The Silver Coin – a Sneak Preview

Silver Coin Cover
John Dewey once said meaningful learning occurs when successive learning experiences “are integrated with one another. It [a learning experience] can be built up only as a world of related objects is constructed.”

That’s one of the tasks of the soon-to-be-released final installment of my Ancient Elements series, The Silver Coin – helping students build up this world of related objects by associating the historical fiction adventures they read about in the Ancient Elements series to life and geography in the ancient Mesopotamian areas of today.

The Silver Coin, set for release by the end of August or early September, includes maps and scenes of Sam’s father on a caravan trip from Babylonia to Tyre in search of a treasure and revenge. Dagon’s caravan travels through the ancient city of Halab, known today as Aleppo. The teacher’s guide provides information helping teachers relate current events in Aleppo to Dagon’s 1780’s BC experience of the city, giving students, as Dewey suggested, a meaningful learning opportunity  where “successive experiences are integrated with one another.”

Here’s an example. Teachers using The Silver Coin in their curriculum this fall could bring in any number of current events regarding Syria, but one that occurred just this past week really struck a chord with me. This week CNN’s Kate Bolduan broke down on air as she reported the story of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old whose rescuers pulled him  out alive after a bomb blew up his home. As Americans, and especially for middle school students who study ancient civilizations, it’s often difficult to relate to current events such as this. Reading the historical fiction adventures of thirteen-year-old Samsuluna and his father in ancient Mesopotamia provides students with a learning experience that current events information can then build upon, giving students a more meaningful learning experience. Here’s a sneak preview of a scene from The Silver Coin that relates to Aleppo.



Dagon rode a donkey behind his short-legged helper, Libluth, who walked alongside Dagon’s other pack animals. Following along in the caravan line, Dagon fitted a cloth over his mouth and nose to keep out the ever-present dust. After six long weeks of battling sun, thirst, winds, and sore feet, Dagon realized he hated life as a traveling merchant. He watched his helper with disdain as the snake of a man urged the donkeys forward. On the first night they met at the caravansary, his helper easily ferreted out Dagon’s impersonation of Shulgi and demanded one-third of Dagon’s profits as the price for his silence. Dagon considered doing away with the leech, but the man knew how to care for the donkeys, wield a spear, and throw a dagger. His skills would come in handy if they ran into bandits. No. For now, he needed the cockroach.

 Until recently, the trip hadn’t seemed too difficult, because they followed the Euphrates River north, stopping every few nights near a city where they could purchase needed supplies. They continued to follow the river north until they left the kingdom of Babylonia and entered the Amorite kingdom of Mari. Dagon didn’t like having to occasionally stop and pay merchant taxes as they passed through the cities of Mari, but the presence of Mari’s military throughout the kingdom quieted any fears he felt about running into bandits.


For the past week, however, they traveled through the Amorite kingdom of Yamhad, and when they reached the city of Tuba, their course turned westward, forcing them to leave the security of the Euphrates River. Enlil reminded everyone when they left Tuba that the two-day desert trail from Tuba to Yamhad’s capital, Halab, also known as Aleppo, would not provide any refreshing river or trees for shade, just blistering sun and hot winds.

Now, near the end of their first day crossing the desert, Dagon’s eyes threatened to close as weariness overtook him. He considered getting off his donkey and walking once again in order to stay alert, but his sore feet protested.

Just then Enlil rode his donkey down the caravan line. “We’ll stop soon to make camp for the night,” he announced. “There’s a well up ahead where we can quench our thirst, refill our flasks, and water our animals. After that, it’s only one more day’s ride to the city of Halab.”

