Her dreams were always vivid, colorful. She lived for her dreams; for she only was alive in them. Her dreams were built of green grass and tall fields of corn, of childhood and summer... Most of her time here was spent dreaming, since that was all she - or anyone else - was allowed. It was difficult to understand why, really. Why someone felt her so unfit for the world; assigned her to die out her days in a cage.

The above is an excerpt from hector, a searing, heartbreaking, and daringly beautiful new book by animal advocate and author, K.I. Hope. hector tells the tale of a female in the bleakest of moments - caged in a world she desperately wants to escape, with little hope to hang onto, and longing for the day when she can finally have her freedom. The fact that this female happens to be a cow locked away in a dairy factory farm is what gives hector such extraordinary gravitas, weight, and power.

As I read the book, I was struck by how universal several of the messages behind it, around it, and through it were - that no being should ever be caged, and that in the darkest of times, there is always hope, however small it may seem. In the style of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, hector is a tale of loss, of sorrow, and of deep and utter loneliness due to the perils of being trapped in an unbearable and seemingly hopeless situation. What allows us to go to the depths with hector is in following and trusting in the story's heroine, a dairy cow perilously fighting to escape her tiny cage and find the son who was violently torn away from her shortly after birth.  

She looked back to her son, his eye the only part visible, and he stared at her with it, saying, I know you can't help but lying; you can't make promises for there was no future for them together, there was no forever, only this... waiting for a man to come and take their life. 

I won't tell you whether our heroine finds her son or if she is ever able to escape her bleak fate, because I leave that up to you to find out. What I will say is that hector is not only a must read for all of the animal lovers out there, but a vital tale of domination and abuse that is essential for our current society to experience. Whether you eat the flesh, milk, and eggs of animals or not, this story will deepen your compassion and stir your mind into passionate action towards fighting for a better world. 

 On K.I.'s website, you'll find these words about hector:

This is a love letter to the exploited & oppressed, beaten, downtrodden and abused.  This is an open declaration of hate to people who may or may not be you.

This message remains clear throughout our heroine's entire journey, and only gets stronger as the story progresses. In hector, we see someone deeply hoping for anything better than what she has been given - which is barely an inch of freedom - and we find ourselves fighting desparately with our own human conditioning and beliefs as her struggle deepens. 

Please drop everything and buy this book - your world will forever be changed by living for a few moments in the shoes of a being like so many who are victims of today's cruelty. In living like this, their unimaginably painful lives - and deaths - will not be in vain.

I was able to connect with K.I. recently about the book, and here's what she had to say:

Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What inspired you to write hector? 

K.I.: Primarily, the universe, I suppose! I still distinctly remember the moment when I had the idea - I was driving into my apartment complex during my last semester of college, thinking about how much I liked Animal Farm, because it was a story that was on the surface about one thing, but underneath about something completely different, and how I'd like to do something along those lines. And suddenly I had the idea to tell the life story of a dairy cow - a creature that is marginalized to the point of utter nonexistence - but to present her story as that of another marginalized population - women in prison. 

Secondarily; my frequent aversion to factual information. hector is nothing if not a synthesis of the emotions associated with facts I have collected over my personal decade of vegetarianism and veganism. When reading landmark non-fiction books like Animal Liberation, The Sexual Politics of Meat, Dominion or Mad Cowboy, one has a visceral reaction to the situations described therein, which will obviously vary from person to person. I took my own reactions and created characters for all of them - empathy, disgust, anger and grief are all well-represented. I do recognize the role facts play in discourse, but I feel there is somewhat of an oversaturation currently - we always only hear about 18% of this, the majority of that. I felt I needed to fill an emotional void, so I wrote hector.

The title, which I get asked frequently, came from my handy thesaurus: I was searching for synonyms for "cow," and there was the word "hector," meaning to bully. It was rather perfect, as the one word referred both to bovines and to how they are treated.

KMIV: What surprised you most about the experience of writing a book about dairy cows? 

K.I.: How horrible it was emotionally. I wrote it in one month; I woke up every day at 7am and wrote straight through, pausing only to consult a brief plot outline. I cried and slept the rest of the time. 

The other surprising facet was the strange twists and turns the novel took without my prior conceptualization. I would write things, horrible things, without thinking, and then see the words staring back at me, breathing their own kind of half-life. I had to question myself, like, "Am I a sick person? Do I enjoy thinking about these things? Is this really who I am underneath?" I told myself that it wasn't me; that I was only telling a true story - I was helping by telling the story, and whatever I had to suffer through was inconsequential; and the messenger is innocent. Though this did little, really, because just by existing a small part of me still feels responsible.
KMIV: I often felt while reading hector that I could have been reading about a human female's situation - it was very representative of many feminist ideas and abuses for me. First of all, why dairy cows? And second of all, why did you choose to blur the lines of identity with the cows you wrote about?  

