- Reaching High (2002)
by Monica Reid (SHS) 2003
Joe T. Massey, the author of Reaching High, was born on April 12, 1949, to Joe Thurman and Mary Maxine (Coston) Massey. He was born and raised in Bruce, Mississippi, also known as Calhoun County, where he is currently living and running a retail business that started in 1999 named Y’all Come Sports. Massey is married to Sawitre (Ann) Massey, and they have two children, Teddy Joe Massey and Satrina Joann Massey.
Massey chose to join the United States Navy in 1972 His love for writing grew while in the navy and soon he wrote Reaching High for the public to know what the South was and is really like. He wants people to know that the South is much more than what people believe it to be. Massey has six years’ experience in the navy, but he also worked for an aircraft company writing articles for the company’s newspaper. In 1979, Massey ventured into selling rabbits commercially, but that occupation only lasted until 1983 because unfortunately his “…processor went bankrupt…” causing him to lose his business (Massey).
In a recent interview Massey says that in Reaching High, his “own desires rolled into Sam,” who is the major character in the book. Just as Massey wanted to fly in the navy, Sam also wants to fly. However, Massey’s lack of a college education and the fact that he was two months too old for the program that was offered during that time prevented him from doing so. Although Massey may not have succeeded in becoming a fighter pilot, he has now succeeded in becoming a new and inspiring author from Mississippi.
Massey is currently working on his second book when time permits him to write. He is very busy with his new business. The setting for the new novel is around the delta of Mississippi and is about a girl and her grandmother who live there. Massey does not yet have a title for his book, but he hopes to get his second book published soon.
A Review of Reaching High
by Monica Reid (SHS) 2003
Reaching High by Joe T. Massey is a marvelous book that portrays the life of thirteen year old Sam, who lives in the deep South. Sam’s life’s dream is to become a fighter pilot one day, but until then he enjoys working in the field with his father, Bill. Massey uses vivid details to let the reader feel part of the book experiencing the same situations as Sam does. When a stranger named Mylan comes into town, strange occurrences begin to happen. From Albert’s daddy dying from a snake bite, to Albert coming up missing without any details of his whereabouts, people wonder if Mylan has anything to do with the situations because for some unexpected reason Mylan always shows up instantly as soon as something goes wrong. When everything seems to unravel, something out of the blue happens again to keep the suspense going. For example, the doctor is accused of murdering his wife and of injecting poison into the veins of Albert’s father, but did he? Reading and analyzing all the incidents that occur and putting the evidence together will solve the mystery.
Massey uses many details that reveal to the reader that this book’s setting is in the deep South. The young Sam wears overalls and walks down the dirt paths through the old country town. Sam’s father is a farmer while his mother Mary spends most of her time in the garden when she isn’t cooking for her family. In the story, Sam and Bill milk the cow, Myrtle, in the mornings before dawn so they have something to drink. Every morning, the family has a “country” breakfast, consisting of fried bacon, fried eggs, and homemade biscuits with homemade jelly. Also, Sam loves to go fishing with his friends when he is not helping his dad on the farm. Lastly, Massey uses a hint of Southern dialect to give a complete picture of what people are like in the South. For example, instead of saying “you all,” the character talking says “y’all” (Reaching High 3), a characteristic expression in Mississippi and other Southern states.
I have always heard that “a small town is a perfect town,” meaning everyone knows everyone else, and they all trust each other no matter what. However, I believe Massey took a different approach when writing about the small town life in Reaching High. Sometimes people have secrets they hide from other people which cause a fatal action in the end. Although this small town looks perfect from the surface, the reader realizes as she reads that it isn’t. Strange incidents begin to happen. Albert’s father is bitten by a snake that mysteriously appears in his truck. Sam goes wandering off to hunt, and on his way back home, he stumbles upon a cage full of cotton mouths that looks as if someone is keeping them as pets. Once again, Mylan appears out of the blue and suspiciously watches the boy and the cage full of snakes. The reader feels a sense of suspicion that will keep her reading more to see if Mylan has anything to do with the situations. Through many twists and turns throughout the book, the reader soon finds out that this “perfect” town is not so perfect after all, and secrets can soon cause a fatal action.
As Massey writes about Sam’s life, the personalities of all the other characters are revealed. For example, Sam’s dad, Bill, is a very respectful, honest, loving, and hard-working middle class man. The reader will notice his wonderful personality traits through Bill’s actions. He is very loving and respectful to his wife, Mary. In the story, the way he talks to his wife shows the reader that he loves her. Bill usually says “I love you” to Mary or “Good morning, sweetheart” and the reader realizes that Bill loves his wife. Massey knows how to reveal the characters’ personalities so the reader can have a sense of feeling toward a certain character. Massey made the characters so that the reader can relate to them and understand how they think, act, and feel.
