A maintenance worker at a suburban high school is now getting his Christmas book turned into a Hallmark movie.
Rikk Dunlap works on the maintenance crew at Homewood Flossmoor High School by day, but in his free time, he’s also the author of “The Christmas Tree Lot” – an unpublished book he wrote after being inspired by a holiday tree lot that sprouts in Park Forest each season.
“I used to work downtown and on the way to and from the train I would pass this lot and I would always get really excited when this lot would come to life,” he told NBC 5. “To me, it was just always really the beginning of the Christmas season and I just love that lot.”
Dunlap said his love of the lot inspired him to write a Christmas novel.
“One year I just forced myself to really push myself to really come up with something,” he said. “I got the wrong characters out of the way and the wrong plot line out of the way and then it just unfolded.”
Though the book remains unpublished, it is now the inspiration behind a new Hallmark movie premiering in the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” next month.
The movie, titled “Christmas Under the Stars,” will star Jesse Metcalfe, known for his roles on "John Tucker Must Die," "Desperate Housewives," and NBC’s “The Chase,” and Autumn Reeser, who rose to stardom following her role on “The O.C.” and recently "The Arrangement." It is set to air on Nov. 16.
According to the network, the movie follows Nick, “a career-focused investment banker” who get fired from his firm at Christmastime and takes a job at a Christmas tree lot owned by “a warmhearted widower.”
“There, he meets Julie, an astronomy teacher who’s always looked to the stars for hope. As the Christmas spirit washes over him — and he begins falling for Julie — the once self-centered Nick discovers the joy of helping others,” the description reads. “When he learns that Julie and the tree lot owner are facing hard times, Nick strives to end their troubles in time for them all to share a Christmas under the stars.”
Hallmark confirmed the movie is based off Dunlap’s novel.
“It was overwhelming to think that, ‘Oh my gosh my characters are actually going to come to life,’ not just off the page but on the TV screen,” he said. “I was extremely excited and I still am.”
Dunlap said he hasn’t seen the movie, but will watch along with everyone else on Nov. 16.
“I will get to sit down with everybody else and we’ll all be surprised together,” he said.