September 12, 2007

Literary Criticism and Analysis

My daughter has finished her first novel, and I have agreed to publish it. I have paid her an advance consisting of a Push-Pop, and have promised to pay her royalties if she earns out. Earning out is ten comments, and she is paid in “Having her comments read aloud to her,” as, sadly, in spite of the fact that she is a published author, she can’t READ.

I suspect this is not a unique condition. *rimshot* *cough*

I’m not surprised to find she has penned her first book at age five: This is the same kid who gave me a MOOD RING to wear while I was away at a lit conference. She wanted me to CHECK it frequently so I could report to her via SCIENCE how tragically bleak I felt away from her shining presence. At home, the ring was a consistent and deeply happy cerulean blue, and she hypothesized that at the conference, away from her, it would barely be able to creep up out of sorrowful burnt umber to a melancholic green. The child is not lacking in either the creativity or the egocentrism one needs to write books and ask other people to read them.

Let me just say, I read this NOT as a mother, but as a person with an MA in English, a TRAINED CRITICAL READER!!! And it is AS a trained critical reader that I tell you in no uncertain terms, that this book, entitled THE VOLCANO…well. It is FREAKING BRILLIANT!!!! LAYERED!!! POINGANT!!!! SMART!!!

Four points to make before you experience THE VOLCANO BY MAISY JANE

1) Her FATHER took dictation for this opus. The hideous handwriting is his. I say this because my handwriting is so BAD it looks almost exactly LIKE his, but in this case, he perpetrated that scrawl.

2) Maisy herself penned the (backwards) dialog and the title on the cover of the book within the book. See? Hard to tell hers from his!

3) This book is a GOLDMINE for book clubs. If you wish to use it, I will post some discussion questions in first comment to help get your club’s talk started. WARNING, the discussion questions contain SPOLIERS!!!! so read the book first.

4) I love my stinking kid!!!

Click to read THE VOLCANO, by Maisy Jane

Posted by joshilyn at September 12, 2007 10:57 AM


1) The author tells us first that the Bible is on the shelf, and then that it is the ONLY book on this shelf. Is this a repetition – a trope if you will – or a meaningful clarification? Would another book be equally effective? How would you feel about this section if the book was The Book of Mormon? The Koran? Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary?

2) What a twist at the end, right? The boy is saved only to perpetrate cruelty against his sister and, yes, even rubber duckies! What point is the author making about human nature? About grace?

3) Are the graphic depictions of the dead older brothers gratuitous? Or do they serve an artistic purpose? SHoud she have killed some pets, too, or are the brothers enough?

Posted by: Joshilyn at September 12, 2007 10:58 AM

This young author has a bright future ahead of her. In her debut novel, she focuses on important issues of tragedy, faith, and how dealing with grief may sometimes take violent expressions.

I can't wait for the sequel because I want to know how the hero learns to go on with his life and how he does or doesn't use his faith in God to cope.

As awful as it was to see the brothers killed, I wouldn't have been able to handle it if any of the pets died.

Posted by: Elizabeth at September 12, 2007 11:42 AM

She is a shoe-in for next year's Decatur Book Festival, as well as any number of literary awards. I see a Pulitzer in her future by the age of 10.
I'm glad to say that I knew of her when...
My question is what version was the Bible? King James? NIV? One of those in which Jesus' words are in red? Does that make a difference in the outcome of the story?

Posted by: liz at September 12, 2007 11:46 AM

Maisy, I am amazed by your ability! I am not a book critic so I don't have all the good words to use, but this is great!

Posted by: kathy at September 12, 2007 11:52 AM

I have another question. Where were the boy's parents in the midst of this tragedy? Did they build a house next to an active volcano and then abandon their children to their various fates or were their actions simply not relevant to the story?

Regarding the graphic depiction of the death of the boy's brothers, I think it was necessary to really bring home the point of the cruel whimsy of fate, however I'm VERY glad no dogs were harmed in the telling of this story. Really. I cannot express enough how glad I am that no dogs were shot or beaten with a shovel or anything. Ahem.

