Story Structure – The Virgin’s Archetypal Journey

I recent posted about a Webinar I attended that focused on story structure. The presenter, Beth Barany, has graciously provided a link to the Webinar that also included helpful slides. I highly recommend you take time to view it.

nail down.jpegI’ve recently struggled to nail down the proper structure for my current work in progress. After the Webinar, however, I resonated with a form Beth called “The Virgin’s Archetypal Journey”. Several of the structure categories Beth discussed were ones I’d never heard of before, including this one. Beth emphasized that the word “virgin” in this structure’s title doesn’t refer to a lack of sexual encounters. Rather, it describes a main character who experiences an internal change because he confronts the story’s conflicts and obstacles. These challenges cause the protagonist to discover a dormant, unproven potential that lies within. As the main character acts on this discovery, it changes not only the protagonist, but also the world  he inhabits. This structure differs from the Hero’s Journey where the central figure overcomes obstacles that lead to an inner change, resulting in the hero selflessly saving the community.

The differences between these two structures illuminated the darkness of my writer’s block as I realized that I was trying to make my protagonist a hero, when in reality, he was a virgin!

Beth outlined and described a list of thirteen beats that formulate the world of a character whose storyline fits the virgin’s archetypal structure. The originator of the Virgin’s Archetypal Structure, Kim Hudson, explains her understanding of this construct in an article titled,  “The Virgin’s Promise, a New Archetypal Structure“. I’m still trying to digest all of this new information and would love to hear your take on it!

Categories: authors, books, historical middle grade fiction, inspiration, links, Story Structure, Structure, The Virgin's Archetypal Journey | Leave a comment

How to Choose Your Story’s Structure

rolling up sleeves right.pngNow that I’ve agreed to value lessons more than successes, I’m rolling up my sleeves to make major revisions on my current work in progress. I participated in a Webinar last night titled “How to Choose Your Story’s Structure” (recommended by my writing coach).  The presentation opened up a whole new area of thought for me regarding “structure”.

Hopefully I’ll devote subsequent posts to topics covered in the Webinar, (you can email Beth Barany to ask if she’ll repeat this Webinar in the future) but I’m going to focus first on material Beth referenced from a book titled The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

recumbent bike left.jpgToday I watched the first of five (free) YouTube videos regarding Coyne’s Story Grid. They were easy to watch while I huffed away on my exercise bike for eight minutes. (No judging here – I’m slowly building up my stamina!). The material filled in knowledge gaps that I realize will make my WIP stronger. I just ordered Coyne’s book and will read that in conjunction with watching the videos.

One of Coyne’s major points that hit me over the head is the idea of creating “obligatory scenes”. This concept proposes that different genre readers have specific scenes they look for when reading a particular genre. If these scene types are not included, the reader will feel disappointed and probably not read more of your work (or may put the book down before finishing}! I never heard the idea  of “obligatory scenes” before. I asked Beth during the Webinar if Coyne covered obligatory scenes for historical fiction, and she did not think so since historical fiction can include either romance, adventure, mystery, or other specific genres. I believe historical fiction, despite its inclusion of some of these other genres, DOES have some specific elements of its own. I’m looking to discuss this further with other historical fiction writers. Any takers?

Categories: authors, books, inspiration, obligatory scenes, Story Structure, Structure | 8 Comments

The Silver Coin – The Aleppo Connection

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 volume 3 in the middle grade historical fiction series Ancient Elements –  The Silver CoinThis adventurous series about life in Ancient Mesopotamia relates to the 6th grade social studies curriculum.

The Silver Coin 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.”

More information at: and

Categories: Aleppo, Syria, Omran, current events, authors, books, current events, historical middle grade fiction, social studies | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New WIP – All That Glitters – With STEAM

I’m excited to move forward with my new middle grade historical fiction work in progress, tentatively titled, All That Glitters. Yesterday I visited Oak Hill Memorial Cemetery, the final resting place for several people from the Donner party, including Virginia Reed, who was thirteen when she came West with her mother, stepfather, and siblings.

In my middle grade historical fiction story, All That Glitters, the thirteen-year-old historical character, Virginia Reed, befriends my (fictional) thirteen-year-old character, Daniel, and his ten-year-old sister, Hannah, orphaned siblings who travel West with a guardian, Jim Savage, in 1846 (Jim is an historical figure). Jim, along with his wife and my two fictional characters, Daniel and Hannah, travel with the same wagon train as the Donner Party, but before reaching the Salt Flats they leave Fort Bridger sooner than the Donner party, so Jim and my fictional characters don’t get caught in the winter storms as do Virginia and the other families. My characters later meet up with Virginia after the Donner Party survivors reach California in the spring of 1847.

In the meantime, Jim and my fictional character, Daniel, fight in the Mexican-American War, discover gold, run trading posts, befriend Indians, then lead a battalion into Yosemite to rout out marauding Indians who attack trading posts and miners – miners who have trodden the Native Americans’ lands and killed their people. The Mariposa Battalion members become the first white settlers (historically true!) to set eyes on Yosemite as they attempt to take the Ahwahneechees to a reservation. Friendships, prejudices, revenge, forgiveness, justice and injustice abound as Daniel and Hannah try to find their way in this middle grade coming of age historical fiction novel.

bancroft-libraryI recently visited the Bancroft Library on the UC Berkeley campus which specializes in housing first and second-hand documents from the 1800’s in California, especially the California Gold Rush period, to help fill in some holes in the research I’ve conducted so far.

I am about one-third of the way through the manuscript and am excited to continue. A friend who now works as a STEAM TOSA teacher (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math focus, teacher-on-special-assignment) suggested I include STEAM ideas at the end of each chapter. This will make the book even more useful to 4th grade teachers who want to include STEAM activities when they discuss US westward migration as part of 4th grade social studies, and also very valuable to home-schooling parents. I visited my friend’s classroom yesterday to see a STEAM project she created for 4th grade students. She has them making covered wagons, using the engineering design process. Very exciting!! I’m hoping to collaborate more with her as the manuscript develops. Stay tuned!


Categories: California history, Donner Party, gold rush, historical fiction, gold rush,, historical middle grade fiction, social studies, Virginia Reed | 1 Comment

The Silver Coin

PhoenicianShipBook 3 of the Ancient Elements series is now in its final editing stage! This ship 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.




Categories: authors, books, inspiration | 4 Comments

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

Marie and Halina 2016

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.”

Halina extended an invitation for tea at her home at a future date, which I gladly accepted. 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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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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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.



Categories: Aleppo, Syria, Omran, current events, books, current events, historical middle grade fiction, social studies | Leave a comment

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ACFW - DFW CHAPTER a.k.a. DFW Ready Writers

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg


Northern California Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

Letters to Noah

Spoken words are fleeting, but written words last beyond a lifetime.

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

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant

ACFW - DFW CHAPTER a.k.a. DFW Ready Writers

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg


Northern California Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

Letters to Noah

Spoken words are fleeting, but written words last beyond a lifetime.

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

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant