And waiting in line for a seat at the eight person bar was probably one of the most authentic experiences we were able to muster while in Japan. Did I mention it was one of the cheapest meals we enjoyed in Tokyo?

Best Place We Visited

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Nara

Our day with the deer and visit with the Todai-ji was a highlight of the trip, and while we saw many, many great sights in Japan, this one stands out to me as most impressive. The ease of getting to and around Nara also bolsters this day in my mind as one of the best of the stay. I would caution anyone visiting Kansai not to miss it.

Best Decision We Made

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Japan Rail Passes

Japan has done a wonderful job of accommodating foreigners on their train system. Doing our research before departure, we discovered you must order this pass from your home country, and cannot purchase it once in Japan. I am so glad we discovered this. Not only did it make our travels and numerous day trips economically efficient, it saved us a lot of time in planning out our itinerary. For the most part we were able to arrive at the station, flash our pass to get through any JR turnstile, check out the signage to figure out which train was going where, and hop aboard without a problem. In the few instances where we required (or preferred) assigned seating, all we needed to do was show our pass at the ticket office, point to where we would like to go, and voila – tickets were handed to us! The only downside we discovered to the JR pass is that it does not cover tickets on the fastest line of bullet trains, but we found the second fastest shinkansen took us anywhere we needed to go just as well.

Highest Moment

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Onsen Joy

There were many small victories on this journey through Japan, but to me, my highest moment is clear: discovering I loved onsens after all.

Biggest Challenge

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Snowed in in Hakone

We traveled to the resort town of Hakone just in time to experience the biggest snowfall in the region in 130 years. 11 inches of snow shut down the area for three days, while we waited helpless in our overpriced hotel. The staff was more or less uninterested in helping us to make our international flight, even though we watched them go to great lengths to assist many members of a western conference make theirs. It was supremely frustrating to wait day after day without any idea of when we would be able to get out and little ability to communicate effectively with the hotel about our needs. Not to mention the snow shut down all excursions in the area, leaving us with nothing to do but sit in the lobby (and soak in the onsen, of course). Eventually the sun came out, and with it the breathtaking view of Mt Fuji we had traveled to Hakone for. It almost made missing our flight home worth it… almost.

What I’d Do Differently

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In my previous travels, I had always found that the longer I was able to stay in a place, the better experience I had. This is why I scheduled this trip to last nearly a month. In retrospect I realize now how ambitious this was. I hugely underestimated just how challenging a first-time visit to Asia could be, and by week two mom and I were starting to drag our feet. By the time we got on the plane home we were exhausted. Now that I have a better idea how to meet these challenges, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a trip of this length to Japan again. But for a first-time visit – I think we may have gotten just as much out of a 10-day trip as we did out of our several weeks.

I also realize now that it wasn’t necessary to schlep all the way to Kinosaki to get the onsen experience. Had I done better research I could have discovered just how prevalent they are, and used the time it took to get to Kinosaki and back again to see other sites. It was cool to view the Sea of Japan and taste snow crab at its peak, but the purpose of the excursion – to experience onsens – turned out to be more or less a bust.

On the Next Trip…

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There are three places we didn’t make it to on this trip that were cut during planning at the last minute:

The Japanese Alps

We decided not to visit the Japanese Alps because… well, I live in Colorado, and questioned the reason in traveling to the other side of the planet to do what I can do at home. But the truth is, I love to ski! And I missed out on an opportunity to experience how a different culture shares my passion. I will definitely be hitting the slopes on my next Japanese adventure.

Tokyo Disney

We didn’t visit Tokyo Disney for the same reason we didn’t visit the Japanese Alps – I grew up driving distance from Disney World and my parents still live close by. But after experiencing just how different and particular Japanese culture is, I became very curious as to how it would mesh with the very western phenomenon of Disney. So next time I visit Japan, I will definitely be using our Disney Vacation Club points to explore this idea further. It’s on the way to the airport, anyway!

Koya-san

I was most disappointed to drop a visit to the monastic complex at Koya-san, but we didn’t have time to go both here and Kinosaki. Next time I will not miss out on the opportunity to wander the forests here and learn more about Buddhism by staying a night or two in temple lodgings.

