- Director’s Cut (Oakdale Book 5) 2014
- Last Chance Texaco (2012)
- The Long Road Home (2011)
- The Magnolia Triangle (2009)
- Judgment Day (2007)
- Dead Air (2004)
- On the Record (2002)
By Stephen Jordon (SHS)
The author Joe Lee (Joseph Thomas Lee II) was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in June of 1965, to Joe and Rose Reynolds Lee. Joe Lee has a younger brother, Stuart. When Joe Lee was five years old, his family moved to New Jersey and lived there until he was eight. In 1973, they moved back to Jackson, Mississippi, where Lee attended St. Andrew’s Academy. Three years later, his family moved to Starkville, Mississippi, where Lee attended Starkville public schools. Joe Lee graduated from Starkville High School in 1983 and enrolled at Mississippi State University that same year. He graduated four years later with a degree in Communications. He has since worked in journalism, radio, and television. He has been a weatherman for WAPT-16 in Jackson and the host of “Time Warp,” a popular program on WTYX 94.7 radio station.
Joe Lee is married to Leslie Staehle from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. She graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in political science and later graduated from law school. Currently, Leslie is the Special Assistant Attorney General at the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, but from 1990 to 1995, she served as the Consumer Protection Director. This last job was the inspiration for Lee’s On the Record, which is the story of Maureen Lewis’s fight to stop corruption by car dealerships
Joe Lee has always been a creative person. In high school and college, he enjoyed writing papers and essays, but he really became interested in writing for publication after meeting his cousin at a family reunion in 1986. His cousin was a missionary kid who spent her school years in Ghana, Africa, and who, “youthful, fragile, and innocent,” was entirely unprepared for college and the culture of work. Lee visualized a story about a jock-type student (he had his roommate in mind) meeting his cousin and eventually falling in love with her. Lee wrote around forty pages, but stopped, not knowing where he wanted to go with the story.
The idea for Joe Lee’s debut novel, On the Record, came from his wife’s duties as Consumer Protection Director. Lee took what his wife thought was a boring job and turned it into a page-turner. Lee began writing On the Record in 1997, but because he was working full-time in television until the end of 1999, it was not until 2000 before he committed all of his time to writing. Most of 2000, Lee spent working with an editor, revising what he had already written. In 2001, he began searching for an agent or publisher. In December, 2002, he visited Starkville High School and talked to the English classes of Mrs. Jacobs about the process of writing and publishing books.
Joe Lee has now written seven novels. In addition to On the Record, he has now written Director’s Cut (Oakdale Book 5) 2014, Last Chance Texaco (2012), The Long Road Home (2011), The Magnolia Triangle (2009), Judgment Day (2007), and Dead Air (2004).
Lee owns and operates Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing company in Brandon, Mississippi, which he started in 2002. In addition to his own works, he has published fellow Mississippi authors John M. Floyd of Brandon, Jim Ritchie of Canton, Mike Windham of Brookhaven, and Barbie Bassett, the chief meteorologist at WLBT-3 in Jackson.
Joe Lee lives in Brandon, Mississippi, with his wife, Leslie, and son, John.
by Stephen Jordon (SHS)
Where and when were you born? What schools did you attend growing up? What college did you attend?
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in June, 1965. Lived in New Jersey from 1970-1973. Returned to Mississippi in 1973 and attended St. Andrew’s Academy from 1973-1976. Moved to Starkville and attended Starkville Public Schools. I graduated in 1983. Attended Mississippi State University from 1983-1987. Graduated in May of 1987 with a Communication degree (radio/TV emphasis).
Photo above right: Stephen Jordon, student researcher
What are your parents’ names? Do you have any brothers or sisters, if so what are their names? What is your wife’s name? What is your son’s name?
My father is also Joe Lee (I’m actually Joseph Thomas Lee II). He and my step-mother Marilyn are realtors and live in Dallas, Texas. My mother passed away in 2000. Her name was Rose Reynolds Finley. She lived in Starkville from 1977-1997. I have a brother, Stuart. He graduated from SHS in 1987 and from MSU in 1992. He and his family live in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Who is your favorite author/authors?
Favorite authors are Scott Turow, Pat Conroy and Greg Iles.
What author/authors has influenced you the most?
Authors with most influence (not in any particular order): Stephen King from early on, since most of the fiction I read in the 1980’s was by King. Normally associated with horror, but a very good storyteller with some fine non-horror novels (i.e. The Dead Zone, The Body–the basis for the movie “Stand By Me” and “The Shawshank Redemption”).
John Grisham is a great role model because of his spectacular success. Also a fine storyteller with a knack for writing compelling, hooky legal mysteries. Many folks ask if I want to be the next Grisham. Richard North Patterson writes very good legal mysteries and (usually) layers in interesting political scenarios. A fine writer.
Pat Conroy is a truly brilliant writer. Brings the South alive in his depictions of Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. Critics complain that his plots drag and are always dealing with family dysfunction, but his prose is often breathtaking I find his introspection fascinating, revealing and inspiring.
Scott Turow, in my opinion, is the best writer of popular fiction of this generation. A great knack for making his setting (always fictional Kindle County, a.k.a. Chicago) come alive, and he writes complex but not difficult mysteries with compelling, fully-realized characters and beautifully conceptualized plots. The best of the best.
