Local author's Christmas novel turns into TV movie

Every holiday season, Rikk Dunlap would walk by a makeshift Christmas tree lot.
“I’d pass it a couple times a day and it was always that thing that really got me into the holiday spirit,” he recalls. “The trailer would show up and a few weeks later the tent would go up and then the trees. I just love that tree lot.”
  Rikk Dunlap
He loved it so much, that he wrote a novel about it. And the folks at the Hallmark Channel loved the story so much that it’s been made into a Christmas special movie airing Nov. 16. [Note: The date has changed from when this story first appeared. Nov. 16 is correct.]
Dunlap was working downtown, taking the train into the city from his home in Park Forest, and every year he’d pass the lot. He’d been writing poetry and short stories for a while. A few were published. Each holiday season, he’d promise himself that this would be the year for a story about the tree lot.
“I wanted to write a story about that lot. This went on for a number of years. I always thought it would be a short story and nothing would happen, and of course the holiday season would pass and it’d be another year and finally I just told myself I’ve got to come up with something,” he said.
Dunlap said he came up with ideas “and all of a sudden Clem, that character, just kind of came up and introduced himself to me and that was it. The story just started falling in place from there.”
The story revolves around Clem, the older guy who runs the tree lot. He hires Nick, a young guy who’s fallen on hard times and is trying to figure out next steps. Nick helps customer Julie, and the story takes shape from there. Dunlap suspects viewers may need a tissue to dry their tears at the end.
It took Dunlap about six months to get the story written. It was his first novel, and he called it “The Christmas Tree Lot.”
After more than three decades with his downtown employer, his job was cut in 2018 and he found himself with lots of time on his hands. He went back to the novel, did some touch-ups and got himself an agent who got it in front of the folks at the Hallmark Channel.
The company bought the rights to the novel and changed the title to “Christmas Under the Stars.” Dunlap was never asked to offer input, but he believes the story is going to stick close to what he’d written. 
“I was watching TV, and I saw one clip of new Hallmark movies and there was a minute or two of mine,” he said. “When I saw these actors as characters that I created I was just floored, just absolutely speechless. My gosh, I created these people and now these actors are creating them on the screen. It was really a lot of fun.”
Jesse Metcalfe plays Nick, Autumn Reeser is Julie and Clark Peters stars as Clem.
Now Dunlap has gone back to his second novel, which he says is getting a serious rewrite. And he’s working on a new one. 
“My goal is to have it done by February.  Six months is a set goal.  Sometimes you get a burst of creativity and sometimes you have to drag it out,” he explained.
Most recently, Dunlap found inspiration in a classroom at Homewood-Flossmoor High School where he’s now part of the maintenance staff.
“I walked into this classroom about two weeks before school. I saw this piece of art, and by the time I left that classroom I had a title. And by the time I was done checking other classrooms, the novel was already in my head – the characters, the synopsis. It happened that quickly. 
“When that happens I’m just writing like a fiend to get it on paper,” Dunlap says. 

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