Although I thought this was a wonderful book in so many ways, I was a little confused in some of the parts. For example, there were a couple of places in the book where the name of a character is spelled two different ways, yet it is the same character. Take the character, Mylan, for instance. Most of the time his name is spelled “Mylan,” but in some sections of the book his name is spelled “Mylon.” I realized Mylan was the same character, but it confused me for a while. Also, in a lot of the chapters, Massey mentions Sam’s family always eating breakfast and how the bacon fragrance can always be smelled. I believe he could have gotten away from that repetitive approach, and the reader could still understand that the book was set in the South. The repetitions got a little tedious towards the end of the book, but I dealt with it. Other than that, I enjoyed reading and analyzing the book.
Overall, I thought the book was great. Reaching High relates to today’s society because many people go through life experiencing strange things and dreaming of becoming something special one day, like Sam, who struggled through many trials and tribulations before succeeding at his life’s dream. I recommend this book to those who can understand the simple joys in life and likes to analyze situations like the ones in Massey’s book. Also, people with imaginations and people who can put themselves in the characters’ positions can understand and relate to Reaching High because Massey goes into detail about the life that Sam and the other characters lead. Once again, this book tells a great story and should be read by the people who have a respect for writers and their works as well as an interest in the lives of families who live in the deep South.
by Monica Reid (SHS) 2003
Hey, Mr. Massey,
I would like to take this opportunity and once again thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do an interview for the Mississippi Writers web page. I am more than thankful for your valuable time. I am not quite sure if I mentioned it before, but I’m a junior at Starkville High School. Sometimes things just slip my mind! 🙂 But, if you could, just answer the following questions. Like I said before, there isn’t much information on you out there on the web, so I’m going to ask you a few questions. First, some questions about your life if that is okay with you and then some other random questions. 🙂 There are quite a few questions ,so you have to bear with me please! Thanks.
When is your birthday?
April 12, 1949
Where were you born?
Bruce, Mississippi (Calhoun County)
What are your parents’ names?
Joe Thurman and Mary Maxine (Coston) Massey
Are you married? If so, what is your wife’s name?
Sawitre (Ann) Massey
Do you have any children? If so, what are their names and ages?
Teddy Joe Massey, age 34. Satrina Joann , age 8
Teddy was from my first marriage. Satrina is from my second marriage, thus the age difference.
Where did you go to high school?
Where did you go to college?
In what town in Mississippi did you live growing up?
Are there any vivid childhood memories that you have that have influenced who you are today?
We never had as much as other families, never dirt poor, but we loved each other and respected each other.
After a hard day in the field, my daddy always made time for his kids. Mama started working when I was about 9 or 10; and with her first two pay checks, she bought me and my brother a bicycle–one per week. This impressed me– that it is always right to give and love others no matter how much you have.
What kind of student were you in high school? Grades, etc.
Average, never made honor roll. Played baseball and loved it. Played football my senior year, endured it, never liked it.
Did you always want to be a writer, or was there something that happened in your life that got you interested in becoming a writer?
I’ve always liked to write and jot things down. We watched The Waltons growing up, and, of course, John Boy kept his journal everyday. Not until entering the Navy did I become impressed with the need to write. The history and heritage of my family needed to be remembered. I read every Louis L’Amour book I could find while in the Navy and actually saw him at a book signing at a Naval base. While living and working in Seattle, John Grisham became known nation wide. I used him as an inspiration to begin my own book.
How difficult was it to get your first book published? How did you go about it?
The first book is difficult for everyone it seems. After writing what I thought was a novel, I sent it to two different literary agents. They both creamed me on everything. I drew back somewhat after seeing the red corrections all over my pages. After more than a year, the corrections were made, additions inserted in between paragraphs and so it was ‘fattened up’ somewhat. No one wanted to publish a first time, unknown author unless I paid upwards of $12,000 for a fee. Searching produced a company which was started by an author who also had the same frustrations. It was a print on demand company, which could do the publishing for a very affordable fee. My manuscript was sent to ‘1st Books Library’ which was glad to work with me in getting published. From start to finish after our agreement was signed, it took six months.
Is Reaching High, even though fiction, based on your life? Did you base the characters in Reaching High on people you know or knew? If so, who are the characters that represent the people, and how are the people significant in your life?
It is difficult to write fiction without having ‘some’ true to life occurrences come out in the pages. There are several parts of my book that actually happened. The average reader won’t know which is real from the fiction. My parents recognized some accounts in the book.
