Lee was born in Salina, Kansas on November 20 1955. Raised in Santa Barbara, California, she attended Coldsprings Elementary school, Santa Barbara High School, and Santa Barbara Junior High School. During that period of time, her parents had a divorce and her house was burned down by a firestorm. She then graduated from California Polytechnic State University with honors and a Bachelor's degree in Education. After graduation, she started her teaching career as an Elementary teacher for five years. She then decided to become an author because
"I'm a storyteller. For years, people have joked that if you ask my dad whattime it is, he'll tell you how to build a watch. I have to embellish! I have to tell you all the who's and what's and how's and why's. And I have to do it with arm gestures and silly voices and weird faces. I also became a writer because I love to read. The elementary school I went to didn't have a library.So, in second grade, after I finished reading all the books we had at home, and all the books at school in my teacher's classroom, I was so desperate to read something else, that I wrote my own book. I had so much fun writing that first book, that I kept on writing after that."
She started writing when she was seven and tried to get her first book published at nineteen but was rejected multiple times until she was thirty.