I'd like to see the sister featured in a sequel so we can discover if she managed to save her favorite rubber ducky from the rampage of her surviving brother.

I'd also like to know who that is in the final drawing and are they alive?

Posted by: DebR at September 12, 2007 12:08 PM

I laughed and I laughed (because I couldn't cry.) A Pulitzer winning writer in the making - I mean she is only five, but the possiblities are endless. Her priorties are in order Volcano / Bible / Death / Tormenting syblings. I look forward to the sequel.

Bravo Miss Maisy

Posted by: Cele at September 12, 2007 12:09 PM

It held my attention the entire time! I felt the full spectrum of emotion - peace, happiness at the beginning turning to fear, then sadness when the brothers died, a wee bit of confusion then rage at the threatening of the duck. The end was brilliant - a twist AND a cliffhanger. I can not wait to find out what happens next. I definetly think you have some competition, Joshilyn.

Posted by: Em at September 12, 2007 12:16 PM

OMG, I'm pre-ordering sixty copies for all my friends and family.

1) The mentioning of the Bible being the ONLY book on the shelf is BOTH repetition AND clarification. ("Hello, in case you did not catch that, the BIBLE is the book on the shelf and, to make sure that you understand the power and imagery, it is the ONLY book on the shelf. Go on. Be awed.") Clearly she meant this to be a Very Important Part of the book and therefore no other book would work as well. Except, perhaps, for "Go, Dog, Go".

2) The twist at the end was epic and utterly unexpected -- which is so difficult to do in moder times with today's cynical readers -- and I think it is obvious the author meant for us to clearly and without question understand one thing: Boys. Suck.

3) The graphic depictions were absolutely necessary to the overall impact of this novel. Until I see a tongue hanging out, how am I to know that someone is REALLY ceasing to exist? Also, the author has made a Bob-Barker-like statement with the absence of pets (or their untimely deaths) in her story: spaying and neutering SAVES LIVES.

Posted by: Casey at September 12, 2007 12:16 PM

I see this as a morality tale, as clearly the fact that the Bible was the only book on his shelf was the reason the little boy survived. Unless of course, his brothers died because they had been tormenting him, in which case, be thankful that Maisy sublimated her feelings by writing this book.

The last scene in the book is a neat set up for a sequel. Or an honest assessment of little boys' behavior - sometimes saintlike, sometimes devilish. Whichever, Maisy has certainly given her readers a lot of food for thought. Plus, she's a very creative illustrator. My favorite is the older brothers' tongues hanging out after they died.

Thanks, Maisy, for sharing this with us!

Posted by: Deborah P at September 12, 2007 12:21 PM

As brilliant as I feel this work is in print -- and as much as I enjoyed the illustrations -- I will be waiting for it to come out as an audio book, because I feel the story would be truly enhanced by a reading in a quacky little duck voice. I wonder if there is anyone involved in the novel who might be able to assist with that? Hmmm....

Also, I hope that in the sequel a dog is killed in Alabama. That would add an entirely new layer.

Posted by: Mir at September 12, 2007 12:27 PM

Definitely there is some deeper meaning to the fact that the Bible is the ONLY book on the shelf.

I am intrigued by the thought of a sequel. I would also like to know where the parents were when this tragedy occurred, and also, what happens to the rubber ducky? Is revenge enacted? How was the little boy saved from the volcano? Perhaps he went back FOR the Bible, the only book on the shelf, and was thus saved by the torture of a death by lava.

Well done, Miss Maisy! I am verily impressed!

Posted by: Lindsey at September 12, 2007 12:32 PM

Clearly, this brilliant young author is highlighting the hypocrisy of the brother by pointing out that he has a Bible on his shelf (and ONLY a bible). It seems that he proclaims to be a Christian, yet survives only to torture his younger sister. Brilliant. We are definitely in need of a sequel.

