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Ronda Rich's sixth book comes to life on the small screen

'The Town That Came A-Courtin'' to debut on UP network Sunday

POSTED: January 16, 2014 1:00 a.m.

The romantic comedy “The Town That Came A-Courtin,’” a movie based on the novel of the same name written by local author and renowned columnist Ronda Rich, is airing at 7 p.m. this Sunday on the UP Network.

The movie tells the story of Abby Houston, a former obituary writer who became a best-selling author. After stopping in the small town of Bliss, Mississippi, during a book tour, she falls prey to the local residents’ conspiracy to match her up with the town’s widowed mayor, Spencer Alexander.

In the movie, Lauren Holly, known for her roles in the television series “Alphas” and “NCIS,” portrays the main character. Valerie Harper, who is best know for playing Rhoda Morgenstern in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Cameron Bancroft, who portrayed Ray in the soap opera “General Hospital,” also have major roles in film based on Rich’s sixth book.

The Times recently got a chance to ask Rich about her only fiction novel, “The Town That Came A-Courtin,’” and her experiences as an author and the process of making the movie.

Question: There is some truth to the story of “The Town That Came A-Courtin.’” What happened and what led you to write a novel about it?

Answer: I was on book tour for my second book, about eight years ago, in a little town called Blytheville, Ark. I spoke at the Rotary club and they found out at the time I wasn’t married. When I got to the book signing, everyone who came through the line said “You aren’t married. Our mayor isn’t married either.”

After a while two men came in the back door, and one sat down and started talking to me. He asked me if I would go on a date with the mayor and I said ‘Are you kidding? A man who needs an entire town to find a date for him? I don’t think so.’ He stopped rocking and said ‘Well we haven’t met yet. I am the mayor of Blytheville.’

I agreed to go on a date with him in Memphis the next night. The town had assigned a committee to go on a date with us. I was just enchanted and charmed by such big-hearted people. They loved unconditionally, and they just wanted to find happiness for someone they loved so much.

It inspired “The Town That Came A-Courtin.’”

Q: What will the readers gain by reading your book?

Answer: It’s a good-hearted romantic comedy. I wanted to write something a 12-year-old could sit down and read and parents wouldn’t be afraid of them being offended by anything. It’s colorful. It’s very Southern, and it stays true to our dialect and phrasing. It’s just a very enjoyable book, and I think they did a very good job making a movie from the book.

Q: What led to the movie being created?

A: I have had an option on this book for six years. It was taken by a producer named Rich Middlemas. He read the book when it came out and he loved it. We kicked off the book tour in Blytheville. It was proclaimed to be “Courting Day” throughout all Arkansas, and the town had a big celebration.

He had read about that and took the option. Things moved very slowly at first. Only 1 percent of books will ever become a movie, and Rich got distracted for a little bit on a project called “Undefeated,” that ended up winning him an Oscar.

Then a couple of other producers came in and wanted the book. Rich stuck with it though. From the moment it started moving, it moved quickly. It took 12 months from that point until the end.

Q: What are the challenges to having a movie made about your book?

A: I know that many authors have unhappy experiences with filming movies about their books. That would not be me. It was the happiest experience from the beginning to end. I was very involved with the process. I was part of the team that pitched the book to the network. I was included in the script-writing process and in the conference call. I didn’t make many suggestions, but when I did, they always listened to it. I was there for a good bit of filming, and I have a cameo in the movie.

It’s hard to take 320 pages and whittle it down to a two-hour movie. I knew enough going into the process, to know that you just can’t put everything into movie. There would be characters that you couldn’t put in.

As the author, you always feel a little concern about who is going to be cast and if the integrity of the work is going to be maintained. I was a little worried, but that wasn’t the case here. The casting was spot-on.

There is a character in the movie that is not in the book. They did that with my permission, her name is Loraine, and I think that she adds a lot to the movie.

It’s been a joyous experience for me, and I think they took the integrity of this book and protected it.

Q: What attracted you to writing in the first place?

A: Ever since I was 4 years old, I have loved books, I have loved words and I have loved stories. I knew at the age of 4 that I was going to grow up to write books. It was the calling of my heart. I used to get spanked for telling stories as a kid, and now I get paid to do it. It’s a blessing.

I have always written about my family. I write the South as I see it. Southerners are great storytellers. We often see a story where no one else would see it. We see stories in the simplest of things.

It’s been a joy to write about that, and particularly to write about the rural South. I love keeping our stories and our heritage alive.


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