The Song That Changed Your Life
The Song That Changed Your Life: Meet the winner
We talk to the winner of The Song That Changed Your Life writing challenge, Lyle Burwell of Ontario, about his winning story, She Whispered.
Tell us about yourself.
Right now I’m living in Guelph, but my home is the Ottawa area. I retired this past October and I’ve been writing full-time ever since. My mother was an English teacher and I first had her read a story I had written in, I think, the third grade. She read it, said, “Well, it’s nice you’re writing,” took out her red pencil and proceeded to correct my spelling and punctuation errors. Once that was done, she gently showed me how the story itself could be improved. The process fascinated me and I’ve been playing with words ever since. Other than being the lead guitarist in a power trio, writing full-time has been the driving dream of my life, so I’m a pretty happy guy these days.
What do you usually write?
I’ve written radio ads, business intelligence studies, a one-man show that the Capital Critics Circle loved but the Toronto theatre critics hated, a post-modern blues-comedy revue, and thousands of short articles for internet article brokers. But, like I said, now I’m retired and I get to write what I want. I love ebooks and have four novels up on Amazon. Three of them are erotic romances that I publish under a pen name. The only problem is my pen name gets great reviews that I don’t get credit for. The other novel, The Anti-Soul, is a metaphysical horror novel that I worked on sporadically for thirty years. It’s currently in competition for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I’ll find out in February whether it makes it through to the second round.
When it comes to subject matter, I’m all over the map. But my focus is always on creating vivid characters and moving them through a story that ends with the character changing in a way that reveals something to the reader about his own heart.
You are currently "woodshedding" at a friend’s place in order to work on current projects. What are you working on?
Yes. Marc Lemieux and I have been friends since university. He’s been retired for a few years and he’s rattling around in a big house. My wife runs a home daycare and we have a six-year old, so opportunities for writerly solitude are rare. Marc lets me come down to Guelph and live like a monk: no TV, no phone, no car, and no distractions. I love it. The only drawback is not spending time with my daughter. We Skype frequently and use it to play board games.
I like to have two or three things on the go, so if I hit writer’s block on one story I can just jump into one of the other ones for awhile. I’m working on the next volume in the erotica series; I’m 6,000 words into a story about a nomadic tribe living along the Silk Road at the time of the Arab invasion of Persia in the seventh century; and I’m just starting a speculative fiction piece about conundrums.
Have you ever submitted to a Canada Writes challenge before?
In 2006, when the Canada Writes major competitions were still the CBC Radio Literary Awards, I had a piece shortlisted in the English Language Short Story category. I’ve only entered one piece in a Canada Writes challenge before, in last November’s Close Encounters With Science challenge. That story, “The New Age,” made the shortlist.
Why did you decide to write about this particular moment?
It was formative. In 1957, rock and roll was something totally new to white, middle class kids. It was so at odds with the rest of Fifties culture that if you liked it, it put you at odds with mainstream culture. And to be introduced to it the way I was: it opened a door to a raw physicality that my young heart had been yearning for without even knowing it was missing.
Were there other moments/songs you thought about writing about?
When it comes to songs that changed my life? No, there was never any question in my mind that I would write about any moment but that one.
Was this the beginning of a life long relationship with rock and roll? What was your relationship with rock and roll after that?
I wish I could say life long. But forty years was a pretty good run. I started writing songs when I was twelve and first played in a rock band in front of an audience at a battle of the bands, when I was fourteen. The last band I was in was a kick-ass blues band, The Guys & Eye. My last gig with them was in 1996, when I was forty-four. Once I quit playing I kind of lost interest., I’ve been hearing some good stuff lately but my tastes have mellowed (shoot me now, please). I like Mumford & Sons and I’m listening to Katherine Wheatley, a Guelph-based singer song writer.
Tell us more about your Aunt Maureen.
She was hardcore. That summer one of the local radio DJ’s burned a bunch of Elvis records and swore he’d never play rock and roll. Maureen wanted to go down to a protest demonstration the local Elvis Fan Club was holding and convinced my Dad to make a sign so big they’d need two people to carry it. He didn’t like rock and roll, but he was big on free speech. The Fan Club won, Maureen and friends had the biggest sign and the DJ was fired.
Do you listen to music while you write?
Absolutely not. If music is on, I’m listening to it and not my inner storyteller. I do not like having background music on at anytime except when I’m making love.