News that they’d soon stop for the night cheered Dagon. He decided to stay atop his donkey until they stopped for the night. At last night’s camp he heard that the city of Halab, also known as Aleppo, served as the capital of the Amorite kingdom of Yamhad, currently ruled by King Yarim-Lim. Even though the merchants spoke highly of Yarim-Lim, the hair on Dagon’s neck had bristled with every donkey bray since they’d entered the kingdom of Yamhad. The caravan guards talked about the Yamhad king’s recent alliance with King Hammurabi of Babylonia in order to challenge the military expansion of Assyria. Today, Dagon often found himself looking over his shoulder as they plodded through the desert sands. The guards said the Assyrian king had recently gained the support of a few cities within or near Yamhad’s borders. What if those allies decided to attack the city of Halab while they spent the night there?

More information at: and


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The Silver Coin

Book 3 of the Ancient Elements series is now in its final editing stage! The above pic is one of the illustrations in the book by my wonderful illustrator, Marsha Ottum Owen. The book’s cover art is still in the development stage.We hope to publish by the end of June, or early July. If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, use this contact form. I can hardly wait! A 6th grade teacher at Kennedy Middle School recently read an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) to her class and sent me their comments. A sampling of some of their comments is below.


SC_coin.jpg My class LOVED reading about Samsuluna’s adventures and as a teacher, I loved that there was so much about the civilizations woven throughout the narrative! – Ms. Yeung, 6th grade teacher

The Silver Coin will take you on a roller coaster of emotions with your adrenaline racing as you and the character merge to becomeone.— Mahati

Amazing end to the series of The Elements. Many twists and turns that keep you forever on your toes. — Will

The Silver Coin, the last book in the trilogy of the Ancient Elements series, is a great ending book. The plot has amazing twists and readers will really enjoy it. Dr. Sontag didn’t disappoint in any book, letting students learn while having fun at the same time.— Diya 

This final book to the Ancient Elements series is a mix of romance, adventure, surprise, and history all perfectly measured and combined into a single book.—Sophia

An epic conclusion to the Ancient Elements series, with tinges of romance woven into the gripping plot.—Victor

Mystery on top of mystery, an aching thirst kept me awake at night, dying for more.— Rachel

It kept the whole class on the edge of their seats the whole time. —Sophia

Educational yet thrilling, The Silver Coin thrills the reader with twists and turns all ending in one grand finale. A terrific ending to the tale of Samsuluna.—Nitin  

Dr. Sontag does an amazing job of entertaining the reader with a very intriguing plot with lively characters and devious plots, while also putting ancient civilizations into the mix, putting it all together to make a very intricate story of three perspectives slowly coming together in a spark of adventure. This finale, The Silver Coin, for the Ancient Elements series sure will grab you and won’t let you go.—Shreyas 

Exciting, gripping, and edgy are just a few of the words that can be used to describe The Silver Coin. Dr. Sontag perfectly combines and contrasts adventure and mystery in this stunning end to her thrilling trilogy. —Riya 

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Why I Write – Reason #1

fal bed.jpgWhy I Write – Reason #1: So I don’t fall out of bed at night.
At least, that’s my working theory. You see, this month I haven’t had time to write. My mom, who has lived with us for the past three years, has dementia that advanced to the point where we needed to find her a place to live where she could receive professional care. Getting this in place absorbed all my time and energy this month.

As a result, my story brain went into overload. The other night I struggled to free myself from gunmen (in a dream), but discovered my feet bound with a belt. I cut my bonds with a knife, but my legs still wouldn’t move. I had to will my body to roll over to avoid getting shot by my pursuers. The next thing I knew I was on the floor next to our bed with my husband looking down on me, asking if I was okay.

So if I don’t return your call or email right away in the next few weeks, it’s because I’m busy writing so that I won’t fall out of bed at night.