I would also love to explore further south. A beach bum at heart, I have been dreaming about a visit to some of the more remote islands of Japan ever since I read about them in a feature of an in-flight magazine.

In Conclusion

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Japan has definitely been the most challenging place I’ve visited so far. There are a lot of things I felt were lost in translation and plenty of potential experienced missed out on because of this. But the great challenges did lead to great joys. There were definitely things I would have liked to have done differently. But would I do it again?

You betcha.

Japan: A Writer’s Perspective

March 11th, 2014

By

Dora Machado

Mt. Fuji at Sunset

Mount Fuji at Sunset

We landed in Japan during a fiery sunset that promised beauty, adventure, challenge and reward. We were not disappointed. Traveling has always been a fundamental source of inspiration for my stories and my trip to Japan was no exception. It was an unforgettable experience, a journey that I will always treasure personally and professionally.

The journey lasted seventeen days and it took us to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kinosaki and Hakone-en at the foot of Mount Fuji. It’s not easy to summarize my experiences in a single post, but here are five ways in which the trip was especially valuable to me as a writer and, of course, lots of pictures.

1. From the moment we set foot in Tokyo, I was struck by how gracious the Japanese people are. The majority of the people I met in Japan were poised, dignified and polite. I enjoyed the sense of propriety that permeated each contact. The contrast between the modern and the traditional was vivid, common and intense. I have a feeling that my character development skills will benefit greatly from my exposure to the Japanese people.

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Geishas in Kyoto

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Shoppers in Tokyo

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Tokyo’s modern landscape, including the famous Sky Tree

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Osaka’s modern landscape

2. Japan was a huge discovery session to my palate, so many new flavors, so many interesting tastes! Tokyo is full of amazing restaurants. I tried many new foods while I traveled throughout Japan. I made an effort to taste regional and national delicacies and had some amazing meals in the process. Yes, sure, I did have to stretch my comfort zone a few times, but on the upside, my writer’s taste bank has been duly expanded.

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Delicious dumplings in Tokyo

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Out of this world Ramen, also in Tokyo

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Awesome Yakitori, chicken skewers in Kyoto

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Melt-in-your-mouth Kobe Beef

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Amazing snow crab from coastal Kinosaki

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Crunchy shrimp tempura in Kyoto

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The best tuna Sushi in Tokyo

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Out of my comfort zone: pregnant squid

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Out of my comfort zone again

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Takoyaki, octopus balls

Japanese pancakes

Okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes

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Sake: Excellent liquid courage

3. My trip to Japan reminded me that beauty is in the details. As I traveled through Japan’s most famous and majestic sites, I realized that these places were beautiful not only because of their history, but also as composites of the striking level of detail. I started to think of these amazing temples and stunning gardens as novels, composed of chapters, paragraphs and sentences, enriched by the level of detail that history and art add to masterful craftsmanship.

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The exquisite garden of the Shoren-in Buddhist temple in Kyoto

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Gorgeous detail on a silk screen at the impressive Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijō-jō?) in Kyoto

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Prayer tablets at Meji-jingu, Tokyo’s grandest Shinto temple

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Carps swimming  in the pond of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, also known as the Kinkaku/Rokuon-ji temple

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The Sanmon, the largest surviving structure in Japan, is the gate to Chion-in Buddhist temple in Kyoto

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The  famous bamboo grove of Arashiyama

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The balcony of the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple, an impressive structure, rising on a hillside on huge timbers and offering gorgeous views of Kyoto

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The Pagoda of the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto

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The cherry blossoms beginning to bloom at Tokyo’s Hamarikyu Gardens

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Every path was a work of art at the beautiful gardens of Okochi Sanso in Kyoto

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The Buddhist Temple of Todai-ji in Nara was one of my favorites

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The giant Buddha of Todai-ji in Nara

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Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, also known as the Kinkaku/Rokuon-ji temple

Stunning!

