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Barnett tells a unique story in ‘Between the Rows’

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By Matt Overing
matthew.overing@uky.edu

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Phyllis Ann Spalding Barnett says she is a storyteller, not a writer.
Her book, "Between the Rows," reads like a story, not like the usual 500-page novel.
In fact, Barnett’s book is just 180 pages long. It offers a fictional account of growing marijuana in Kentucky and the trouble it brought to a small community.
“I think I wrote the book because … growing up with the Cornbread Mafia, with what was happening here at that time, I felt for the families,” Barnett said. “I wanted someone to tell their story, how it affected their families.”
The story focuses on one family in particular, but goes into detail about how illegal trade infiltrated the family and tore it apart.
Barnett offers a unique perspective because she grew up in Marion County. She’s from Lebanon and graduated from St. Charles High School. After high school, Barnett went to work at GE in Louisville and worked there for more than 30 years. She said factory work was a “piece of cake” compared to working on the five-generation family farm.
“There was nothing here, no factories other than maybe a sewing factory,” Barnett said. “You had to leave town. There were no jobs here in the 70s. That’s in the book.”
The book recounts how difficult it was for some young men to find jobs. In the book, labor for the marijuana trade was easy to find because of the scarcity of jobs.
The overarching theme in the story is something that Barnett said was common during the Cornbread Mafia’s peak.
“We protected our own. We took care of each other,” Barnett said.
The story ends with the potential for more, something that Barnett was planning from the beginning.
“Once I started it, it poured out of me,” Barnett said. “I had the outline in my head of how I wanted it to read. I wanted it to read like we talk, like people here talk. Not like someone from the city would talk.”
What Barnett loves is how readers have received her book.
“This touches people. Everyone that has read it, that has had family involved in it or was around, says they can relate,” Barnett said. “It tore up marriages, it tore a very small community … the stigma is still here. We knew who was in it and who wasn’t.”
Barnett has another book in the works, but she says it’s more difficult to write a second book.
“I’m working on a sequel. You’ll see when you read it, the characters can have a sequel,” Barnett said. “It’s a little harder, but that’s because I’m not a writer at heart. I’m a storyteller.”