Posted by: Leandra at September 12, 2007 1:14 PM

Dear Ms. Winn,

I love your first novel. I was stunned by the eruption of the volcano (and no, I don't think that title was too much of a hint of things to come) and I was mesmerized all the way to the surprise ending. I laughed. I cried. I eagerly await your next novel.

Yours truly,
a fan.

Posted by: Diane at September 12, 2007 1:57 PM

Quick, call Oprah.

Posted by: Suebob at September 12, 2007 2:11 PM

I do believe that is one of the best books I have ever read. Well done, Miss Maisy Jane!!!

Posted by: Caren at September 12, 2007 2:37 PM

I do hope it comes in hard copy because I am not too good on the computer!!!

Posted by: Nana at September 12, 2007 3:39 PM

I suspect a surreptitious dig on the part of our jealous young author at her better known mother. The Bible is the only book on the shelf? "gods" and "Between" conspicuously absent? Hmmmm? One wonders.

The Brother
(of the mother, not the author, nor the duck squisher)

Posted by: The Brother at September 12, 2007 3:55 PM

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Posted by: Susan Cushman at September 12, 2007 4:03 PM

I feel sorry for the rubber duckie. Poor duckie. Does it survive? Will that be in the sequel?

Posted by: Heather at September 12, 2007 4:09 PM

As a geriatric MFA student at Notre Dame I assure you that I have read much less well-written pieces in class. This week.

The final picture, by the way, is clearly the author photo. I could tell by the eyelashes.

Posted by: rams at September 12, 2007 5:09 PM

Clearly Princess Maisy is brilliant and beyond! My feeling about the bible - and the fact that there was repetition was that it is what saved the boy. that said, i'd not be terribly surprised to find that Ramona The Pest would also have saved him.

I cannot wait for the hardcover edition. Will it stay black and white? or will it be colored in? hmmm....

Posted by: kristen at September 12, 2007 7:24 PM

It was a real page turner and I can't wait to see what happens in the sequel. I am most intrigued with the last page. The boy "was" going to crush his sisters rubber duckey. Was there a change of heart? True remorse for wanting to do such a cruel act. Was he merely transfering his anger over the senseless loss of his brothers in the unfortunate volcano incident? It is an honor to be here at the beginning of such a gifted writers journey!!!

Posted by: aunt allie at September 12, 2007 7:41 PM

This is a shiny and sparkly and very very very good first novel by a true beautiful princess of a writer. I can't wait to read more!

Also I am hoping that the Bible will fall off the shelf onto the brother's head before he has a chance to cause pain to the rubber duckie.

I'm just sayin'.

Posted by: Cornelia Read at September 12, 2007 7:57 PM

Harhumph. MY daughter wrote a book when she was three. It was about a dress shop. It had dialogue which consisted of the clerk telling the customers not to touch the clothes. The dialogue had quotation marks. I give her A+ on grammar and D- on business planning. She is now 32 and has amazing grammar and writes well, so she works as the slave and chief tamer of a three year old ruler of the universe named Adam. What this amazing opus (including illustrations mind you) foretells about your daughter's glowing future is staggering to consider.

I would have given my soul for a volcanic catastrophe to rip my younger brother from hearth and home.

Posted by: Gillian at September 12, 2007 8:40 PM

As one who has brothers, I could really relate to the events in this story. The suspenseful narrative kept me on the edge of my seat, and I found the last minute plot twist exhilarating. Keep up the good work Maisy Jane!

Posted by: Shelley at September 12, 2007 10:33 PM

Dear Miss Maisy Jane,

I had to write and tell you that I loved your first story and I cannot wait to read your second! This time you should hold out for at least two push pops. In advance.
Yes, you're that good.

Posted by: lsantarpio at September 12, 2007 11:02 PM

When do we get '3Q with Miss Maisy'???

