Have you heard of Sallie, the canine Civil War hero? Many people haven’t! We’re so excited to share her story in The Eternal Soldier, which shows that bravery comes in all shapes and forms. Recently we had the chance to send a few questions to the book’s author, Allison Crotzer Kimmel, and chat a bit about her writing inspiration and recent trip to Sallie’s monument in Gettysburg. Keep an eye out for The Eternal Soldier, which hits bookshelves on May 7th!
1. When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
As a child, I was a voracious reader. I loved getting lost in the world of a book (I still do) and in about third grade, I discovered I liked to create make believe worlds of my own on paper. When I was in sixth grade, my teacher Mrs. Kane encouraged me to submit a story I had written based on my grandma’s evacuation during World War II to a contest at our local library. I won! And the writing bug bit me. I entered the contest the next two years and won each time. The second year I wrote a mystery and the last year I entered, I wrote a story about a girl with AIDS, which was coming into the public consciousness at that time. That last year, a writer for our local paper gave me the whole back page. He printed my story and as cool as that was, I got a letter from a woman I did not know who encouraged me to keep writing. She told me she learned something from my character, a girl who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. That’s truly when I realized authors have the important job of bringing topics and truths to a wide-range of people, and that writing can change people’s perceptions. I was hooked and since then, my ultimate dream has been to be a writer who brings stories that mean something to their readers.
2. How did you come up with the idea for The Eternal Soldier?
I have always loved history. If I wasn’t an English major, I probably would have studied history. I am particularly interested in finding stories most people haven’t heard and telling everyone about them. Every storyteller likes to be the one who has the scoop! I am from Central Pennsylvania, so one summer when I was back east visiting my family, I went with my husband to Gettysburg because it has always held a fascination for me. I asked our tour guide for the one story that hasn’t been told about Gettysburg he thought children should know. He told me about Sallie, and I knew this was the story I had to tell. At the time, our beloved dog Buddy was very ill. I wrote the first drafts as he lay at my feet. Sallie’s story of loyalty above all reminded me so much of Bud, and she became very special to me as our Bud was (and always will be).
3. Which part of The Eternal Soldier was your favorite to write? Why?
I always get a chuckle out of the image of Sallie tearing the seat out of a retreating soldier’s pants. This is just so Sallie to me. Her men described her as brave and loyal and really as one of them, a true soldier—and a soldier does not abandon their unit. She expected her men to be as brave as she was, and she was going to make sure they fell in line. I admire her intelligence, her courage, and her tenacity.
4. Any fun behind-the-scenes stories you can tell us about the writing process for this book?
After the first summer when I found Sallie’s story, I told my husband and my kids I had to return to Gettysburg. I needed to “see” Sallie again at the Pennsylvania 11th monument, and I wanted to do more research. And quite honestly, I have fallen in love with Gettysburg. It is like no other place I have been. It just sort of calls me back. I feel the need to return. There is a presence there and a feeling I get when I am there, perhaps the weight of history, perhaps the spirits of all those brave soldiers, both North and South, who fought there. Anyway, our son Aidan had just turned seven and he hadn’t been anywhere with just Mom and Dad since his sister had been born four and a half years earlier. He loves history as much as I do, so I promised him a trip to “meet” Sallie. He is a dog lover like his dad and myself, so he fell in love with Sallie and her story just as I had the summer before. My favorite picture is of him gazing up at the statue of Sallie. It tells you all you need to know about Aidan—loving, gentle, compassionate. There is nothing like the love between a child and a dog.
5. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Well, I love to spend time with my kids, Aidan and Anneliese; my husband, Eric; and our three dogs, a husky, a bull mastiff, and a lab mix. We are probably a bit rowdy, but we have fun. My favorite thing is to travel with the kids and show them new places and create new adventures. Last summer we took the kids to Florida to meet our favorite famous mouse, and this summer we are going back to Gettysburg and down to Virginia to trace Sallie’s path. I love exploring history with them. And even better, I love seeing it come alive through their eyes.
6. What was your favorite book to read as child?
I was convinced Judy Blume followed me around to write Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. I actually thought I was her for a while, because the things Sheila thought and felt and did were just like me. I also felt my life and awareness changed after reading Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. That was the moment I realized how powerful a book could be in a kid’s life. I also loved Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. And I loved getting lost in Ramona Quimby’s world with Beverly Cleary and tangled in Nancy Drew mysteries. I am so sorry, but you know I can’t name just one book. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, Sounder by William H. Armstrong, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan—I will stop myself now. But all these books (and more) made me the reader, the writer, and the person I am today. I don’t consider them just books, I consider them markers of where I was in my life at that time; I don’t consider them characters, I consider them friends.