Driven to Write
Robyn Mitchell is a truck driver who has become a successful novelist writing about, no surprise, a woman truck driver.
Words: Isaac Martin Photos: Isaac Martin
A woman truck driver isn’t unusual today nor is a woman writer. But it’s unusual when a driver transitions into a successful novelist. Robyn Mitchell is the woman who accomplished this as author of the Mother Trucker (MT) adventure book series about Shelby Mathews, a truck driver and mother of three grown boys.
Robyn’s background starts in Nebraska. At home is step-mother Lois and father Melvin who was a rancher and small aircraft pilot. She has two brothers, living in Texas, two step brothers and a step sister, all residing in Nebraska and Colorado. In life’s journey, she ended up in Odessa Texas. After attending Odessa College and University of Texas – Permian Basin, she began teaching in Odessa elementary school.
Her writing experience began as a young girl. Besides school work, Robyn also wrote personal journals and it was in college when her love for writing bloomed. From there it wasn’t until she started driving that she focused on writing fiction, since trucking involves mandatory rest periods, she now had the time to observe people and record trucking experiences.
As for home life, Robyn is married to love-of-her-life CL, with who they share nine children along with 23 grandchildren ranging in age from 3 to 25. If that isn’t activity enough, she also has interests in sewing, canvas painting, motorcycling and RV-ing.
Retiring from teaching in 2007 she earned her commercial driver’s license (CDL). Since then, she’s hauled sand in pneumatic trailers for fracking companies. She’s also driven with flat beds and drop deck trailers. Thanks to that, she’s adept at strapping and tarping loads. She’s hauled nationally, except in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Like her career, even our meeting was unusual. Happily in need of a truck show fix, G’NG was attending the Truckin’ for Kids charity event at Irwindale Raceway, when wondering through rows of gorgeous trucks, we came upon Robyn’s MT books and accessories display. We introduced ourselves and discovered that neither G’NG or MT knew of each other’s existence. That’s now corrected.
At the show’s close, we asked if we could profile her. She enthusiastically agreed, but she had been asked to help a friend drive one of his Peterbilt Model 389 bobtail up I-15 to his Victorville terminal. Would we care to ride along? Absolutely.*
We climbed into the cab and affixed our seatbelts. Robyn started the Paccar MX-13 diesel, scanned the gauges and checked the mirrors. She shifted the Fuller 15-speed trans into first, and smoothly let the clutch out. We were on our way with our first question.
(*Virtual reality, but as always the Q&A is real)
Source: Mother Trucker Book Series
1. Walk us through your transition from teaching to driving
My transition from teaching to driving wasn't simple. When I realized that I no longer enjoyed teaching and that politics was blocking my path to real teaching, I decided I needed a change. My children were grown and now it was time to do something different.
My husband CL had been in the oil fields for over fifty years and so I asked him about doing something in the oil field. Of course, I had no experience. In fact, I knew very little other than the things he talked about, and even those things I didn't have much understanding. I knew, however, I was bright, intelligent, with a will to learn new things.
When I asked about doing what he did, he gave me a slightly "me man you woman" response. "You can't do what I do, those men in the oil patch would eat you alive." I learned later from him that it wasn't that he didn't think I could do anything in the oil field, but his concern was that I wouldn't be able to handle the "muscle" part of most oil field jobs.
It was now a matter of pride and determination for me. I persisted and nagged until we came to an agreement that I might be able to handle driving a truck. I think at first he simply suggested that to get me off his back about the topic. I, however, was determined to do something different, interesting and adventurous with the latter working years of my life.
I attended truck driving school to get my commercial driver’s license (CDL). The "book work" was pretty easy. The driving part however, was a little more difficult. I had grown up with a familiarity of farm equipment, including dump trucks. I did have some influence from the semi-trucks that would roll along the highways near my Nebraska home but not much "hands on" experience driving semi-trucks or big equipment.
So, when I entered the cab of that big white baby, I was, to say the least, shocked. I wondered if I had taken on something I couldn't accomplish. I didn't let that stop me, even though it was difficult and frustrating at times, I powered through and earned my CDL. Now, mind you when you enter one of these driving schools, you are paying them to get your CDL but real training comes when you land a job.
Finding a job was another difficult hurdle that I had to muddle through. No one wanted to hire a driver with no experience. Well, no one that is except Freddie my future new boss who loved hiring newly trained, fresh out of school drivers. He felt it was easier to train the new drivers, because most of them didn't come with the "I know everything about trucking" attitude. New drivers seemed to take better care of his equipment as well.
So here I was fresh out of driving school, hired on with a sand hauling company. It took some time to learn the ropes, but in time I learned the skills of not only driving an eighteen-wheel truck properly, but how to haul, load and unload different types of sands for the fracking companies. It was fantastic.
