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Interview with Kelly Mack McCoy

Kelly Mack McCoy writes from a lifetime of personal experience. In his first novel, Rough Way to the High Way he introduces us to the world of Mack, a pastor turned long-haul trucker. This is the first of a series of novels about Mack’s adventures on the road as lives are transformed through his new ministry. The first life to be transformed, as Rough Way to the High Way develops, appears to be that of the hitchhiker. But God is working in Mack’s life all along, preparing him for a new ministry that will transform lives across the country.

Welcome Mack! The burning question I had when I read your summary was what parts of your novel actually happened in real life? (without any spoilers, of course)
I built more of my personality and story into Rough Way to the High Way than I realized during the writing process. You may have noticed the similarity in names for example, to state the obvious. But Mack just seemed to fit the character I was developing. And then there’s the other name he was known by…well…I can’t mention that one yet, can I?

Like me, the protagonist comes from a rough background. His father was an abusive drunk who died in the Huntsville state prison. I can tell you that because it’s part of the backstory that’s known from the beginning when Mack picks up a hitchhiker who reminds him of his father. Who is this hitchhiker? Oops…sorry, I can’t tell you that one either.

My own father stayed drunk for about twenty-five years straight and my mother was in and out of insane asylums, as they were then called, when I was a child. So, as you can imagine, I have a lot of stories to tell. And some of those stories are woven into the plot. I haven’t even brought up some of the events that happened out there on the road, which I think is what you had in mind when you asked the question. Many of the trials Mack faces during his journey did indeed happen to me. Which ones? You know it’s much more interesting to speculate, so I’ll let readers have fun with that question.

It has been a dream of mine to live in a Peterbilt rig for a summer. What are the best and worst parts of living on the road?
Awesome! You need to do that. It’s much easier than you think. If the general public knew what goes on in the trucking industry, they would never venture out on the highway when big rigs were on the road. There are always companies out there that are looking for warm bodies to put into the driver’s seat of a tractor-trailer rig. Of course, they are not all like that. I did make a career out of trucking for most of my adult life. But enough are like that to make it really scary out there.

Many of us who have spent years behind the wheel of a truck develop a love/hate relationship with trucking. If I’m not out on the road I yearn to get back out there in a truck and experience the freedom of the open road and get a little windshield therapy. But once I get on the road, I’m ready to stop and do something else for a while.

There is a huge turnover in the industry for a variety of reasons, the main ones being poor pay and working conditions. So many would-be truckers are slapped hard by this reality soon after graduating trucking school. It often doesn’t take long for them to rethink their career choice. So, it’s not hard to understand why there has been a shortage of truck drivers since I started driving one in 1974 and why it would be so easy for you to realize your dream. There are a number of companies that would train you and love to have you do just that – live in the rig for a summer, and hopefully longer.

The best part of living on the road is seeing all the awesome scenery as you drive across this beautiful country of ours. In a single summer you could drive from sea to shining sea through many, if not all, forty-eight states and parts of Canada. If you are the type of person who can leave your home troubles at home, there is nothing like the open road to clear your mind. And you can spend your time catching up on all the books you’ve been wanting to read. There I go again! I’m ready to get back in one of those things and hit the road once more.

The worst part of being on the road is you’re often tired and dirty while you’re touring the country and you rarely are able to stop and enjoy any of the places you visit. Did I mention the horrendous traffic, crumbling roads, construction everywhere, no place to park your truck when you’re required to do so by law and the electronic logging devices that keep you stressed out about it? The big fines for minor slip-ups and bigger fines and possible jail time for a lapse in judgement when you’re exhausted already? Oh! And the health risks? – The average trucker my age has been dead for a few years now. It’s a killer occupation – literally.

What is the funniest memory you have from driving across the country? Did it make it into any of your books?
Should I live long enough, all my young and stupid stories will make it into the books I write. Those young and stupid stories in my trucking career started before I ever got out of truck driving school. Just to give you a little background, things were quite different in those days.

Back then you got your commercial driver’s license first and then you learned to drive a truck. But the latter was not a requirement before driving a tractor-trailer out on the highway. I took my commercial driver’s test in a one-ton truck. A friend of mine took his test in a station wagon. All that was required is that the vehicle used in the test was used for commercial purposes.

But the first funny incident out there on the road that comes to mind was after I had all of two days of driving experience under my belt at twenty-one years of age. I drove as a team driver with an owner-operator. It’s still hard for me to believe he did this, but with only those two days of driving experience I had, he cut me loose on my own to deliver our load in San Francisco because he had relatives in the Bay area he wanted to visit.

