Thursday, May 23, 2013

Q&A with author Gail Hosking

Gail Hosking
Gail Hosking, a writer and poet, is the author of Snake's Daughter: The Roads In and Out of War, a family memoir focused on the life of her father, Charles E. "Snake" Hosking, Jr., an Army master sergeant who was killed in action in 1967 while serving in Vietnam and posthumously won a Medal of Honor. Gail Hosking (who wrote Snake's Daughter under the name Gail Hosking Gilberg) was 17 at the time of her father's death. She teaches in the English department of the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Q: In the process of writing Snake's Daughter, do you feel that you found out as much about yourself as about your father?

A: I suppose I found out that I really missed him, and that I had cut off feelings about the relationship in order to survive beforehand. I found out how beloved he was to so many soldiers who looked up to him. I was told a Vietnamese soldier came out of retirement to fight alongside my dad. I found out that the VC would send messages about my father--trying to capture him, promising good things if the U.S. gave him up. I found out just how lonely I imagine my father was and perhaps even disappointed in his country by the end. Though I have nothing to prove that, it seemed to seep out of the edges of conversations.

I think I realized how different I am from my friends, my civilian friends whose experiences were so different than mine. It helped me sort that out, accept it.

The writing made me see the threads that connect my father's life to mine--how clearly I am his daughter. I had not thought of that before.

I saw the wider picture of what the war did to our country, its families, its trust...

It got me in touch with a grass roots organization called Sons and Daughters in Touch.

Q: How did your family members react to the book?

A: I think my family was proud, though a sister asked why I had to delve into all this sadness. Another sister was running a group of Vets (therapy) and many of them started talking more after they read the book. That I was proud of.

Q: You write of your experience visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, "I had not expected to feel anything at this wall everyone was talking about because I had grown accustomed to the walls around my heart. But when I saw my father's name and my family's reflection in the black stone, I stood there with tears flowing down my face....I found myself for the first time wanting to talk to those who surrounded me....Tell me your story, I wanted to say." Why do you think the wall evoked this reaction in you?
A: There was so much silence during the war, especially from family members. We all pretended not to be involved or believed that no one else in civilian life would know about this war. That was a bit of denial since it was on TV news.

I never met another person whose father was in the war until I went to Vietnam with Sons and Daughters in Touch. It was there I found out through these fellow military brats (now all of us grown) what they experienced.

It wasn't pleasant--people avoiding us because we had fathers there--people sending nasty letters or phone calls--people calling our fathers "baby killers"--people who stopped dating us because of Vietnam--people who refused to come to our house—etc. etc. etc...

It made me angry, I have to say. Very angry for the first time. I wanted so badly to find more people--perhaps that's why at the wall I wanted to meet these others who knew of this particular sorrow, like long lost relatives. I didn't want to be alone anymore. I had felt like I was off the mainland--not military anymore and not where did I belong? These people seemed like family in an odd way.

Q: What role did your father's photographs play for you, both in the writing of the book and in your understanding of his life?

A: It seemed eerie for a man on the go to have left these labeled and organized photographs--that he had given me a typewriter as a final gift--that this had fallen into my hands...eerie as though he planned this all along. My son just got his MFA in photography and think of the thread back towards my dad who was always interested in documenting life, taking photographs.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've written a book on the healing from trauma (divorce in this case)--short lyrical essay collection. It's with an agent (Leigh Feldman) in NYC at the moment. Cross your fingers! I wrote a book about my mother and the war on the homefront but it got rejected and I think needs a lot more work. I write poems and essays, short things at the moment since teaching takes up so much time.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I did not start out to write Snake's Daughter. I did it as a photograph/essay project for a class. Then a photographer friend suggested I get a grant and frame them. I did...and the reaction was powerful. Why don't I put this into a book, people asked. So I did. Slowly. I would have been too self-conscious if I had known from the start it would be a book. I'm so glad I did. It changed my an MFA in literature and writing after that and now teach at a university. I didn't think that would ever happen.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This interview is also posted at