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

Good mornin’, eager students. Saint Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us, and before Ah let loose and indulge in some serious celebratin’, Ah will first attend to the onerous task of servin’ up a heapin’ helpin’ of the Sacred Laws of Fiction Etiquette, all tied up with a green bow and garnished with a wee shamrock like Saint Patty’s platter of corned beef and cabbage.

Mah Aunt Fanny! Ah am just toooo hilarious, if Ah do say so mahself! But enough levity. Wipe that smile off your face, baby doll, and let us get on with the business at hand. Bring me today’s envelope, and don’t be givin’ me any of your sass, if you please. Ah am not in the mood to be charitable today.

Dear Ms. Flanders,

As you stated in last month’s column, the most important thing we aspiring authors can do is to ensure that our manuscripts are the very best we can make them before we are so bold as to solicit endorsements, much less submit them to editors or agents. In your long and esteemed career as an expert on all things related to publishing, what would you class as the worst writing mistakes you’ve seen, and how can we avoid them?

Oh, honey, Ah must commend you highly on your address. You most surely have been reared in the South, darlin’ because you certainly know how to capture your dear Ms. Flanders’ heart.

Ah did indeed mention in last month’s column that the lack of understandin’ of the most basic principles of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and logic is a most distressin’ scandal in the world of publishin’ today. Gentle readers, it’s painfully obvious that all too few of you even know what those terms mean. And it’s equally evident that even many of the editors responsible for maintainin the highest standards of publishin’ decorum somehow managed to escape the educational system with their ignorance intact.

Let’s take a look at a glarin’ example of the type of grammatical error that invariably sets my unmentionables in a twist. Ah came across this in a recently published novel and have reproduced it below, havin’ first graciously amended it to spare the darlin’ culprit and her clueless editor the shame they so richly deserve. Ah must say Ah am kindness itself, especially since this novel was rife with these kinds of errors and Ah would be doin’ the author a favor by exposin’ them since her editor is clearly not helpin’ her one teeny bit. Below is mah version.

“Resting the goblet on the hall table, the swish of a gown descended the stairway, and he swung around to capture the vision of her loveliness.”

Need Ah say more? Mah stars and garters! When is the last time you watched a swishin’ gown restin’ a goblet on anythin’?! Is it possible that even an editor would be ignorant of the fact

that a present participle phrase modifies the first noun that immediately follows it??? Does anyone even know what a present participle is these days???

Can it be that teachers in elementary school no longer bothered to school young uns in diagramming sentences? What is the world comin’ to, sweetheart? If we don’t learn our mother tongue properly, we’ll soon all be speakin’ like brutes!

And don’t even get me started on the formattin’ sins Ah am seeing with increasin’ frequency in the books comin’ from publishers of every stripe. Ah am talkin’ about widows and orphans on almost every page. And no, honey chile, we are not talkin’ about sadly bereaved wives and fatherless children. We are referrin’ to those lonely single lines at the beginnin’ or end of a paragraph that are left flappin’ in the breeze at the bottom or top of a page in a published work. What is an editor supposed to do with babies that have sadly become separated from their lovin’ families? Eliminate them ruthlessly, puddin’ head! And if you don’t know how to do that, you need to have a discussion with your designer, who will clue you in. Trust me on this.

Whether you are a writer or an editor, how do you avoid such appallin’ errors? Why, by enrollin’ in mah class, dearie, and payin’ attention instead of noddin’ off like Ms. Rotier in the seat ovah by the window. Helloooo!!! Do you want me to come back there and administer a smart rap where it’s likely to do the most good, darlin’? Ah thought not.

Now that we have that settled, Ah must excuse mahself in order to assuage my ire with a festive and restorative draft of Saint Patty’s green . . . ah . . . lemonade. Ah must say this is mah very favorite time of year as every month brings us yet another happy occasion to make merry. Toodle-oo until next time!

Upcoming Topics


April: Is it proper to attempt to communicate directly with an author if you’re a huge fan?

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

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