Who is/are your favorite author/authors? Why?
John Grisham , as I said, inspired me to write. With his being from Mississippi, he made me proud. Louis L’Amour wrote with great detail. If he mentioned a spring being in the middle of the desert, it was actually there. He wanted his books to be more that just fiction. Chuck Swindoll writes about Jesus and the bible. His knowledge and abilities make my envious.
What author, based on your thoughts, has influenced you the most when it comes to writing?
I’ve never read one of John Grisham’s books. Watched several movies though. He inspired me to write. However, when I put words on the pages, I believe Louis L’Amour has influenced me the most.
Why did you decide to write about Sam as the subject of Reaching High? How long did it take you to write Reaching High?
Sam was a common name of a common boy in the country. My desire was to inspire thoughts of the Southern culture and reveal to the world what life WAS and IS like in Mississippi and the South. Having a full time job stretched the writing time of my book–from start to publish was about 5 years.
Where did you get the idea for this book? ( I really like this book!)
The idea came from the fiction side of my head. It just began with the boy walking down the road with his hound dog and grew from that. There are several ways and structures when writing. Many authors write the end first and then back track, so to speak, to fill in the book. Some authors write an outline of occurrences and fill in details to create a book. This particular book was written simply page by page by adding to the story. Somewhere along the way, I wanted Sam to excel in what seemed as a difficult goal but to reveal his Southern roots as his strength.
Are you currently working on a new book? What is it called? When will it be published? Do you have a title for it yet? What is it about?
I am writing book two at this time. It, too, will be a Southern setting but with somewhat of a different lead character. This book will have a young girl and her grandmother living in the delta of Mississippi as the center focus. Hopefully, I can have it published by early 2005. My present occupation is hindering the writing process. No title as of yet.
Have you received any special awards in your lifetime?
How has Mississippi or living in Mississippi influenced your writing?
The culture of the South is a beautiful thing. Many places I have been in the past 30 years have revealed that the general public sees the South as people who are ignorant, slow speaking, and racial. This view inspires me to write about the South showing the true side of our people here. We are a people who live in the Bible Belt of America where values of honesty and hard work still exist. Love for our GOD, neighbors, community and country shines through everyday lives.
Besides writing, what else do you like to do?
Love to do woodworking, but seldom find the time. I fish in my home pond at every opportunity. Gardening is fun. Since early childhood I have raised rabbits from time to time. From 1979-1983 I raised rabbits commercially. Because my processor went bankrupt, it caused me to lose my business as well.
Do you currently have a job, besides writing? If so, what exactly do you do, and where do you work?
I have a retail business here in Bruce.:”Y’all Come Sports.” My business was started in 1999 and is currently under restructuring, eliminating sports from my inventory. This will probably change my name in the future. (?)
I sell T-shirts and shoes. I do printing of business cards, T-shirts, caps and such for businesses, churches, schools, reunions, etc.
Where do you currently live?
In the country three miles outside of Bruce, Mississippi.
Do you have any advice for future writers?
Never say, ‘I can’t’. Never give up. Have patience and determination to finish.
Do you have any advice for students today?
School is not something to endure, it is something to value and learn from. All too quick it ends and if not used wisely, will hinder you the rest of your life.
I was very curious why you wanted Sam to become a fighter pilot in your book Reaching High. Can you please tell me that? I thought it was neat because I would have thought he wanted to be a farmer like his dad his whole life, but instead he became a fighter pilot. It’s a very interesting twist to the book. I like it!
I wanted to fly when in the Navy, but the opportunity didn’t happen. Not having college hindered my advancement in such. Second reason was, I was two months too old and was turned down for the NECEP program that was offered at that time. Guess my own desires rolled over into Sam somewhat.
I don’t know if this will be easy for you or not, but I was wondering if you could send one or two pictures that we can use on our Mississippi Writers and Musicians web site. It would be very helpful for my web page, and that would be awesome if you could send some.
I’ll try and send you some pictures. Not many available, I’ll hunt
Also, I was wondering if you were going to be in the Starkville/Columbus area any time in the next few months or so because if you are I could meet with you and take a few pictures to put on my web page. That would be so magnificent if I could meet and talk to you about your work(s).
It will be wonderful to meet you and smile for your pictures. Maybe when school starts back??
Once again, thank you for your time and answering all of my questions. I am very appreciative.
- Massey, Joe T. Reaching High. 2002.
- Massey, Joe T. E-mail Interview. 15 May 2003.
- Picture of Monica reading a book. Photograph by Mary Lynn Rednour. 14 May 2003.