Columbus author’s novel ‘Faking Christmas’ is full of Ohio charm
The picture-perfect Christmas – hot cocoa and cutout cookies, presents piled around a sparkling Christmas tree, a long Christmas weekend hunkered down with – your boss.
In Columbus author Kerry Winfrey’s most recent rom com novel, Faking Christmas, a host of quirky sugar plums sweeten a zany tale of a workplace untruth run amok, family fun and a budding romance at Christmastime in central Ohio.
After landing her job on false pretenses, the book’s affably bungling protagonist, Laurel Grant, finds herself unexpectedly spending the entire Christmas weekend cooped up with the man who hired her. Laurel’s nemesis, an engineer named Max, also joins in the festivities. The resulting emotional chaos escalates, threatening to cost Laurel her job and unravel her life – just as it’s about to take flight.
The story lifts off with likable characters and narrative pacing as zippy as a team of flying reindeer. Laurel is young, single and trying to figure out her life, and her ever-perfect twin sister, Holly, somehow manages to be hip, not annoying.
Fresh twists on tried-and-true comedic plot devices add to the fun of this Christmas gone wrong. A twin swap in the style of The Parent Trap and winter exploits on Holly’s goat farm in mythical Baileyville, Ohio, chug the action along. And a star-studded soundtrack of hit Christmas songs jangles in the background as romance blossoms between Laurel and a most unlikely suspect.
Winfrey said she borrowed the basic idea of a screwball Christmastime cover-up from the 1945 film Christmas in Connecticut. In Faking Christmas, she brought her characters into the present-day and set them in Baileyville, modeled on Winfrey’s native Belleville, Ohio.
She said conveying a vivid setting was one of her most important goals in writing the novel.
“I have never lived anywhere else, and I love books that have a very strong sense of setting,” Winfrey said. “I’m not sure I could write convincingly about someplace I’ve never lived. And there are so many romantic comedies that are set in the really big cities, like New York City or London. I kind of wanted to show it is possible to set something cozy and cute and charming someplace else, too.”
Rural Baileyville offered Winfrey the perfect rural setting for the goat farm where most of the story unfolds.
“I really just saw it as a very rural place and somewhere I could set a very large, movie-perfect white farmhouse,” Winfrey said.
And like Belleville, Baileyville is just a jump away from Columbus, where Winfrey wrote Faking Christmas – in the middle of summer – and where she says she always wants to spend the holidays.
“I do love being in Columbus at Christmas,” Winfrey said. “I think Columbus is a really special place to celebrate Christmas.”
TRANSCRIPT OF AUDIO INTERVIEW:
Jennifer Hambrick: I’m Jennifer Hambrick, midday host of WOSU Classical 101, and with me in the studio today is author Kerry Winfrey. We’re here to talk about her most recent novel, Faking Christmas. Kerry, thanks so much for coming in today.
Kerry Winfrey: Thank you so much for having me.
JH: Your book Faking Christmas is set in Columbus and is a holiday romantic comedy. This is a spoiler-free zone here, this conversation, but kind of give us an overview about what the book’s about.
KW: Okay, sure. So Faking Christmas is about a woman named Laurel who works for a regional magazine, like you said, right here in Columbus. And she was so desperate for this job that she kinds of allowed her boss to think that she has a life she doesn’t. He thinks she owns a farm, has children, can bake and cook and take care of animals, when in reality she’s single, doesn’t have children, lives in the city and doesn’t know her way around the kitchen. And that all works out okay until her heartbroken boss invites himself over for Christmas. And all of a sudden she has to pretend to own her sister Holly’s farm, and most importantly for the romance pretend to be married to her nemesis.
JH: Right. So, plenty of conflict there.
KW: Yes. One thing I would like to mention is that the book is based on the 1945 film Christmas in Connecticut. I always like to tell people that because I do get a lot of messages from people saying, “Is this book based on Christmas in Connecticut?” because the initial plot similarities are there. So when I was watching that movie, I really wanted to write an updated version with social media. So that’s where the idea came from. And then from there, I changed a lot of things, but that was the initial seed for the idea.
JH: Laurel Grant, is the name of the protagonist and narrator of the book. She is likable, but he’s also kind of a mess. So do you identify with Laurel?
KW: In some ways. I am a pretty anxious, uptight person, so in that way I do not relate. So it’s always kind of fun for me to write a character who’s a little bit more fun than me.
