Lawrence author’s new novel, set in Hawaii, is a romantic comedy that pokes fun at the world of online influencers

photo by: Contributed

Lawrence resident Amanda Sellet, pictured recently at the restaurant 715, is the author of the new novel "Hate to Fake It to You."

A story about the fussily curated world of online influencers could not be more 2024, but Lawrence author Amanda Sellet actually reached back 80 years — to a more black-and-white era, as it were — for the true inspiration for her latest novel.

Called “Hate to Fake It to You,” Sellet’s first book for adults is a modern adaptation of the 1945 Barbara Stanwyck film “Christmas in Connecticut,” a comedic farce about a “bachelor girl” food writer who pretends to be an ideal housewife and mother only to get frantically caught up in her own rapidly escalating lie.

In Sellet’s version, the setting moves from the East Coast to Hawaii, the Christmas vibe is ditched, and the heroine, Libby, is a poor waitress/wannabe writer who pretends to be a wealthy social influencer, peddling personal tips about skin care, luxury bedding, charcuterie boards and the like — variously described, in Libby’s moments of honesty, as “asinine comments about personal enlightenment,” “general pretentiousness” and “personal wellness BS.”

As in the movie, the book’s plot is the snowballing lie that inevitably works its way into an avalanche.

“I actually started from the general point of wanting to do a series of retellings of classic screwball comedies, because I love old movies, and I went to graduate school to study film history,” Sellet says. “… And I thought it would be really fun to try and capture that energy in a book.”

Sellet knows that screwball comedies from last century — with their stylized acting, sentimentality and other idiosyncrasies — might not be for everyone. They were already old-fashioned when she, a Gen Xer, was a little girl watching them with her librarian mother in the 1970s, but she finds a surprising “edginess” in a lot of them if you look deeper than the surface “zaniness.”

Pretending to be someone you aren’t is no doubt a behavior that goes back to the dawn of humanity, but Sellet says the theme, captured with such slapstick glee in the 1945 Stanwyck film, seemed especially ripe for a modern take because the opportunity for pretense is so enormous these days.

“It’s just so much a part of life now,” she says. “It’s like the online version of ourselves versus what our lives are really like,” — a chasm that not only lets people easily put on airs, but also subtly sucks others into believing they have inadequacies that can be ‘fixed’ through imitating influencers or heeding their often dubious advice.

Women especially face this “underlying pressure to optimize everything about (their) existence,” Sellet says, from the clothes they wear to the meals they prepare.

Sellet’s characters — Libby and an assortment of financially struggling locals and rich, privileged outsiders — work through these issues in the course of the novel, which is set on the north shore of Oahu. The locale wasn’t chosen for aesthetics alone, but mainly because Sellet, whose mother was born and raised there and who partially inspired the Libby character, has a lot of personal connections to the island, including an aunt who has dedicated much of her life to the preservation of Hawaiian culture.

Being a romantic comedy, the book also has a handsome love interest, of course — with a fittingly sturdy name (Jefferson Jones, just like in the movie) — and also a best friend, Jean, who Sellet says is “an homage to my best friend since I was 14.” That Platonic relationship, readers might find, is the story’s real backbone, if not its fluttering heart, and also is the source of a barrage of comic dialogue — of the type that can only occur between two people who go back a long way and know each other’s flaws.

“I feel like I should put a warning on the book: You have to appreciate sarcasm, or this is not going to work for you,” Sellet says.

Sellet, who has written two young adult novels — “By the Book ” and “Belittled Women” — and who has two spinoff novels to “Hate to Fake It to You” already in the works with St. Martin’s Publishing Group, will launch her new work at a public event at 7 p.m. Tuesday at The Raven Book Store, 809 Massachusetts St.

As a liquid tie-in to Sellet’s novel, the downtown bistro 715 has developed a tropical cocktail, “Ticket to Paradise,” that will be available July 16-20 at 715 Massachusetts St.


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