First, I got hopelessly lost when I couldn’t find the delivery location that was tucked away in a hidden alleyway. I drove up and down hills, dodging cars, streetcars, and pedestrians until what seemed like hours later, I found where I was supposed to unload. The dock was in a courtyard at the end of that alleyway. I had to jackknife my rig in order to position it for unloading.

The dockhands had a good laugh watching me try to get my rig jackknifed into the dock, but eventually tired of the show, rolled down the door, and went to lunch while I continued working on it. After quite some time, I did succeed and they were able to unload my trailer. By this time rush hour traffic had begun as I left to make my way to the Golden Gate Bridge. I used up so much extra fuel in my adventures in San Francisco I ran out of fuel in the middle of the bridge.

Similar to Mack, you made a career change. What propelled you to (semi) retire from driving your eighteen-wheeler and take on the role of author?
I had a little time when the trucking company I worked for went bankrupt, so I decided the time was right to take my writing seriously. I found an awesome writers group where I met some good writers who helped draw out the writer in me. One of the members there, John Floyd Mills, was a former writer with the now-defunct San Antonio Light newspaper. John had nearly finished one novel and also started his own publishing company, Franklin Scribes Publishing. He wanted to help writers see their labors of love on through to publishing since he knew all the ins and outs of the industry and how the process worked from beginning to end.

John liked my writing style and he approached me with the idea of the two of us partnering together to write a series of novels about a trucker and his adventures out on the road. I had such a thing in mind as well for some time, but never followed through with it, so I agreed. It turned out our writing styles were just too different for us to write together, so he moved on and published his own novels, Buried and Secrets. I ran with the other project on my own.

Did I say ran? Stumbled and fell would be more accurate. After I started on the novel, my crazy life got in the way once more, and my book was buried like the protagonist in John’s novel, Buried. And just like his protagonist, there was no way my novel would ever see the light of day without some dramatic event to cause it to see the light again.

That dramatic event was John’s death. After he died, I decided it was do or die for me as a writer. Sadly, for most writers, it’s die, not do. The scrap of manuscript that would become Rough Way to the High Way seemed to call out to me from that dusty drawer each day thereafter. It could no more be ignored than John’s protagonist buried underground.

In your travels, what did you do, listen to, or read to pass the time?
I drove out there for a very long time and I have such a love/hate relationship with truck driving I’ll probably do it again – until I tire of it once more. But one of the great things on the love side is you often have plenty of time to read, or listen to, some great books. In fact, it can be the perfect occupation for someone who loves books more than people, which I suspect would include many writers.

Truck drivers are the most diverse bunch of guys (and gals – about five percent of truckers are women) of any occupation. I taught at a truck driving school for some time when I was reinventing myself and seeking something that would allow me more time to write and learn from other writers as well. Some students were high school dropouts. Some were probably grade school dropouts who, in a few cases, just got out of prison. But, for a student to have a bachelor’s degree was very common. A few had master’s degrees. One gentleman even had not one, but two PhDs. So, if you want to get your PhD in truck driving go for it. Hard to find a job that pays you to drive around and listen to books all day.

I’ve always loved to read, but in my early days as a trucker, it was a little more difficult. At the end of your day, you’re often too exhausted to read or comprehend much of anything. And it was hard to focus on a book if you held it on the steering wheel with all the bouncing around and such. But then came cassette players, and then CDs, and now downloads, so it’s been easy to listen to lots of books out there for quite some time. I listened to the Bible and many books of a more spiritual nature. At one time, I got into reading the classics. For some time, it was self-help – I decided I needed a lot of it. And I’ve always been somewhat of an information junkie so anything I was the least bit curious about I would get some books on the subject and learn about it. So, I listened to many of The Great Courses from The Teaching Company.

I absolutely loved to get lost in a novel too. I drove a car-hauling rig for many years. Sometimes I would get so engrossed in a book that when I arrived at a dealership, I would have to listen to at least the end of a chapter before getting out to unload. I often got odd looks from some of the salesmen – especially when I had hot-selling cars on my truck they’d been waiting for.

How did this inspire you to start writing?

Writing is something I’ve had in my heart since childhood. I’ve always loved to browse through bookstores, even as a kid. I would thumb through some of the books on the shelves and read parts of them at random. Sometimes I would be so awed by the prose I would think I could never be a writer.

