From a technical perspective, writing is easy. You get your words in the right order, your punctuation in place, and let one paragraph follow another. There you go -- you are a writer.
Of course, if it were just that, we wouldn't revere the written word. We wouldn't trace our fingers over a paragraph, trying to absorb the syllables into our bloodstream. We wouldn't wake up in the middle of the night and sneak out of bed to reread a passage one more time. If the technical rules of writing were what makes a writer special, then reading would be a dull experience, indeed.
The thing that sets all writers apart from each other is the most elusive aspect of the process: voice. You can take all the classes in the world, but you can't learn voice. Voice can be honed and harnessed -- it can even be changed -- but voice comes from within. It is, in a way, your soul.
But for all of its magical qualities, voice is a tool. Some writers have voices so bland as to be almost generic; you can read their work without a twinge of pain. These voices go down easy because they're like wallpaper. Then there are the voices that threaten to overwhelm you -- the strong, bold, sometimes brash voices. They ricochet in your mind, and sometimes, if you're susceptible, tie up your own voice and lock it in a closet. These are the the authors I can't read while I'm writing. They are the friends I adore, but only when I'm up for the challenge. These voices can be too much.
Very strong voices often become characters of their own. You know them immediately. Bland voices never take on shape and form. You wouldn't want that. Then there are quiet voices. These are not to be confused with bland voices -- quite the opposite. Quiet voices demand your full attention. You turn off the stereo, maybe head to a corner of a your backyard, away from the everyday life sounds. You don't want to miss a moment of the voice. This is reading at its best. You become one with the book.
Kirstin Allio's Garner is a wonder for a lot of reasons, but it was her voice that left me awestruck. She takes a particular tone, old-fashioned yet very readable, and never loses it. Her voice is a character in this book, it's the voice of the town of Garner. It can be stately, it can be rowdy, it can even be girlish like Spring. It is solid. You know that you are in this place, this book, this story.
Our town is no longer somebody's kitchen garden, the selectmen said, and the postman recorded this also. We must plan for growth. As with a child, our town needs a strong hand to guide it.
And this town found just that -- a strong hand to guide it.