4. My contact with the Japanese culture also reminded me that even in a modern world, rituals, small and big, are important parts of the human experience. Rituals have always been an important part of my stories. In Japan, ritual is an active part of many of the daily experiences. The very specific way in which an authentic Japanese breakfast is served in a ryokan (the equivalent of a Japanese inn or a bed and breakfast), the process of taking a bath in one of the many onsens (public bathhouses), and the traditional tea ceremony are just some of the rituals I had the opportunity to experience and appreciate while I was there.

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First course of our meticulously served dinner at our Ryokan in Kinosaki

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Tea and sweets during a beautiful afternoon in Tokyo’s Hamarikyu Gardens

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Detail of a Shinto Shrine in Tokyo

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The town of Kinosaki has seven public baths or onsens

5. I also learned that efficiency is at the heart of a thriving society. Japan’s public transportation system was incredible. From buses, to metros, to local and bullet trains, all of the cities I visited impressed me with easy-to-use, fast, reliable and extremely punctual transportation. Now if only I could write with the same speed and efficiency of a bullet train!

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The Shinkansen, Japan’s famous bullet trains

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Inside view of the The Shinkansen, fast, clean and dependable.

During our last three days in Japan, we traveled to Hakone-en, where we got snowed in at the foot of Mount Fuji by one of Japan’s worst blizzards in the last hundred years. With the roads closed and the snow piled high, we had no choice but to stay put in our hotel and reschedule our flight back to the United States. Very few guests populated the hotel, which is really a summer destination, and since we couldn’t get out of the front door, there wasn’t much to do. The experience of being trapped in the semi-deserted resort may have been inconvenient—not to mention expensive. The experience of writing non-stop with a stunning view of a snow covered Mount Fuji? Priceless.

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Mount Fuji from our balcony.

Want to know more about our trip to Japan? Visit http://marianaonthemove.com/

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Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and three very opinionated cats.

When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers.

To learn more about Dora Machado and her novels, visit her website at www.doramachado.com or contact her at Dora@doramachado.com.

For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.comthingsTheCurseGiver_ch1.html.

E-mail:Dora@doramachado.com

Website: www.doramachado.com

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Dora Tapestry 2 June 2013 (480x640)The Curse Giver as a Kindle gift

Preferring Tradition in Tokyo

February 26th, 2014

Hello everybody,

For all of you who wrote asking for more, here it is, more about our adventures in Japan and our impressions of Tokyo. Lots of pictures too. This post comes as a courtesy from marianaonthemove.com, written by my awesome traveling companion, who is also–very conveniently–a travel blogger.

Enjoy!

D.

Preferring Tradition in Tokyo

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The chorus of the Cee Lo Green song “Bright Lights Bigger City” was on repeat in my head as our bus carried us into Tokyo for the first time. The city is everything you’d expect from one of the great metropolises of the world – first class food and shopping abound, especially in Ginza, the 5th Avenue-esque district we called home during our stay. Bright neon lights lit the way by night, and by day the streets were packed with cars and the sidewalks crowded with people.

But while Tokyo is home to some interesting modern architecture, I was actually surprised by how normal the city looked. I guess I was expecting Tokyo to be a futuristic mecca pulled straight from the pages of a Jetsons cartoon. And while some individual buildings certainly lived up to that idea, my stereotypical western view of a shiny, ultra-modern city was mostly erased by our first day on the ground.

That’s not to say that Tokyo isn’t shiny – actually, we found every city we visited in Japan to be immaculate. And I was very impressed with the relative ease and efficiency of the public transportation system – even for someone who knows zero Japanese like me.

But Tokyo surprised me. Because it wasn’t its shine I fell in love with, it was its antiquity. Most of the attractions I loved in the city were traditional temples, shrines, and neighborhoods. Call me a sucker for nostalgia, or maybe even a snob for the neon and new (as a former New Yorker, I’m not easily impressed with tall buildings), but I found myself much more drawn to the cultural sights then the polish Tokyo is often known for.

So what were some of my favorite parts of traditional Tokyo?