Greg Iles, from Natchez, of course, is very close to the rarified air of Turow. He wrote a truly great book several years ago called The Quiet Game, and he is just about as good at doing for Natchez what Conroy does for Charleston and Savannah. Iles is a very versatile writer, having tackled the supernatural in his most recent book, Sleep No More, as well as historical fiction (Black Cross and Spandau Phoenix) and Grisham-type suspense (48 Hours). But he excels in character development. A great writer.
Other Mississippi writers, like Martin Hegwood, Larry Brown (both of whom I’ve met), Bill Fitzhugh, Jill Conner Browne and many more. It’s always interesting and enlightening to read other Mississippi writers.
When did you become interested in writing? What got you interested in writing?
I told your (English) class about meeting a missionary kid cousin at a family reunion in 1986–don’t know if you remember that story or not. She was youthful, fragile and innocent after spending her high school years in Ghana, West Africa (Mobile, Alabama, was their sabbatical home), and she was completely unprepared to start college (she was eighteen) or work in any kind of office or store…the culture was such that her level of sophistication was almost zero. It was hard for her to relate to other young people her age because emotionally she was so far behind. After being around her, I envisioned a jock-type on a college campus (my then-roommate was who I had in mind) meeting her, laughing at her…and ultimately falling in love with her. The story ended after about forty pages because I hadn’t thought about where to go with it after they fell for each other. But while I was writing I was envisioning it being an actual novel that was sold in book stores…that was the first time I ever consciously wrote for publication.
I enjoyed writing essays and papers in high school and college. I’m a creative person, which I discovered as I matured. It was always challenging to find different (and better) ways to construct sentences and paragraphs. And as I became a better writer, it became a challenge to write compelling narrative and dialogue.
How long did it take you to write On the Record? Where did you get the idea for this book?
The idea for On The Record came from my wife’s duties as Consumer Protection Director (i.e. shutting down con-men and fraudulent ad campaigns and business practices). I took what she felt was a somewhat boring job and let my imagination run wild.
I began the first draft in 1997. However, since I worked full time in television through the end of 1999, it was 2000 before I devoted full time work to it. Much of 2000 was spent working with an editor as I revised the novel. Most of 2001 was spent looking for an agent or publisher. In early 2002 I decided to publish and my own and started Dogwood Press as a vehicle to release the novel.
Did you base the characters in the book On the Record on people you know or knew?
No characters in any work of mine are cut directly from real people. My characters are hodgepodges of people I’ve known. The character descriptions in the book were supervised by my wife (for staff in the Attorney General’s office and other political types) and through my own work experience (media types).
Are you currently working on a new book? Do you have a title for it yet? What is it about?
The next book is underway (2002). It will be called Dead Air. This will be a murder mystery set in Jackson which deals with a slain television anchor. It’s difficult to say when it will come out. I wrote about sixty double-spaced, typed pages (approximately 20% of the length of On The Record, for the sake of comparison) in 1998 and 2001. It would take at least three to four months to do the necessary interviews and research, outlining and writing to finish the draft. And that’s before I began working with an editor. I’d like for it to be out before the end of 2003, but that may be a bit optimistic. Certainly by sometime in 2004.
How has living in Mississippi influenced your writing?
Living in Mississippi has had a profound effect on my writing. The political backdrop in On The Record greatly shaped the book. But the book has a Coast flavor as well as a Jackson flavor, since there are scenes in both places. Therefore, there are lots of sights and sounds I’ve absorbed over the years which found their way onto the pages.
There’s also the reputation Mississippi has for its writers. There’s tremendous appreciation for and encouragement of Mississippi writers. Lots of folks, when I’d tell them I was writing a book, would mention everyone from Grisham to Hemingway with lots of pride.
What kind of student were you in high school and college?
I was a very ordinary student in high school, although I did reasonably well with writing assignments in English classes. Ditto for college…lackluster grade,s but I did well in major-related work. I worked 40 hours a week most of the time I was in college (and during my senior year in high school), for what that’s worth. But my average grades were a direct result of my below-average study habits. Didn’t really learn to study until midway through college. Didn’t learn much about motivation until much later, which would have played a definite role in my study habits.
Do you have any advice for students today or for future writers?
Advice for future writers: Don’t be shy about expressing yourself on paper. Solicit the opinions of as many teachers, professors and fellow writers you can who’ll read your work. Read as many other writers as possible, because this provides a variety of perspectives and will inspire your own writing. Whatever you do, don’t take no for an answer when the time comes to shop your work. Remember that every successful writer has a cabinet full of rejection letters. All it took was one person believing in them. Find that person!!!
Joe Lee from Starkville High School yearbook.
Have you received any literary awards for your writing (either in high school, college, or recently)?
No awards yet, but Rome wasn’t built in a day!
- Online short story by Joe Lee on USA DeepSouth.
- Joe Lee’s page on Amazon.com
- Beckwith review of Lee’s The Magnolia Triangle
- Page about Dogwood Press authors.
- Lee, Joe. Email interview. 13 December 2002.
- Lee, Joe. On the Record. Brandon, MS: Dogwood Press, 2002.