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Author Visit to Kennedy Middle School

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.46.53 AMLast week I spent a day and a half at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino  sharing with their  6th grade students (500 of them in groups of 60 at a time!) about my Ancient Elements series of books, The Bronze Dagger, The Alabaster Jarand The Sliver Coin. They also got to see and touch my ancient artifacts. What a sharp and delightful group of students! In sharing about the writing process, I talked about how becoming a writer was always one of my dreams, and compared having a dream or a passion to the process of making a hard boiled egg.  After discussing the comparison, I asked students to put this quote from Carl Sandburg in their own words, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” One 6th grader said, “It means that when you have a dream about something it’s usually beyond what you think you can do, but if you really want it, having a dream helps you push past the hard things to make it happen.” I then asked students to share some of their dreams. They included becoming one of the fastest runners, becoming an inventor, an engineer, a teacher, and a writer, among other dreams.

chasing_dreams_10-15One student came in wearing this top. She was delighted when she heard one of our topics was about having a dream. I was disappointed I couldn’t take her picture because of privacy issues, but she surprised me when I returned to the school the following day by bringing in the top and letting me take a picture of it without her in it!


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A Scout from the 1944 Rising

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 7.53.51 PM

This past Saturday I met Halina Butler at a Polish Festival I was invited to in Martinez, CA. At the festival I shared about my book, Rising Hope, which takes place in Warsaw, Poland during WWII. I learned that Halina was a 15-year-old Girl Guides bicycle messenger during the 1944 Rising in Warsaw, Poland when the Scouts tried to help the Polish Underground Army rid Warsaw of the occupying Germans during WWII.

In Rising Hope I weave the lives of historical people in with fictional characters. I have talked to one Polish Scout from this time period over the phone, but Halina was the first Scout survivor from the Rising I’ve had the privilege of meeting in person. What a precious moment. Her eyes twinkled and she squeezed my hand as I told her daughter about my book. I told her daughter that in all the research I’ve done about the Scouts who survived those dark days, they were always praised as heroes, but when survivors were interviewed they always said, “We only did what had to be done.” Halina squeezed my hand extra hard and my eyes watered as she simply nodded her head and replied, “That’s right. We just did what we had to do.”

In my desire to “bring the past to life” for today’s youth, it’s such a wonderful experience when I get to meet someone in person who lived during the time I’m writing about!

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Turkey’s Border Crisis

This week I’ve continued work on the third book of the Ancient Elements series, The Phoenician Coin, as the main character, Sam, nears his goal of finding his Uncle Zim in Tyre. Sam’s father, Dagon, also takes further steps toward his goal of seeking revenge on Sam and Sam’s uncle (Dagon’s brother) for the misfortunes Dagon believes they have caused him. As I completed a chapter that saw Dagon and his Babylonian caravan travel west and then south from the area now known as northern Syria, drawing closer to his destination of Tyre, I included the caravan’s course on this map, as seen below.


Then, just this morning, I saw the geographic area I’m writing about come to life as I viewed the news. Today’s news took me to a picture from two weeks ago that shows a man carrying a girl as Syrians fled the war in their town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria and tried to pass through a broken down border fence to enter Turkish territory illegally. This occurred near Akcakale’s border crossing (Akcakale forms a divided city with Syria’s Tal Abyad) on June 14 (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images). If you look at the modern-day map of this area and compare it with Dagon’s caravan route, you can see that the towns of Tel Aybad and Akcakale are just north of Dagon’s route.


Here’s an image of Syrians from Tal (Tel) Abyad trying to cross over into Turkey two weeks ago

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This morning, I viewed a VOA news clip showing that, as of June 25, these refugees began to return to Tal Abyad, since coalition bombings and fighting from the Kurds and Syrian rebel forces helped to oust ISIS from Tal Abyad. (The pic from the video is not a hot link. Here is the video link:

Syrians returnI miss teaching social studies to middle school students, especially when current events relate to areas covered in the curriculum. Students study ancient civilizations, including this area of Ancient Mesopotamia, during 6th grade social studies. Since I’m not in the classroom anymore unless I get to do an author visit, I relish the opportunity to write books for this age group, such the Ancient Elements series.

If you haven’t read book one of the Ancient Elements series, The Bronze Dagger, we’re having a drawing of three free books July 25 for those who enter below. If you’ve read it, send the link and encourage a friend to enter. Book two, The Alabaster Jar, is now in the design stage as the publisher works on the cover. Hopefully The Alabaster Jar will be out by the end of July. Book three, The Phoenician Coin, should wrap up its writing stage by mid-July, then move on to the editing stage, with a possible publication date by the end of the year. Sign up below to enter the free drawing, and encourage friends to do the same!

