When self-confessed ‘book junkie’ Maya Cohen-Ronen went vegan, she encountered an unexpected problem. Coming up with the solution has turned her into one of the most globally acclaimed and loved vegan authors in the movement.
This article was first published in New Zealand Vegan and Plant-Based Living magazine and is reproduced with permission.
Author and activist Maya Cohen-Ronen went vegan overnight in 2012, after realising the horror inflicted on animals by the dairy industry. ‘At the time I was the mother of a young baby and after losing a baby mid-pregnancy myself five years earlier, I couldn’t fathom causing so much pain to another being, a grieving mother, regardless of whether she was a human or cow. Changing our entire household into a vegan one was the best decision I ever made and brought about other positive changes in my life. I made new friends in the local vegan community, I turned to activism and felt more determined and empowered to speak up’.
A gaping void in ‘safe’ fiction
There was however one downside she had never considered. ‘I had always been a book junkie. Fast-paced, suspenseful thrillers, full of plot-twists and cliff-hangers that made my heart race were my preference. Suddenly, now I was vegan, I could no longer find any reading material – at least, not anything that was ‘safe’. Every bacon sandwich casually eaten by an otherwise likeable protagonist, every glass of milk they drank, every sausage they fed to their beloved family dog, screamed at me from the pages.
There was blatant animal cruelty, stretched beyond the simple, casual, banal depiction of everyday speciesism. A protagonist who hunted defenceless animals. A would-be human murderer who built up their courage by torturing cats. Or, as more novelists came to know more vegans, they incorporated them into their fiction as characters used as mockery. Slowly I found myself reading less and less. The wonderful door to a plethora of imaginary worlds was closing.
Until it hit me. If it didn’t exist, I would write it myself! Ever since childhood I had written stories. I’d even completed a manuscript once; it’s still gathering dust in the drawer. I knew I had the writing skills, I had just never had a strong enough incentive to use them. Until now.’ Maya’s mission? To write an incredible fiction book that was safe for vegans to read. A dystopian thriller with plenty of suspense, plot-twists and cliffhangers, just like the genres she enjoyed most.
Not just a book – but an outreach tool
That book was ‘The Shed’, which was written under the pen-name M.C Ronen. I confess, I was a little wary of reading it at first, in case it was too horrific or graphic. That was not Maya’s intention, however. ‘I wrote ‘The Shed’ in a way in which it could also be an outreach tool powerful enough to help pre-vegan readers make the connection, as well as an exciting read for vegans. The vegan message is there, the animal rights message is there, but it’s subtle, she explains.
Was it also part of her plan, to write a trilogy? ‘In the beginning, I wasn’t confident I could even complete a single book! While writing The Shed, I sensed the story could potentially develop into sequels, but I wasn’t sure how the book might be received by readers, so was in no hurry to start writing the next one. When they started to respond enthusiastically, however, and demand to have the story continued, I felt obligated not only to my readers but also to Sunny, my protagonist, and to the animals she represented, to give it more.’
With the release of the second book, ‘Liberation’ to an eagerly awaiting audience, readers were again transported into Sunny’s world, where reality and exploitation is turned on its head. We see Sunny evolve from an innocent girl to a fully-fledged activist and strategist; a leader. We also get to indulge in some vicarious badass activism. ‘The gloves come off and the messages are blunter’, Maya tells me. The author’s love of a fast-paced, suspenseful plot spills gloriously into her writing and many times while ferociously turning the pages I thought to myself, ‘How did she even think of that?’ Still, there was more to come.
‘I felt I had left Sunny in a good place at the end of ‘Liberation’ and was going to take a break’, tells Maya. ‘However, again readers demanded the final instalment of the story and were unrelenting. I knew I needed to provide them with catharsis, which I hadn’t given them yet with the second book. This set the scene for ‘It Was In Our Hands’; the third and final instalment, in which Sunny’s story is brought to a close in a powerful crescendo of events.’
‘It Was In Our Hands’ was released in 2021. The opening chapters was quite literally jaw dropping. I couldn’t believe what I had just read! Even more unnerving, was the small flicker of awareness that it could actually happen. It’s not impossible and all too harrowingly easy to picture. As for the ending? You’ll have to read it yourself but it will keep you guessing right until the end and again, it really could happen. One day.
The highs and lows of vegan publishing
Maya’s story is an inspiring example of how we vegans can triumph in overcoming obstacles in our movement. Having taken the seed of an idea and brought it to fruition in the form of three powerful activist novels, I was interested to know more about the publishing process. ‘It was challenging’, recalls Maya. ‘The Shed was ready to publish at the end of 2016, however literary agents were afraid of the messages embedded in the story. One enthusiastic agent who loved the book confessed she wouldn’t know how to represent me to the established publishing houses, as they would see it as a ‘vegan book’ and therefore one that applied to only a small ‘niche’ market.
I found the fear of my book hard to comprehend. For one, ‘The Shed’ is not a ‘vegan book’ and isn’t intended only for vegan readers – but even if it was a ‘vegan book’, the vegan community worldwide is growing exponentially at incredible speed. It is not niche but a market share of phenomenal potential! It was incredibly frustrating, and I had almost given up on publishing it, until I found out about Amazon KDP, a platform for self-publishing authors, that was easy to use, free and very supportive. When ‘Liberation’ was complete, I didn’t think twice and used KDP again. I’m well aware Amazon is considered the big bad wolf, but without it, it’s safe to assume my books would not have seen the light of day. I feel that using this platform, warts and all, for publishing change-inspiring literature, is still a positive outcome.
Using KDP also meant I had no oiled and experienced public relations and marketing machine behind me and had to do it all myself. It was not an overnight success, but I feel extremely proud of myself. For a previously unknown first-time author from New Zealand, to make it into top-notch magazines and podcasts, receive five-star reviews and be awarded with a gold-star Literary Titan book award – that’s something I could only dream of before. To would-be vegan authors I say – don’t be afraid, unleash your creativity! There are avenues open to you for publishing your books out there. Maybe the established publishing houses have changed since I started, and if not, there are other platforms. Audio books are doing very well too, another channel to explore. If you invest your inner
fire and your drive into it, you will reach your readers.
Having received many accolades for her work, I asked Maya to share her favourite highlight. ‘The most notable and profound highlight I still experience from this journey is the connection I have with my readers. Giving the vegan community books they can read and feel proud of, celebrate, and cherish, was my key motivator from the beginning, so receiving the recognition and gratitude from vegans is in itself a huge highlight. I am also continuously surprised at the number of pre-vegans who read my books and were deeply moved by them. I receive messages from readers thanking me for making them understand. Pre-vegans who told me they were sharing the books with their friends and family members to spread the message. I feel so humbled by it. This
was the reason I started writing, it is also the biggest reward. It proves that we can successfully use vegan fiction as a form of outreach, without hiding’.
The Liberation Trilogy is available worldwide on Amazon. You can also visit Maya’s website: https://mcronenauthor.com