Ninie Hammon’s Blog for Readers

Where Did The Story Come From?

Posted: October 14, 2014, 11:48AM

                    #1 HOME GROWN

          It has a dumb name, but it’s a cool festival nonetheless. It’s called Ham Days. (Pausing here to let you laugh.) It’s held on the last weekend in September every year in Marion County, Kentucky—specifically in the town of Lebanon. The festival draws fifteen to thirty-five thousand people. The number varies depending on who you talk to. The Chamber of Commerce would have you believe that every man, woman and child for fifty miles in every direction drops whatever they’re doing and races to Lebanon so they don’t miss a single minute. Others—like me—look out over the crowd and engage in the ever-entertaining sport of crowd-size guessing. I’d bet my number is closer to reality.

        I love Ham Days. When I ran the newspaper in Marion County and in neighboring Washington County, I was on that festival like bumps on pickles. I took pictures of every event and contest. The hog-calling contest. The husband-calling contest. The hay-bale tossing, horseshoe pitching, jalapeno pepper-eating and tobacco-spitting contests. (Just as an aside here: never wear sandals to a tobacco-spitting contest. Just don’t.)

        The festival featured a parade down Main Street called…get ready…the Pigasus Parade. It was a big parade, unlike the one in nearby Bradfordsville where there is nobody left to watch the parade as it winds down the only street in town because everybody in town is in the parade.

        And I collected Ham Days pins—as you can see here. At one time, I had the most extensive collection in the county. (She said with smug pride.)

        Marion Countians are proud, too. They’re proud to be rural people, country folk, farmers and small-town business owners and they commemorate that at Ham Days. They spend a three-day weekend every year celebrating who they are at the festival. But there’s a darker side to who they are that they don’t celebrate at Ham Days or at any other festival. Marion County is home to fifty-five of the fifty-six men arrested in five states in 1989 by federal authorities when they busted the largest domestic marijuana-producing cooperative in American history.

        Marion County is home to the Cornbread Mafia. That’s what federal marshals dubbed the group of dope growers who took their marijuana-growing show on the road when it finally got too hot to grow acres of it on the back forty in some hollow or in the deep woods by the Rolling Fork River like they’d been doing for the previous decade. When the federal marshals made their busts, they confiscated a hundred and eighty-two tons of dope worth $400 million—in 1989 dollars! And the fifty-six men were summarily shuffled off to serve mandatory twenty-year-prison sentences.

        And all of that—the marijuana years before the big bust—is where the story for Home Grown came from. The fictional story. It’s not the true story of the rise and fall of the Cornbread Mafia. Jim Higdon, whose father owned a grocery store where I used to buy the best lemon chess pie on planet earth, wrote the non-fiction account.

        I always knew I’d write about the Cornbread Mafia someday. Knew it when I sat through trials, one after another, where dope growers were found not guilty by maintaining they had no idea that marijuana was growing smack in the middle of their own field of corn. Of course, the real reason they weren’t convicted was because the jury pool was tainted. Marijuana-growing had so permeated the whole community that you could no longer find twelve people who weren’t involved. In Marion County, you were either growing dope yourself or you knew somebody who grew dope. Or your father/brother/uncle/cousin/neighbor/best friend/Sunday School teacher grew dope. Or you owned a business that sold to dope-growers and if they got busted your business went down the tubes with them.

        But the plot of Home Grown would be dated if the story centered on the immorality, or lack thereof, of marijuana. Two states have now legalized the recreational use of it and a dozen more have legalized it for medicinal purposes. The story’s not about marijuana. It’s about the easy money to be made growing and selling it illegally—easy money that bred evil in a whole generation of Kentucky farm boys as surely as a fly
 breeds maggots.

        Think Prohibition. The great Mafia crime families got their start on the outrageous fortunes they made selling booze illegally. The Cornbread Mafia did the same thing with dope and were in the process of branching out into all manner of other illegal enterprises when the feds caught up with them and rained on their parade. What happens to people and communities when there are easy fortunes to be made by something as “harmless” as growing dope? That’s what Home Grown is about. The corrupting power of greed is the theme of the book.

        Home Grown doesn’t tell the true story of the Cornbread Mafia, of course. But it is as real as what actually did happen. I knew those people, covered their trials for the newspaper, played Bunko with their wives and sent my kids off to school with their kids. I knew their hearts and their struggles. I understood them. That’s what makes Home Grown real—the lifelike characters—characters my Marion County friends say are spot-on.

        You write what you know. I know central Kentucky and small-town people. I can write their dialect and speak their thoughts. When you read Home Grown, I hope their stories will be “real” to you, too.

        I’ve always believed that sometimes the best way to tell the truth is with fiction.


Carolyn Young October 18, 2014, 12:02PM

"Home Grown" sounds great. When I'm working outside, I listen to audiobooks...have you made any of your books into audiobooks?   Reply

Replies (1)

Honor W. January 2, 2015, 12:52PM

I'm reading Home Grown right now. I'm really enjoying it although I found it quite difficult to follow at first until I became more familiar with all the characters. I've also read Five Days in May, The Last Safe Place and The Memory Closet. I find your writing style quite different from that of many other "modern day" writers and though there are some common themes that span your books that I have read so far, each has enough to set it apart from the others. You are in my top 5 list of Amazon writers!   Reply

Replies (1)

Rasheen Syrkett September 27, 2015, 8:35PM

Hello, I would like to know if you could send me some resources about the news coverage and indictment's of the so-called cornbread mafia. I prefer the name cornbred cooperative based on the history of,Kentucky. Lol. Thanks. I hope to hear from you soon.   Reply

Replies (1)

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"Oh, and about the 9 and the e beside my name. Say it fast, emphasis on the 9. That’s how you pronounce my first name -9e. (Think “rhymes with tiny and shiny, NOT with skinny and penny.”)

Suspense Author

I have soooo many stories I want to tell you, so many worlds I want you to see, so many people I want you to meet. People in trouble, most of them. Big trouble they didn't ask for but there it is. Ordinary folks like you and me who are forced by circumstances to fight for their lives. And then, smack in the middle of their everyday worlds they encounter the unexplainable. It's always the game-changer.

Welcome to my world. If you'd like to know more about me, I'm easy. Click on Meet Ninie and you'll see. My life isn't really an open book; it's more of a pamphlet, and you are cordially invited to read it. I'd love to interact with you on Twitter, Facebook Fan page, and Goodreads. Or come visit with me at 9e's Kitchen Table, a Facebook group where readers and I hang out. I think you'd like it.