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Blog Hop – The Silver Coin

BD height330Ever heard of a Blog Hop? No, it’s not a new dance. I’m joining one today where several writers post 400 words or less from their current, unpublished “work in progress”, and then view and comment positively on several of the posted blogs. Below is mine for this Fiction Friday Blog Hop. It’s from the third and final book in my middle grade historical fiction series, Ancient Elements, titled The Phoenician Coin, set during the time of Hammurabi (1780’s BC). We don’t have a cover designed yet for book three, and book two’s cover is still in the design phase, so I’ll use book one’s cover as a placeholder.

coin_boatBefore long, five men with long hair and short beards descended the ladder. Each had a sword strapped to his waist. Like most of the Phoenician sailors, the Mycenaeans had bare chests and wore kilts.

            The sick Phoenician captain struggled to his feet and approached one of the Mycenaeans. “I am the captain of this ship,” he said. “State your business here.”

            The Mycenaean unsheathed his sword and placed its tip underneath the captain’s chin. “You ain’t the captain here no more,” the short, stocky man said. “We’re pirating this ship and loading all of your goods onto our vessel. If you’re smart, you won’t put up a fight.”

            The young woman cried out. “Are you going to leave us stranded out here on the Great Sea?”

            The Mycenaean laughed and waved his sword in the air. “Oh, no, lady. We have other plans for you. You’ll all soon be slaves of rich Mycenaeans!” The stocky man laughed again and then turned to the other four pirates with him. “Load all of this cargo onto our ship. Make these passengers help. If they give you any trouble, run ‘em through with your blades.”

            Sam and Keret, along with the other passengers and Phoenician crewmen helped the Mycenaean pirates carry the cargo of jars, ivory and crates up the ladder and onto the Mycenaean ship. A heavy fog hung in the air, restricting vision beyond a few yards, but the winds and the rains had stopped.  

            As the last of the cargo and passengers boarded the Mycenaean ship, the stocky Mycenaean shouted to one of his men who still remained on the Phoenician ship. “Burn it all.”

            Sam watched as a clean-shaven Mycenaean torched the Phoenician ship’s sail, its rigging and the wicker railings.

            The Mycenaean captain laughed and addressed his prisoners. “This way, there’ll be no record of what happened to you. By the time people realize you’re missing, you’ll all be slaves of Greek merchants or landowners. And I’ll be that much richer!”

            A loud crash, followed by a jolt, interrupted the Mycenaean pirate’s gloating, almost knocking him off his feet. Sam turned to see a warship pulled up alongside the Mycenaean vessel. A large ramming device on the front of the warship had punched a hole through the side of the Mycenaean ship.

Christian Fiction Friday is a weekly blog hop where authors post short (400-word or less) snippets from their current works in progress. It is hosted by Alana Terry and Hallee Bridgeman. – See more at:

To enter a drawing for a free copy of Ancient Elements Book One, The Bronze Dagger, sign up below. Three names will be drawn July 25, 2015.

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Polish Festival in Belmont, CA

AdultDancersPicMark, Mom and I had a great time Saturday at the PolCA Polish Heritage Festival in Belmont, CA. We enjoyed Polish folk dancing, music, and food. I got to meet the Consul General of Poland in LA, Mariusz M. Brymor, who received a copy of Rising Hope, my historical fiction book about the Polish Scouts’ part in helping to overthrow the Germans in Warsaw during WWII.

I was delighted to see that the Polish Society of California had a copy of Rising Hope at their booth, along with other books about Poland in English and in Polish.Anna_Girl_Guide_2015

I especially enjoyed meeting Polish-American Scouts that helped out at the festival, including a leader named Anna. We talked about Scouts that fought in Poland during WWII, and about the current Polish uniforms worn here in the United States. Anna even agreed to let me take a picture of her in her gray uniform. She was delighted to receive a copy of Rising Hope because she is preparing a talk for her group of Polish-American Scouts about the history of Scouting in Poland.

