Behind the Words: Gail Hosking

Posted by on Aug 23, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Gail Hosking’s essay, “Missing Girl Scout Cookies” was featured in the second issue of Spry. Her essay features common themes of estranged parents and the struggles of childhood, but what she accomplishes in her essay is the portrayal of the emotional and physical hunger one feels. She was kind enough to answer some questions that  accentuate the already wonderfully written essay she has shared with our readers.


Zac: First, I would like to tell you how much I loved your essay. As someone who is also writing about a reclusive mother, I found that you portrayed the mother character in a very neutral light. I never felt that she was the villain or even the cause of all your pain. Was that intentional? Did you find it difficult to humanize your mother without your own feelings overtaking the essay?

Gail: “I truly understand my mother’s struggle and the limits she had with her life (no education, no money, etc) that led her where she went. So I write about it with all the humanity I can find. There were no villains in this story, which isn’t to say I wasn’t angry. Of course, I had that, though even that was hard to find sometimes. It took years to find its way to the surface. By then she was dead. I don’t think there was anything ‘intentional’—writing in the way I do when I’m doing it with honesty and tenderness, surprises me. The feelings are all through the piece. Feelings for each and every character.”


How did this essay form? That is to say, were there certain images or ideas you started with for this story? Did it turn out how you expected or was a different story told then you originally set out to share?

“I wrote a book about my mother and it got passed over, so I started to use some of the chapters for possible essays. I think the name Viola Fink was so catchy to me (her daughter was Rocky Fink), and I remembered her so vividly that I had to use it.”


I’m always interested in how nonfiction writers cull their subject matter. Do you find yourself gleaning ideas from your current environment before you write, or do you emotionally navigate your history for story ideas?

“I think one has to be hungry for something in order to be a writer. I use my history a great deal for writing, though it is things in my present life that trigger the past and make me hungry to write about them. Desire?”


What do you think the feeling of hunger means in this essay? Do you think it juxtaposes any other theme in your essay?

“Hunger as a basic need for food is first. Second, it means hunger for love, for attention, for the war to be over, for understanding. Hunger to live in a world without war. Hunger to be heard. Hunger to be ‘normal.’ It’s foremost about being human and all the needs that come with that.”


Does hunger find its way into any of your other essays? 

“I think hunger in all its metaphors and images plays out in my writing. I wrote a book (with an agent at the moment) about the hunger of love/a divorce/the hunger for healing and all that takes.”


Why do you think Viola Fink paid for the cookies? Do you think she knew the extent of your hunger? Why did you find it necessary to include her in your story?

“I think there are people like Viola Fink everywhere in this world, quietly doing what is in front of them. Paying for simple things for people who can’t afford things. I had a friend whose mother fed me dinner for a whole year. I have read about teachers who buy children milk at lunch because the children don’t have the money. Simple things like that. It’s everywhere. I think she did know how bad things were though we never spoke about it. She was a single mother and knew the difficulty of making a living. She knew my mother’s plight, I’m sure of it. I was the age of her daughter and a friend at school. I was a dedicated Girl Scout. She saw all these things and did her part. She is necessary because she is clearly part of the story–all those silent voices in the background. She can’t be dismissed as not important. Without her I would not have had the Girl Scouts that year and that would not have been good. We did things like help out at the local blood mobile, etc. In a place without much to do, it was important to me.”


As a nonfiction writer, do you share your work with your siblings? When they recall that period in your lives, do they remember the hunger? Do you think it’s important to gain perspective from others who lived through the same thing?

“Sometimes I share my work. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I forget to. My sister called me weeping with this one. It made her remember how difficult those years were. It gave validation to her own hungers. Sometimes we agree on how it happened and sometimes I leave things out that I forgot and they help me remember. In some ways I feel like I am a voice for them as well.”


What are you currently working on with your writing?

“At the moment I’m trying to get Leaving Instructions published. Still with agent. In the meanwhile, I’m working on old essays that needed work still. I’m looking at them with new eyes because time has passed. I’ve not got a new project at the moment. Stay tuned. I’ve spent the summer tying up loose ends of many projects, which I think is all about being ready for whatever comes next.”

Her essay, “Missing Girl Scout Cookies,” can be found here.


Zac Zander lives in Connecticut with his dog, Kaki, who is named after the musician not the pants. He holds an MFA from Fairfield University and is working on a collection of essays.

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