Kabuki-za

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I have always been a huge theater lover, and seeing a traditional Kabuki performance was high on the list of things I wanted to do in Japan. As it turned out Kabuki-za – the premier place in Tokyo to catch a Kabuki performance – was located just down the street from our hotel in Ginza. But every time we passed the theater seemed to be closed, and with a packed sight-seeing schedule already, we knew some activities had to be cut. I resigned myself to crossing this particular want off my to-do list on another trip. We couldn’t make out what the Japanese signage in front of the building said anyway.

But luck was on our side, and one morning as we headed to the subway we noticed a large crowd of people gathering outside of the theater. We decided to go closer and try and figure out what was going on, and before we knew it, we were buying tickets for the first act of the show – which started in just 15 minutes!

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Our ‘seats’ were standing room only, and we stood on a bench at the highest point in the theater. But for only 1,000yen ($9.75 US) and absolutely no planning we couldn’t be more thrilled to be there.

The experience was fascinating. The show took place in many acts over the entire day. From what we understood from our translating ear pieces (only 100yen, or $.98US for a rental), the art of kabuki is less about telling a story and more about framing a picture. Each scene is designed to look like a traditional Japanese woodblock print. Sometimes a theater will actually present acts from different plays over the course of a performance, rather than performing acts from a single play chronologically. All of the parts are played by men, and when the audience likes a particular character, they call out the name of the actor in the middle of the scene.

Our tickets were only for the first act, which turned out to be just the right amount of time to get a feeling for kabuki while managing to stand in the back of a hot and crowded theater without fainting (about 1 hour). While interesting, it was also very abstract, and mom and I still had a lot of things to see.

Hamarikyu Onshi Teien

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Once the imperial hunting grounds, this area has since been transformed to a beautiful public garden. Visiting in February, we were lucky to see a few plum blossoms blooming, and I can only imagine what this place looks like in the spring! Located right on the water and surrounded by a moat, the garden features a plum tree grove, a peony patch, and a large field of cosmos.

At the center of a beautifully landscaped lake within the park was a lovely tea house where we sampled matcha (powdered green tea) and red bean paste sweets served in the style of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It turns out there are quite a few rules when it comes to when and how to drink your tea and eat your sweets. But luckily for us foreigners, the smiling ladies who run the tea house presented us with a laminated, English-language instructional guide.

Meiji Jingu

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The Meiji shrine is one of the most famous in Tokyo, and is dedicated to the spirits of the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. The couple spearheaded Japan’s own industrial revolution, often referred to as the Meiji Restoration, and are some of the most celebrated figures in the country’s history.

The grounds are large and immaculately kept, at the center of which is the main shrine complex. We visited on a weekend and, although it was a bit crowded, this allowed us the treat of witnessing several wedding processions through the shrine.

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Aren’t the bride and groom stunning? I was totally entranced by this couple as they passed. The bride in particular looked so beautiful and demure, and kept her eyes bashfully cast down the entire length of the procession. I loved it.

Setsubun Matsuri at Senso-ji

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Another stroke of luck brought us to the Setsubun festival at Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. Setsubun celebrates the end of winter, and while  Punxsutawney Phil forecasted another 6 weeks of cold weather back in the states, the Japanese were welcoming spring by throwing roasted soybeans to purify and drive away evil spirits. At the temple, VIPs threw the beans into an eager crowd – apparently it is very good luck to catch a sack.

While it was fun to witness this special ceremony, Senso-ji warrants a visit even without the occasion. The grounds include a beautiful central plaza, a massive gate, a five-story pagoda, and a large, gorgeous, hand-painted main hall.

And leading up to the temple you’ll find what turned out to be my favorite market in Japan – Nakamise-dori. This long street featured all sorts of fun goodies – from souvenirs to handmade crafts, to foods of all types. It was here that mom and I faced one of our biggest culinary challenges of the trip – a gooey, slimy, salty ball of octopus and batter.

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This is the ‘before’ picture…

Yes Tokyo is known for being modern and trendy, but it was the pockets of tradition that shined brightest to me.

For more about our Japan trip and other travel adventures, visit

http://marianaonthemove.com/2014/02/22/preferring-tradition-in-tokyo/