Mom especially enjoyed the Polish band with an accordion because she taught accordion in Milwaukee, WI before we moved to CA in 1963 (she ran a music store in WI from the age of 17). Mark especially enjoyed the food! Last week I made Bigos for the first time, a traditional Polish dish. Can’t wait for my next festival! Enjoy a bit of Polish culture by viewing one or more of the 10 to 50 sec. video clips linked below.



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Free Books for School Libraries

books in library

A friend recently emailed me with this picture taken in her school’s library to show that Rising Hope and The Bronze Dagger were available for their students to check out. I decided to offer a book of one or both titles to the first eight schools that  request them for their school libraries. Just send in a request to sign up for my newsletter and I will contact you to obtain the necessary information.

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Bringing the Past to Life – Attack on the Ancient City of Palmyra

Friday, 5/15/15

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning when I read this news post, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach:

Islamic State fighters on Thursday reached the outskirts of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural heritage sites in the Middle East.

“If I.S. enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, told Agence France-Presse. “If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.”

Palmyra lies at the crossroads of several ancient empires, and is packed with the ruins of 1st and 2nd century temples…”

Six months ago, the name Palmyra meant nothing to me, but, since December, I’ve so entrenched myself in researching this area that my visceral reaction took my breath away.

The final book in my Ancient Elements middle grade historical fiction series (The Silver Coin) follows the main character’s adventures from Egypt (the setting for book two, The Alabaster Jar, coming this fall), to Tyre in Phoenicia as he searches for his uncle. In book three, Sam, now fifteen, sails from Egypt to Crete with his friend Keret where they must escape the clutches of King Minos. Sam and Keret then sail to the island of Cyprus and finally on to Tyre. Meanwhile, Sam’s father, Dagon, recently released from a Babylonian jail, joins a caravan traveling to Tyre in hopes of finding his brother, Zim, and his son, Sam. Unknown to Sam, Sam and his uncle hold the keys to a treasure box that promises to make Dagon an extremely rich man.

That’s where the city of Palmyra comes in. In researching the route I wanted Dagon’s caravan to take, I considered having them travel through the ancient city of Palmyra. I learned that some caravans in 1780 BC took this faster, shorter desert route through Palmyra as they travelled from Babylon to Tyre, but others chose the easier trek that followed the Euphrates River north from Babylonia through the kingdoms of Mari and Yamhad, and then west to the Mediterranean Sea and south to Phoenicia. I opted against the desert trek through Palmyra, but not until I had researched this ancient crossroads from the east to the west. Here’s a map I created of Dagon’s route. Notice Palmyra located in the kingdom of Qatna, an oasis in the desert crossroads between Babylonia and the Phoenician coast.


A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows the sanctury of Baal in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning as I read the article on modern-day Palmyra, I studied the article’s photo of the ancient temple of Baal for several minutes. Having existed for over 3,000 years, historical gems like this may soon be destroyed. Dagon saw these sites as he traveled. The juxtaposition of this current image with what I’ve seen in my mind’s eye while writing The Silver Coin gave me pause. No, it gave me more than pause. That punch in the stomach evidenced the ache I felt for the people who live there now, anger over those who wreak such destruction, and a sense of loss for future generations that may never see these sites in their lifetime. It also pushed me to finish the last few chapters of The Silver Coin so students can read about these places in historical fiction before we humans obliterate such archaeological jewels from the face of the earth.

shot of destruction

 Go to to see the above video showing ISIS members destroying artifacts in Iraq.

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Sontag Writing Dreams

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

marsha ottum owen

I make Children's Books

Under His Wings

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

ACFW San Francisco Bay Area

Northern California chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant

Sontag Writing Dreams

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

marsha ottum owen

I make Children's Books

Under His Wings

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

ACFW San Francisco Bay Area

Northern California chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant