Archive for April, 2008

It’s true. I am a one finger novelist. I was also a one finger publisher, editor, writer, columnist and newspaper reporter. At one point in my early career I was even a one finger typesetter … until my narrow-minded new boss looked over my shoulder and asked, “What the hell are ya doing?”

I said, “Typesetting, sir.”

He said, “With one finger?”

I said, “Actually, I use two. One finger of each hand.”

He said, “You can’t do that.”

I said, “But I can. And I average over fifty-five words a minute, sir.”

He shook his head. “I can’t have one of my typesetters using only one finger.”

“Two, sir,” I said.

He got hot enough to steam a locomotive. “I’ll give you two!” he said. “Two minutes to get the hell outta here.”

Well, I took my one finger (okay, two) and went out into the world, continuing to hunt and peck for more than thirty years in the publishing field until I became the great literary phenomenon you see before you today.

So it goes to show that you don’t have to use all your attributes to reach your goals. Sometimes a single digit and dumb determination are enough.

Now I urge you to use your finger to browse my site and my links.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Take care. I hope you’ll enjoy your visit and come back again.

Your One Finger Novelist,


E. P. Ned Burke


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By Ned Burke

I think God made writers on the seventh day.

He wanted to rest but His feet were dirty. “I must clean this clay from my toes,” He said. So He grabbed a piece of paper and scraped off the mess, the same stuff from which Adam was created, and flung it down to earth.

Ever since that moment, we writers have been cursed with itchy feet and a sinful compulsion to soil white paper with black type.

Perhaps writing is “a vocation of unhappiness” as writer Georges Simenon once said. It is true that we are a restless lot. We are not content to stay in one place or do one particular thing for very long. We have this craving to move on, to explore the next horizon, to seek out and find new experiences, fresh challenges. Carpe diem is our motto. We must seize each day and savor the taste of it, the smell of it, the look of it. After we have consumed every hour, every minute, every second, then, and only then, is our appetite for life satiated and our thirst for knowledge quenched. Sadly, however, the same gnawing hunger returns with the dawn of the next day.

All this may suggest that writers are a somber and masochistic group. But the joy of writing — the raw ecstasy of putting black type on white paper — far outweighs the occasional agony and frustration that all writers endure.

Now, with your permission, I would like to tell you a little about my long journey in this most rewarding profession.

The Awakening
Gertrude Stein once noted that she wrote for herself and strangers. “The strangers, dear readers, are an afterthought,” she said. When I was very young, I also wrote for my own enjoyment, mostly bad poetry and silly songs. In fourth grade, I remember writing a Mother’s Day verse that brought tears to my mother’s eyes and praise from my father. This was my awakening to the power of the written word. Suddenly I had a tool at my disposal that could bring joy to the world. It was only much later that I learned that printed words could also evoke other emotions. But, back then, I felt like Mozart of the pen. I was surely a genius for the words flowed so effortlessly from my body. When I finished a page, I would step back and admire it, much like Michelangelo had done when he finished David or the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. I was caught up in the rapture of my own words. And when my local radio station played a jingle I had sent them, I was in awe of myself. A little later, a greeting card company accepted a few of my verses and I was certain that my life as a “professional writer” was all but assured.

Of course, I was wrong.

I was young. I was lucky for a short period of time … and I was very naive to think my lowly words would be forever etched in granite. I still envisioned myself as an Artist, a misunderstood writer of dreams. However, in my more lucid moments, I wanted to be accepted, to be recognized, and, yes, to be paid for my efforts. I was in turmoil. Being an Artist, I thought such thoughts were crass and materialistic. Luckily, I matured and moved away from this false fixation and came to my senses some years later when my first editor told me: “You can call yourself a ‘professional writer’ only when you get paid hard cash for your words on a regular basis.” That was truly the best description, and the best advice I ever received.

The Opportunity
I moved on from poetry to short stories, and then to amusing short pieces fashioned after Erma Bombeck’s column in the daily paper. While I labored away at various non-writing jobs to feed a growing family, I held tight to my new dream of becoming a syndicated columnist one day. “What a cushy job,” I thought. “All I have to do is knock out two or three of these little gems of mirth a week and the money will come rolling in. Nothing to it!” I was twenty-five, an age when anything was possible and all the creative juices were flowing red-hot in my veins.

My muse must have had some mystical magic because shortly after a new weekly newspaper, The Banner, opened in my small town. I knew this was my opportunity, so I gathered up several of my columns and headed straight for the paper’s office and told the editor it was his lucky day.

Well, actually, the truth is I waited until dark and shoved the large envelope under the door and slithered away like a nervous arsonist on his first caper. I had to admit those darn rejection slips had taken their toll on me. I no longer felt like a genius. Confidence had escaped from my lanky body like air from a pricked balloon. “What am I doing?” I thought when I got home from my clandestine drop-off. “I’m no Erma Bombeck. The only thing we have in common is our initial.” I even considered going back to the office that night and using a straightened coat hanger beneath the door to retrieve my envelope. But it was too late. The dastardly deed was done. I could almost see the editor’s smirk, the look of superior derision on his face, as he tossed my worthless whack at wit into a wastebasket.

But, I was wrong again.

He not only accepted every article but also asked if I would be willing to write a regular column for the paper. Before he could change his mind, I made another trip to paper, in the daylight this time, and eagerly accepted his offer. The money wasn’t great by any means but it did lead to a full-time position as feature editor and later as managing editor. The best part was that I got my foot in the door, learned the newspaper business from the bottom up, and was actually being paid on a regular basis for my written words.

I was a “professional writer” at last!

The Fruition
I stayed in the newspaper game for seventeen years, serving as a reporter and later as the editor of several more newspapers in Pennsylvania and Florida. Always on the move, I even worked as a copy editor for a large daily at one time. But I preferred weekly newspapers because they offered more diversity.

When you work for a weekly, you can write feature articles as well as straight news. In addition, you get to meet many multifaceted people with amazing tales to tell. You also have access to well-known celebrities. So, all in all, it is a rewarding experience and one that I wholly recommend for any would-be writer or journalist, if for no other reason than to learn the value of meeting deadlines.

The best motivation in the world for a writer is destitution and a deadline. In my case, I found this to be true. I seldom had time for “writer’s block” or creating my own “style” of writing. During my reporter days, I vividly recall one caustic editor barking into my ear: “Forget about the Pulitzer Prize this time, Burke. Just fill the !#$%! page!” And, believe it or not, that wasn’t such bad advice.

According to Jonathan Swift, “Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style.” Today, too many writers get hung up on this aspect of writing. They try to emulate other writers rather than to simply tell a tale in their own words. Just fill the page and your “style” will eventually evolve. Henry David Thoreau pointed out that if someone had something to say then style would “drop from him simply and directly as a stone falls to the ground.” Listen to your inner voice, and you will never receive bad advice.

Looking Ahead
I am not a strong believer in the theory that one can not be told or taught how to write well. Writing talent is bred in the marrow of the bone. Either you have it, or you don’t. In fact, there are only two qualities needed to become a successful writer: talent and persistence. And, talent usually takes up less than twenty percent of the totality. If you are lacking in either quality, no amount of study will help. You might as well use your hands to dig ditches.

Ernest Hemingway said a writer “must write what he has to say, not speak it.” So, don’t waste time verbalizing about the writing process. Experience the joy of writing. Put your words down on paper. Fill the page. Soil white paper with black type until God smiles down on you and says: “It is good.”

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