Posted by: Laura at September 12, 2007 11:05 PM

And you must, absolutely MUST keep this opus safely preserved so that it can be included in her memoirs later on. At say, 10.

Honest, I've got a great memoir of one of my favorite authors and it includes all manner of spiffy things, including a CD of music from when she was lead singer in a band and...wait for it...her first novel, complete with illustrations!

And hers was penned (well, colored actually) at a much later age! I think she was 7 or 8. So keep this masterpiece safe!

Posted by: Fran at September 12, 2007 11:15 PM

Dear Maisy Jane,
What an amazing story! I loved how you began in medias res. Also, great use of irony in the ending. The character arc of the boy was quite intriguing as well. I'm sure this one will get great reviews all around. Congratulations!

Posted by: Martha O'Connor at September 13, 2007 12:51 AM

I have pushed all the rest of my books to the floor. "The Volcano" is now the only book on MY shelf! On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it 10 push pops.

Posted by: lizardek at September 13, 2007 2:31 AM

I am also waiting for the hard copy. I think it would be best to maintain the black and white, rather than adding colour. I think colour would lessen the dramatic impact of the stark prose.

And I am waiting for the sequel.

Posted by: Judy at September 13, 2007 9:21 AM

A wonderful story, Miss Maisy Jane! A good novel always raises questions in the mind of the reader, and yours raises many. Were the older brothers guilty of tormenting the boy? Is that way he turned on the rubber duckie? Will this cycle of violence never end? Has the little boy *read* the bible? And if he has, why does he still think that it's okay to mutilate his sister's duck?

Also, I believe you were gypped on that advance. This book is worth at least TWO push pops.

Posted by: Aimee at September 13, 2007 10:42 AM

Oh! And I forgot to compliment you on the illustrations. The image of the dead brothers was especially powerful.

Posted by: Aimee at September 13, 2007 10:42 AM

We say print that book, bind it and send us an autographed,first edition! This is proof that Maisy is not only perfect, but a brilliant writer/artist as well! WE ARE TOTALLY objective grandparents.

Posted by: BJ and Papa at September 13, 2007 11:11 AM

I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me.

Great work, Maisy!

Posted by: TrudyJ at September 13, 2007 11:46 AM

Maisy, I liked the fact that you left much of the detail to the imagination of your readers, not spelling everything out. You also did not lead the reader to certain conclusions with the use of ALL CAPS and !!! Keep up the good work. Also, good job spelling.

Posted by: Joy at September 13, 2007 12:48 PM

Wait! It's a cliffhanger! Where's the sequel? What happened to the rubber ducky? What did the sister do to the her brother to protect what was most precious to her? Was all saved by a deus ex machina (foreshadowed by the Bible) or...?

I certainly hope her publisher made a two-book deal with her.

Posted by: Laura Florand at September 13, 2007 1:12 PM

Dear Miss Maisy,
Wonderful story! The shocking twist of having a sister and then the crime commited against the rubber ducky, were truly stunning! I CAN NOT wait until your next novel!

Posted by: Heather at September 13, 2007 2:01 PM

I too eagerly await the sequel! As a collector of rubber ducks, I'm hoping the duckie survived and that the sister was able to turn the other cheek after such torment. An excellent debut!

Posted by: Tiny Librarian at September 13, 2007 2:20 PM

I hope I haven't broken any copywright laws, but Nana (whom I work with)asked me to print out this wonderful book . . . . she is slightly older than I am and I have always been taught to respect my elders and do what they say (sometimes). I look forward to the sequel. Great job, Maisy! Though maybe you ought to get an agent as I am not sure about the pay.

Posted by: Jessie at September 13, 2007 3:09 PM

Fabulous Maisy, just fabulous. I love it! Can't wait for the sequel!

Posted by: MoMMY at September 13, 2007 3:30 PM

Sounds a bit like The Road, actually. Except they should've been eating the rubber duck if that were the case.