K.I.: I'm so glad that shone through! Carol J. Adams' brand of feminism was a huge inspiration, as she made it obvious, in my mind, in The Sexual Politics of Meat that any discussion of animal rights that does not include women's rights (and vice versa) is incomplete. To create a narrative, then, that concerns itself with the most egregious forms of animal abuse, one also has to create within the narrative a story of women's rights.

In a way, it's already come true: a few weeks ago, I received an email from a wonderful individual who read hector and said it profoundly affected her. She told me that she was struggling with balancing her diet, health problems and ethics; but after reading my book, is now rededicating herself to veganism. That was without doubt the single proudest moment of my life - it was precisely why I wrote the book. It sounds tired, but we always say: "If I can help just one person, I've succeeded," but it really is true, especially when the average vegan saves the lives of nearly 100 animals per year.

Dairy is a seemingly innocuous practice to many people. Maybe it's because nothing is killed, or those idyllic campaigns about how happy the cows are; I don't know, but there is a disconnect where many people - including myself at one point - can't quite conceptualize what exactly dairy is. In order for me to fully come to terms with its abhorrent nature, I had to put myself in her situation.

So the absolute goal was to create characters that were relatable; in order to be relatable to the maximum number of people, they therefore they had to appear human. For many people - the kind I hope will read this book - empathizing with an animal is a ridiculous, sentimental notion. However, those sample people would consider it amoral to not empathize with a human who was in such a circumstance. That was the vision I had: a naked female human, held captive in filthy conditions, is artificially inseminated - a polite euphemism for "rape." She gives birth and then guards come, take her child away and begin pumping her breast milk into bottles. For that, that is the truth about dairy. I intended to create, like Animal Farm, something that was on the surface one thing - the story of a female human in a dystopian nightmare - but underneath, was actually the life cycle of a dairy cow, so that we may stop looking at our world in such divisive terms as "female" and "male" or "human" and "animal."

Lastly, I firmly believe that people will still partake in a system they know rationally to be flawed if they feel morally their participation is excusable. I wanted to approach what is rather rapidly becoming a sort of zeitgeist, that is to say in the realm of the more mainstream animal rights movement the argument is often scientific; and instead argue a purely moral standpoint. I hope then that I will be able to reach those segments of the population to whom science maybe isn't as important as religion, or logic isn't as much a driving force as ethics. I think there's a part of all of us that believes in something better, in a cleaner way of living, independent of what any dogma - scientific or spiritual - might suggest, and I wanted to tap into that as well. 

KMIV: What are your hopes for hector? 
K.I.: I hope, obviously, that hector will continue to be read, and the vegan movement will only grow and expand from here, which happily seems to be the current trend. Also, that in our society, people find themselves asking more and more frequently, "What is right?" and listening to the little voice that tells us it is nonviolence and compassion. The aim is to start forging a world where we are no longer separated, and can see and embrace our differences from other things while fully allowing them to exist as they are. Ultimately, I hope one day, be it decades or centuries from now, hector will serve as a chronicle to future humans of the way things used to be.
 KMIV: My hopes exactly! K.I. - can you tell me a little bit more about your story?

K.I.: Well, I was born in Palo Alto on July 25, 1985 and grew up in the Bay Area. I first became vegetarian at age 12, after the surprisingly transformative experience of Outdoor Education. After my first year of high school I dropped out; instead I attend community college full-time, moving on to university two years later. I started writing for my college newspaper, and then moved on to The Daily Journal, a free daily in San Mateo, CA. I have since made a living as a magazine editor and grant writer, and currently do contract editing for an education publishing company. I graduated from San Francisco State with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies. I live with a little fluffy five-year-old Papillon mix rescue in Central Oregon, who hates how much time I spend on the computer. In my spare time I am finishing my second novel, This is Not a Flophouse.

I have volunteered with Yes! on Prop 2, No on Prop 8, In Defense of Animals, The San Francisco Vegetarian Society, A New Way Forward and the San Mateo County Democrats, registering voters of any political affiliation.

Fun fact: I have the Isaac Bashevis Singer quote from "The Letter Writer" tattooed on my right arm: "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka. And yet man demands compassion from heaven." 

Many thanks to K.I. Hope for this extraordinary book and interview. To learn more, please visit www.kihope.com

Listen up KMIV-ers:

I will be giving away TWO SIGNED COPIES of hector to two very lucky blog readers!

To enter --

Please email me at kissmyvegan@gmail.com with a one-sentence answer to this question:

What is your hope for the animals of this Earth?

The deadline for this giveaway is Monday, August 9th.


Ali said…
wow I never thought about the rape of animals, so sad. my grandparents lived across the street from a dairy farm and one of my earliest memories is hearing the cries when they took their calves away. Now it just rips my heart out since I'm a mother. I wouldn't want to go on.
Lindsay I ordered Hector and Fowl Play after catching up on your blogs. THANK YOU for spreading the word with these wonderful posts.
Lindsay said…
Aw - that's amazing Liz! Thank you!!!!