JH: Okay, yeah. Now, all of your four previous novels are set in Ohio, set in the Columbus area and Baileyville, Ohio. Baileyville, Ohio, is fictitious. But since so much of Faking Christmas takes place on, as you said, the goat farm in Baileyville, what is your sort of mental picture of Baileyville, Ohio, of central Ohio more generally?
KW: Yeah. So Baileyville is, you’re right, fictitious, but is based on Belleville, where I grew up, which is very rural. And my previous book took place there too. So I really just saw it as a very rural place and somewhere I could set a very large movie-perfect white farmhouse.
JH: And as you mentioned, throughout Faking Christmas there is this sort of city and country dynamic, in a way, because Holly lives on this beautiful farm, and Laurel lives in this two-room apartment in downtown Columbus, so the contrast between them couldn’t be, in that sense, more different. But in a way that contrast between city and country, city and soil, really is Ohio. It’s very Ohio.
KW: Yes, I always find that people who aren’t from here often think of it as being so rural. And, I mean, that is how I grew up, but it’s certainly not all that way.
JH: Although your books are set in central Ohio, there’s a subtle thread kind of gently deprecating Ohio that runs through Faking Christmas. In that sense, why is the Ohio setting important to you?
KW: So the most important reason is that I have never lived anywhere else. And I love books that have a very strong sense of setting. So for me, I’m not sure I could write convincingly about someplace I’ve never lived. I’ve lived in different parts of Ohio, but still only Ohio. And even though I may gently poke fun at Ohio, I do love it. I never want to live anywhere else. And there are so many romantic comedies that are set in the really big cities, like New York City or London. And I love those, but I kind of wanted to show it is possible to set something cozy and cute and charming someplace else, too, that there are lots of other places that are just as good of settings for rom coms as New York City.
JH: In the Acknowledgements at the back of the book, you talk about some of the things hat you did while you were writing Faking Christmas in the middle of the summer here in central Ohio to really put yourself in not just the geographical place for the novel, but also the sort of holiday, Christmas place. What kinds of things did you do to actually put yourself in the book as you were writing it?
KW: Yeah, so you’re right. I was drafting this book in, really, the middle of summer, so it was a little bit hard to get into the Christmas mood. I always kept a seasonal Bath and Body Works Christmas Tree Farm candle burning, and I had a playlist of Christmas music that I would listen to all the time. And then when I was editing the book, it was past Christmas, so I kept our Christmas tree up until February. My family just kind of had to deal with it. I needed to stay in the right mindset.
JH: In other words, it really was Christmas in July for you.
KW: It really was.
JH: So Faking Christmas is a comedy, as we’ve said, but as is the case with many comedies, there’s some darker subject matter here, as well, in the book. Again, I really don’t want to give away any of the plot, but in the midst of what is a lot of madcap family holiday fun surrounding all of this conflict that you mentioned at the top of this conversation, the book also – with a very sensitive touch – weaves in plot lines that acknowledge that the holidays can really be rough times for people.
KW: Yeah, and that was important to me. Like you said, I did try to keep it light because it was important to me that this book was fun and feel like an escape for people who might be dealing with some of those harder things. I understand. I love Christmas, but it is also a very sad holiday for a lot of people. That’s why there are so many Christmas movies that we love to watch and cry to. It is easy to understand why someone reading this might not like Christmas or might just feel sad around the holidays. So yes, I certainly wanted to acknowledge that in the book, too.
JH: We live in an age when Christmas is considered by many to be a secular holiday that encourages rampant commercialism. What is your take on the place of Christmas in our world today?
KW: Oh, that’s a good question. You know, I myself did not grow up with a religious background, so it’s never been based around any of that for me. And I did kind of poke fun at that commercialism in the book. One of the characters is kind of obsessed with buying things at T.J.Maxx. They have, you know, a lot of Christmas décor. But ideally in the book what I wanted to show was that it can be a time to kind of reflect and escape from the real world and hopefully be around the people you love.
JH: What for you, as you were growing up in Ohio and even now as you are now experiencing Christmas here in Ohio as an adult, what kinds of things are really Christmas to you?
KW: Ooh, that’s also a good question. I do love decorating. My favorite thing about Christmas is everything covered in twinkle light. I wish those were all winter. But I do love being in Columbus at Christmas. We love taking our son to Wildlights at the Zoo. That’s always really fun, just seeing all the light displays. I think Columbus is a really special place to celebrate Christmas.
JH: Kerry Winfrey, you are author of Faking Christmas, your most recent romantic comedy. Thank you for joining me today.
KW: Thank you so much for having me.