"Dreamless" crackles with the energy of a very talented author's first book. Yet, Darlene Graham is a long established romance writer. Her "No Ordinary Child", about a special needs child, April 2003, demonstrates extraordinary writing skills. It also earned rave reviews.
The high energy in "Dreamless" comes from two major creative challenges (which the author masterfully meets). The first challenge happens early in the book when the hero and heroine acknowledge they are in love! Traditionally, this should happen at the end of the book, not the beginning. My immediate thought at reading this early acknowledgement of love was to think: "You can't do this!" Had the story just become a suspense novel with a secondary love interest? I was prepared to stop reading but the plot had opened so many "How will it turn out?" questions, that I just had to keep reading...at least a few more pages.
In a normal romance, the love interest is the central focus. "Will the couple get together in the end and how will they do it with all the obstacles that stand in the way?"
Often one or both lovers are deeply flawed and afraid to love. They spend a good part of the book trying "not to fall in love"; this creates a lot of tension which keeps the reader's interest. Then towards the end of the book, there is a "black moment" when all seems lost; the relationship will not work. Finally at the climax of the story, from the depths of despair, the lovers resolve their differences and the reader ends the story with a wonderful feeling.
An author, who buys into this standard story line, receives "ready-made, plot-provided interest". If an author does not follow this plot line, she has to reinvent the wheel; that is, create her own unique tension. This is a lot of very hard creative work.
Fortunately, the author turns the story right back into a romance by totally intertwining the hero and heroine's fate. First, they are adversaries fighting each other in court; then, they both acquire a life-threatening common enemy which they must face as a team. Thus the couple and their relationship stay center-stage the whole time. I like the hero and heroine to be interacting for most of the book (or why read a romance?).
Darlene Graham keeps reader interest in the relationship high with countless "how will this turn out" questions. Will the mares safely deliver their colts, who will win which law suit, will the work-hand die, will the ex-wife win joint custody, was anyone killed in the fires, is the father in prison really a good guy, will the ex-wife really overcome her alcoholism, etc. You just have to turn the page to find out. This is providing reader interest the old fashion way: earning it.
Overcoming major creative challenges keeps writing fresh. You can feel an excitement flashing between the lines of copy. This kind of writing shows true respect for the reader and stimulates the continued growth of the author's skills. As a fan, it is fun to watch the career of an author who continues to grow with each challenging book
Challenge two seems truly insurmountable: write a 32-page seduction/lovemaking sequence! Normal length would be 2 to 4 pages, if that much. It would seem impossible to have a 32-page love sequence and keep the reader's interest. (SuperRomance is not a "hot" format like Blaze or Temptation.) I would have given the author no chance of doing this successfully. Yet, Darlene Graham, did it so well, these 32 pages constitute a mini-course in "how to write". (See pages 167 to 198.)
Here's how the author achieves this. First the scene is a true seduction fantasy. I just happen to be reading Barbara DeAngelis's book "What Women Want Men to Know", and this 32-page sequence meets the ideal seduction fantasy as wonderfully spelled out in Barbara's book. Women readers should love this sequence.
However, what makes the 32-pages work so well are major plot and character developments. Also, even the outcome of the seduction is uncertain until the very end. You get more story movement and character development in these 32 pages than you'd expect in 60 pages of non-seduction exposition. (This is very skillful writing; don't try it at home.)
I see "Dreamless" as a major creative triumph. For the romance fan, it is truly fresh and original. For the aspiring writer, it is a very enjoyable advanced workshop. Darlene Graham gets better with each book. I am really looking forward to her next book.