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Jeff Benedict: A Hollywood ending

Published: Monday, Sept. 26 2011 3:36 p.m. MDT

Recently my publisher announced that Lifetime is making a movie based on "Little Pink House," and Brooke Shields, who is currently on Broadway playing Morticia in "The Addams Family," will star in the film as Susette Kelo.

I've been anticipating this for six years. It was Nov. 28, 2005, when I met Susette Kelo for the first time. I had gone to introduce myself and seek her cooperation in a book I wanted to write about her epic struggle to save her home and her neighborhood from an eminent domain taking. She had no idea I was coming.

Five months before I showed up the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that all the homes in her neighborhood had to go to make way for a private development. Virtually every structure had been demolished. Approaching Susette's front steps, I looked around. The area reminded me of a war zone. All except Susette's bright pink house with white trim. Even on a gray wintry day, her home looked like a shining beacon in a barren wasteland.

I didn't know the full story yet. But I could already see the book title: "Little Pink House."

The crazy thing is that I didn't have a book contract at that point. I hadn't even talked to my editor about my idea. For all I knew, the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, both of which covered the case, might already have a writer working on a book. That would kill my chances of doing one. So would a rejection by Susette.

I knocked on Susette's door. She opened it and stared at me with sad, defeated eyes. I told her my name and why I had come.

"What took you so long?"

Those were her first words to me. I just smiled, unsure whether she was going to invite me in or tell me to get lost.

"I've been waiting for you," she continued. "C'mon in."

Waiting for me? She didn't even know me. But three hours later I was still there and I was starting to get to know her. The more I knew the more I wanted to be her storyteller.

Then she took me on a walking tour of what used to be her neighborhood. It was almost dark by that time. But that's when I saw past the book to the movie. Witnessing piles of splintered lumber and crumbled brick did it to me. That rubble used to be walls and floors and ceilings.

I hadn't written a lick yet. But in my mind the story had box office written all over it. I went to see my editor Rick Wolff in New York and told him the story I wanted to write. I described Susette as a cross between Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae.

My editor liked the idea. But my publisher turned me down. The commercial merits of the story just weren't immediately obvious. After all, Susette lost her case and the neighborhood got wiped out. Not exactly a Hollywood ending.

No book contract meant no money. No money usually means an idea is nothing more than a pipe dream. But Susette had been waiting for me. I couldn't stop now. I spent the next year and a half researching and writing without a contract. By the summer of 2007 I had more than half of the manuscript penned. I took it to my editor and asked the publisher to reconsider.

Publishers almost never take a second look at something they've previously turned down. But mine did and this time I was offered a contract. Everyone agreed that the title was perfect and the cover should be an image of Susette's house.

Even before the book went on sale in January 2009, I went looking for a film agent. I didn't know where to start. But I showed my manuscript to my friend Dave Checketts, the former CEO of Madison Square Garden. After reading it, Checketts said he wanted to introduce me to his friend Stanley Jaffe, the legendary film producer who made blockbusters like "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Fatal Attraction" and "The Accused."

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