2. What was your first time like driving with a load?
My first time driving alone with a sand load in my trailer made me nervous. I knew I had just completed four weeks of drivers school and six weeks of on the job training with a trainer. But even with my on-board trainer gone, I was still following in my own truck a lead trainer until I was ready to take loads to the field on my own.
I was still nervous, but excited that I was finally going to be able to "dance with" my truck on my own. When you learn to drive a big truck, it's kind of like getting married. Once you're alone with that truck, you have to get deeper into knowing about it, listening to it, and learning from it. The more time you spend with it, the more you love it, understand it, and know how to handle the good things and bad things about it.
3. What do you like about truck driving and what are some things that make it tough?
Truck driving can sometimes be tough, but it's still a wonderful profession. It can mean boring long hours on the roads. Trucking can become mundane if you find yourself traveling the "same old same old" routes. Sand hauling was never that for me, every day was different, every load was different. Only a few times did I ever do "turn around" loads while hauling sand. It was mostly going for a load of sand somewhere, that could have been any number of locations though out the country, and hauling it to an oil field location that was fracking a well. Those locations are also spread out across the country. Trucking only became mundane for me in trucking when I transferred from hauling sand to hauling commercial air conditioners across the country. I didn't like "long-haul" across the country, so I went back to "dead heading" sand loads.
I love single driving because it gave me time to be by myself, to think, and learn about who I am. Driving does take you away from your family, but I always had them just a button away on my Bluetooth.
Things that made driving tough, were the strict regulations. Yes, some of them are good, but many of them are difficult for drivers. I don't think you're going to find any driver that enjoys driving because of all the DOT governmental regulations imposed upon them.
4. How did your writing desire emerge when you started driving?
Writing for me began while I was trucking and I found myself with a lot of down-time on my hands. You can only sleep so much and watch so many movies. I started with simply writing down things that happened during the day, especially when I started having problems with a female co-worker. It was kind of a release for me instead of running to Freddie when things went wrong. It just snow balled from there. I decided to form a story around the crazy woman I was dealing with, the people I met on the road, my knowledge of the trucking industry that only comes with experience, some of the adventures I had, and some of the not so awesome experiences that occurred while driving.
5. In planning a novel, do you make an outline prior to writing?
My first book, Mother Trucker, was not outlined. I simply started writing on my computer and let the day’s events and notes I had made lead the story. It was a real mess at first, especially when I would sometimes have to leave the story for several days, or even weeks, because of work or other important issues. When I would return to the story I would have to read over the things I had written, which took time, plus I would lose the smooth feel of the story writing in that manner.
Over time I learned through editors and other authors how to use outlines. I do write from outlines now and the stories come together so much better and with less editing. If I'm able to simply write, which I do a lot more now when I'm not traveling, I use outlines but I also just write and see where the story will take me. Just writing is my favorite way to write, but it can get messy if you don't have at least a simple outline of where you are going with the story line.
6. In terms of time, pages or words, what’s your writing discipline?
When I'm at home and I have at least two weeks to just do nothing but write, I like to get up early in the morning, get coffee, turn on my computer, look at what I wrote the day before, make adjustments to my outline if I need to and just write. I don't limit myself to so many words a day or hours a day. I can write two paragraphs one day, and ten thousand words the next. It is however important to me if I've been "moved" through thoughts, to start the day off writing, because once I get into that zone, I don't like to stop, unless my eyes just won't stay open any longer. My two paragraph days tend to be the days when I get interrupted or don't start at the beginning of my day.
7. When your fans meet you in person or via Facebook, what are some of their comments?
I'm building my fan base right now, so most of the people I meet are not fans yet. I've only meet one person in Dallas that had seen one of my Facebook ads and knew who I was. Most of my followers or "fans" are those that follow me on social media. Their comments are almost always in the positive. "I love the books." "Can't wait for the next one." "When will you be in such and such a place." Family and friends of course, tell me they are proud of me.
Those that I meet at the booths however, do make comments like, "Wow, this is great that you're writing books." "I always wanted to write a book." "I have a great idea for a book, can you tell me how to get started." "Do you know such and such author?"
8. In closing, for women who would like to enter trucking, or an automotive career or just writing, what encouragements would you offer?
For women that want to truck, write or get into any field that is not a "normal" field for women GO FOR IT! The greatest of all successful people had set backs, failures and disappointments. Those that accomplished and achieved what they wanted in life were those that didn't give up. It doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're a woman, or any other excuse you might come up with in your mind. If you don't TRY and GO FOR IT, you'll never know just how successful you'll be.