Hmmm. I like it!

Posted by: Andi at September 13, 2007 3:50 PM

Wow! I didn't write my first novel until I was eight or so and then didn't write another one until over fifteen years later. Grow that talent, Miss Maisy Jane, perfect it. Your story and your illustrations draw the reader in- and no, I did not find the pictures of the dead brothers to be gratutious. They were stark and realistic as only illustrations of older brothers killed by an erupting volcano next door can be.

Posted by: Erin at September 13, 2007 5:46 PM

BUT...What happens to the duckie?!?! Inquiring minds want to know! Did the boy LEARN from the Bible on his shelf and thus NOT crush the duckie? OR is the point that the Bible was on the shelf, unread, even after the great volcano tragedy, and so the boy sadly did not learn? This is DEEP for Kindergarten, Miss Maisy. I have always known you were ahead of the curve. MORE MAISY BOOKS, please!

Posted by: Amy-Go at September 13, 2007 7:13 PM

It raises some interesting questions- What happens to the rubber ducky? Why didn't he have a lamp on his shelf so he could read the bible in bed? Will you teach me to be an artist? Your illustrations are wonderful. Through the use of simple lines you manage to convey a world of emotion. Thank you for sharing with us.

Posted by: CC at September 13, 2007 10:33 PM

Then too, did anyone else pick up on the hidden imagery of the horse in the volcano, or was that just me? Do one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse come in fire? I'm not as well versed as Miss Maisy on these things, obviously.

And the little girl - four eyes? Does she wear glasses? Is this allegory at it's best? Yes, yes I believe it is!

I desperately loved the author picture too, ever so beautiful and demure. I too want an autographed first edition, and I'm clamoring for a sequel!

Posted by: Fran at September 13, 2007 10:50 PM

BREAKING NEWS: Maisy Jane, five year old resident of a southern state, has written a first novel, The Volcano, that has the literary world buzzing. With drama, religion, redemption, the story spans a short lifetime of tragedy and grace. Illustrated by the author, the simple drawings lend a realism to the plot. A must read for all. John Grisham, J. K. Rowling,and that Jackson woman (I forget her name) - be afraid, be very afraid! This young lady has a bright future.

Posted by: Rhonda at September 14, 2007 9:29 AM

I think the author really zeros in on the link between the events that take place in our lives (volcano) and our actions that are shaped by those events (smashing of duck). The symbolism of God as an ever present figure who transcends all is brilliant.

Posted by: Sheryl at September 14, 2007 10:25 PM

You know, having read and pondered this novel, it occurs to me that there may be more to it than at first meets the eye. The last page in particular intrigues me: the author states that the boy "was going" to crush his sister's rubber duckie, which raises the question of chronological sequence: is it possible that this destructive act (or its intention) takes place before the titular volcano erupts? Could it be that the eruption of the volcano, and the fate of the older brothers, is in some way linked to the intended crushing of the duckie?

The repeated mention of the Bible highlights the possibility of the volcano as misdirected divine retribution for the boy's malicious intent: perhaps its destructive power was directed toward the boy, but--O, cruel irony--his innocent older brothers were killed instead.

In which case, I would have to rate "The Volcano" as one of the most masterful works of nihilism in recent history, all the more remarkable coming from one so young.

Posted by: elswhere at September 16, 2007 10:48 PM

The insightful narrative feels familiar. Take heed as you may have a budding Physics major in your midst. A very talented young lady indeed.

Posted by: (Dame) Judi at September 17, 2007 9:18 PM

Woe is me!

Growing up, I lived on a farm where I was constantly tormented by my three brothers. Now I find that all I needed was a volcano and I could have been freed of my brothers. (We did have a Bible on the shelf but unfortunately it was crowded by lots of other books.)

Woe is me but for an overstuffed bookshelf and a missing volcano, my life could have been so different.

Tell it, Sister!

Posted by: kayt at September 22, 2007 4:35 PM