Thank you, Kim, for this opportunity to be a guest on your blog!
Hello all, I’m CJane Elliott and my novel Serpentine Walls is being released by Dreamspinner Press on October 30th. I’ve published three novellas through Dreamspinner but this is my first novel-length work and I’m excited to share it with everyone.
The novel is a contemporary romance set at the University of Virginia, my alma mater.
Reeling from the news that his parents are divorcing, Pete Morgan starts his junior year at college cynical about love and commitment. Although his new openness to one-night stands does wonders for his sex life, fighting his romantic nature proves harder than he’d anticipated. He soon finds himself pining for a glamorous senior, Aidan, who doesn’t mind taking Pete to bed but shows no interest in commitment—at least not with Pete. And Pete’s attempt at a “friends-with-benefits” relationship with sophomore Jed leaves Pete feeling empty.
One bright spot in Pete’s year is Matthew, an easygoing graduate student who assists Pete in making his first film. Matthew has some baggage too, and has sworn off relationships and sex altogether, so Pete feels safe to enjoy their friendship. But he falls for Matthew anyway, not able to fight his growing conviction that Matthew is the perfect guy for him. Even if Pete can accept that he made a mistake when he turned his back on relationships, that doesn’t mean Matthew will feel the same. With a few life lessons under his belt, Pete’s ready to take a chance on love. As he finds the courage to bare his heart to Matthew, he can only hope that Matthew will take a chance with him.
One of the themes that I explored in this story is the impact of parents divorcing on a young adult. Everyone talks about how it affects children. By implication, young adults aren’t supposed to have any problems with it. That’s not necessarily true, and certainly not in Pete’s case. He feels keenly the absence of his father even though he’s angry at him. He worries about his mother. The first holidays right after the split are filled with a sense of loss.
This excerpt shows Pete and his siblings going to a Christmas “celebration” at the home of their father and his new girlfriend.
“Tell me again why we’re going to this,” Pete said to Missy as he drove into the parking lot.
“Because Dad wants to spend the day after Christmas with his beloved children?”
“And make us spend time with him and his mistress? Charming.” Aidan came to his mind, sprawled on the Lawn in his black tee, saying “charming” after Pete told him about the divorce.
They walked into the lobby of the fancy apartment building in Tyson’s Corner that Dad had moved into with Mallory this past September.
“What floor?” Pete asked Missy, who reached around him and pushed an elevator button in reply.
At the door to Dad’s apartment, they paused. Pete gave Missy a funereal glance, and she whispered to him, “Let’s just get through this, okay?” He knocked on the door.
Mallory opened it with a wide smile, standing back for them to enter. She was wearing a festive outfit—a red-and-green plaid blouse shot through with silver and gold thread, bright-green turtleneck, and black velveteen pants. Add in her sparkling red earrings and the gold barrettes in her red hair, and the effect was like a shiny but overdressed Christmas tree. She flicked her gaze over the three of them in their jeans and casual tops.
“Come on in. Gary, the kids are here,” she called. “He just got back from Red, Hot, and Blue. I hope barbeque is okay.”
“Yum,” Nate said, while Missy gave a quick nod and Pete could barely manage a shrug.
Despite her smile, Mallory appeared nervous. “Um, come in and sit down.” She gestured to the living room, where a small artificial tree stood in the corner and a gas fire flickered in the fireplace. A Kenny G. CD, what Pete liked to call “faux jazz,” was playing in the background. A small pile of tastefully wrapped presents sat under the tree, and the coffee table held platters of cheese and crackers and a bowl of mixed nuts.
They followed her in, Pete and Missy standing in the center of the room while Nate made a beeline to the coffee table, grabbed some nuts, and shoveled them into his mouth.
“Help yourself,” Mallory told him belatedly. “What would you all like to drink?”
Before they could answer, Dad entered and boomed out, “My progeny! So nice of you to grace your dear old dad with a visit!” He was wearing a dorky tie with snowmen on it, and he came up behind Mallory and put his arm around her waist. “You’ve met my three youngest, right, babe?” he inquired, bending his head toward her.
“Of course, what kind of a silly question is that?” She laughed—a tinkling, girlish titter that made Pete want to throw up. He noticed Missy staring at Dad’s hand on Mallory’s hip. “We saw Pete in Charlottesville, and I met Missy and Nate at his basketball game, remember?”
“Okay, good. I can never keep track, what with everyone going in different directions these days.” He and Mallory smiled at each other, seemingly lost in their own world.
“Can I use your bathroom?” Missy asked and walked away before either of them could answer.
After a short silence, Mallory murmured, “I’ll just get the food on the table,” and headed to the kitchen.
“How’s school, Pete?” Dad walked over to the gas fire as if he was about to stir the logs like he used to do at home. He stopped and straightened a plant on the mantelpiece instead.
“Hey, Dad, did you see the game the other night?” Nate asked. He sat down on the couch and crammed a cracker with cheese into his mouth.
“The Wizards? What did you think?”
“Jones is a moron, man. I can’t believe he missed that layup.”
Pete wandered around the living room, waiting for Missy to get out of the bathroom while Dad and Nate talked sports. He supposed he could go into the kitchen to help Mallory. Fat chance.
“Are Rob and Austin coming?” he asked, interrupting Dad and Nate’s lively debate.
“Rob couldn’t make it. They have Christmas with Jennifer’s family tonight. Austin should be here at some point.”
Yet another reason for Pete to resent Rob—despite acting like he was somehow the favored child, he found every excuse to bail on family events. Missy came back in carrying a beer in each hand, one of which she gave to Pete.
“Ah, you found the beer,” Dad said. “Good. They’re a Texas brew I got special. Only thing to drink with barbeque. C’mon, kids, let’s eat.” He strode out of the room.
“I don’t even like barbeque,” Missy whispered to Pete as they trailed after him. “Trust Dad not to remember that.”
Ouch! Families breaking up can really suck and twenty-somethings aren’t immune to how upsetting it can be. Pete’s reaction to his parents’ split was to protect himself emotionally and even though he fell in love in spite of this, it took something for him to overcome the fear that was underneath the anger. Can anyone relate?
More About CJane Elliott: After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane enjoys writing sexy, passionate stories that also explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.