Jan Flanders

As everyone who has not been dwelling under a rock for the past half century knows full well, Jan Flanders is a world-renowned expert on writing, editing, and publishing fiction. A bona fide member of the landed gentry dating back to the Jamestown, Virginia, settlement, and a magna cum laude graduate of Ms. Finicky’s Foundational Finishing School of Fiction for Well-Bred Females (FFFSFWBF), she resides with her three Angora cats in the heart of the deep South on the plantation, sadly diminished, where she was born and reared, and which her family has owned since creation. God forbid she would ever allow it to fall into the rapacious hands of any vile Northern carpetbagger! Rest assured that will happen over her cold, dead body. She is still mourning the lamentable outcome of the late War of Northern Aggression, and if you know what is good for you, you would be well advised not to bring up the subject unless you wish to have your ears roundly pinned back. If anyone knows etiquette, it is our own dear Ms. Flanders, and she is doing you a favor by sharing her expertise with the likes of you. If you do not demonstrate proper gratitude and humility, she is likely to give you a brisk rap on the knuckles or some other especially tender body part with her ruler in order to get your attention.

Fiction Etiquette with a Southern Twist Twisted Southern

Star Olson
Northern Niece of Jan Flanders, writing etiquette authority.


My aunt Jan is indisposed due to some recent celebrating. I have encouraged her to drink a bit of mint tea (she loves mint, you know!) to settle her stomach. In the best interest of us all, I also mentioned she might want to take it a bit easier—she’s not as young as she once was. She asked me to write a short piece to you in her place this month and to assure you she will return very soon. If I lived closer, I’d take her a hot dish. It’s amazing how restorative they can be to an ailing body.

She sent me this letter to respond to.

Dear Ms. Flanders,

I am huge fan of several authors. I’d like to contact them with my sincerest thanks for their work. I’d also like to know they are getting my messages and if it is okay that I contact them directly. I am wondering where I can find their addresses, as well.

A Frazzled Fan

I do understand and just so you know that’s true, let me explain my personal experience on this subject. I am a big-time fan of John Grisham, and after reading his latest work, I wrote him a long letter, certain he needed to be encouraged. We quickly assume the rich and famous are built-up all the time, but I’m not sure that’s true. So, I wanted to let him know how important the novels he writes are to me.

Composing the letter was easy—I was in my writing zone that day. I signed it with my best handwriting, folded those two pages with care, and tucked it into a #10 envelope. Finding Mr. Grisham’s address was a bit more difficult. I came up empty-handed. I thought about contacting his publisher as listed on his Web site, but I wanted Mr. Grisham to read my letter himself. I momentarily considered hiring a private eye to find the illusive author. The thought was quickly dispelled when I realized the cost. Call me frugal, but isn’t a $500 retainer a bit steep to find an address? For crying out loud.

I was not about to give up, so I read the cover flap again and realized it said he resided in a town in one of the Carolinas, or some such Southern state. I looked up the zip code and addressed the envelope to John Grisham, the town, state, and zip code. I took it straight to the post office and whispered a prayer as I slide it into the OUT OF TOWN box.

Do I think it reached Mr. Grisham’s home? You betcha! How do I know? I was careful to include my return address on the envelope. I never saw that envelope again.

It wasn’t until later, at a church potluck for writers, I learned about my mistake. The speaker for the event addressed this very subject. Although she’d never been published, and therefore her authority was somewhat questionable in my mind, she said it’s always correct to contact the publisher first. She assured us they would be delighted to pass on any personal mail to the author. Now, she was a bit snooty as if she had already attained famous status, but she did like her coffee strong and black, so that gave me reason to at least consider what she said.

I walked her to her car that evening, and we stood in the parking lot awhile talking writing. I was a bit distracted because it was a clear evening and right over her head was the North Star shining as bright as a beacon. I was named after that star of the North and taught from a young age to guide people toward goodness. Yah, I sure do work hard on that.

I told her about my letter to John (I feel like I know him after reading every one of his books—twice!), and she invited me to her next speaking event. They will be serving lutefisk so I’ll probably attend. Her new topic has slipped my mind. In fact, just remembering my John Grisham letter has given me a bit of a headache. I never heard back from him, so perhaps he was offended. I prefer to think he was glad to get it but was very busy with his next writing project, his family, or teaching Sunday school, which I’ve read in several places he does.

So, to answer your question, I wouldn’t waste your hard-earned income on the paper, ink, envelope, or stamp. You’d be better off saving it for a rainy day, if you ask me, which in a way you did.

Send the publisher an e-mail and be glad someone read it. Getting in touch in person with a famous author is a bit like contacting the president of the United States personally—you have to go through the Secret Service first.

I’m sure authors get a lot of junk from people and receive some improper requests, like being asked for free books and such. So, I’m sure it’s in their best interest to be cautious. We can support them by continuing to buy their books and telling everyone we know at our Ladies Aid meetings and bake-offs. We had fun raffling off a nearly brand-new (I was very careful while reading it) John Grisham best seller at a pancake breakfast recently. The proceeds went to the wife of an injured motorcycle rider. Now I ask you, what was he doing out there on the highway, anyway, on those two wheels? There’s man who needs a letter! And most likely a hot dish.

I do sometimes wonder what John is up to. I wish he’d grant a few more interviews or go on Oprah. Not that I watch her on a regular basis, and the television in my kitchen is on the fritz. Besides, I’m far too busy with all this snow shoveling and hot dish preparation. Ufda! But I’m sure Aunt Jan could watch during her convalescence and report on it. I’d still like to visit her, but I suspect she prefers to sip her mint whatchamacallits alone. I prefer a mug of hot black coffee, strong enough to plow snow down at Inga’s Café on the corner of Main Street and Lief Ericson Avenue. I usually indulge in a piece of her lefse and catch up the local news. Those farmers sure have a way with words.

Aunt Jan will be back next month I’m sure. Yah, you betcha she will.

Upcoming Topics


June: What is proper etiquette on writers’ e-mail loops?

July: Oh Jane! Oh Roger! Using characters’ names in dialog.