Then I would pick up another book and think, Man, this is really bad writing. Yet he somehow managed to have his book published and get it into a bookstore. If he could do it with writing that bad, I knew there was hope for me after all.

But kids from my neighborhood didn’t grow up and go to college or become writers or anything of that nature. I had it in my heart, but believed it was unattainable, so therefore it was to me at the time. My main goal as a child was to survive to adulthood. That was enough of a challenge for me at the time. I thought I would be able to do something about my circumstances after I grew up, which I did, sort of. I hit the road in a big rig and drove away from it all – or so I thought.

Although I had often dabbled in writing here and there, until I was motivated to finish my book for the reasons stated above, I didn’t have the confidence in myself as a writer to follow through with it. In spite of the fact that people would often tell me what a good writer I was, I didn’t even call myself one until my book was published.

It may seem that I started late in life, but I really didn’t. I’ve just spent my life on and off the road gathering material. Most books and dreams remain in that dusty drawer I spoke of earlier so to speak, never to be seen by others. But they are not forgotten, just hidden away. When the dream-bearer dies, only then is the dream forgotten, never to be seen by the rest of us whose lives may well have had been enriched by what he or she had to offer.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
Everything we do as a Christian is either a reflection or revelation of what is going on inside of us spiritually. And it affects our whole worldview. That pesky thing called the flesh will be our downfall if we’re not careful. I have struggled and failed miserably during my walk with the Lord. And I have been to such lofty heights I felt I was in heaven.

As in the the other areas of my life, I’ve had experiences which help me to understand what others are going through and have compassion for them regardless of where they come from or where they are emotionally or spiritually in that snapshot of time. When I tell a story, I have an understanding of what each character may be going through and how that would affect their behavior.

As you can see, I immerse myself in the story on those occasions when I’m in the ‘zone’. Especially in the case of Rough Way to the High Way where the protagonist has my personality for the most part and many of my experiences are shared through him.

My main goal in writing this novel is for believers to be inspired to have a closer walk with the Lord when they finish reading it, and for unbelievers to see God and His people in a new light. All while being entertained by the story.

What made you decide to write fiction rather than a memoir of all your amazing adventures on the road?
I have a lot of books I hope to publish should the Lord leave me on this earth long enough. More novels are planned as well as nonfiction books. I realized some time ago I’m writing my memoir as I go along in my journey as an author, which is pretty cool. I won’t have to rack my brain as much trying to remember long-forgotten events in my life when I decide to write that memoir. I use many true stories in Rough Way to the High Way for example. Yes, some are embellished a little, some more so, but in any case, they are at the forefront of my memory now.

Same with the interviews I’m doing. I’m asked many questions about by past adventures and my childhood which I have answered and now have stored away. I’m so glad my cover designer put ‘A Novel’ at the top of the cover because I’m often asked things like, ‘Is this your autobiography?’ or ‘Oh, you were a pastor?’.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
That’s such a great question. It makes me realize there are so many authors I admire it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to one. At the risk of sounding like much more of a spiritual man than I am, it has to be the apostle Paul. He comes to mind as a man who reached the highest heights and lowest depths of any man I can think of other than Jesus Himself.

I admire Paul more than any author who has ever lived. I say Paul rather than the apostle Paul or Saint Paul because it helps me to picture him as simply a man, and in relation to your question, an author. To be shipwrecked, nearly beaten to death more than once and imprisoned unjustly didn’t stop him from writing the letters we read almost two millennia later. The letters were of course inspired by the Holy Spirit, but He chose Paul as the vessel to pour His Word into, and through that broken vessel His Word poured out to us.

I would love to take a pot of the freshly ground and brewed specialty coffee I’m so fond of, sit down with Paul in his jail cell and ask him how he did it.

What advice do you have for someone else who has decided to take up writing as a second career or retirement venture?
Unless you’re a crazy masochist, don’t do it. I don’t understand people who say they love to write. I’m like so many other writers who have said they don’t want to write a book but to have written one. But here I am doing it again.

Don’t get me wrong. I just feel the same way about writing as I did about driving a truck. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with trucking for many years. I loved the freedom of the open road. I loved the windshield therapy when I drove my truck down the highway. Just thinking about it makes me want to get back out there. I start trying to figure out how I can balance driving a big rig with my career as a writer.

But I know when I got back out there, in about two weeks I would be kicking myself and thinking, What in the world were you thinking, Kelly Mack McCoy? And I would be trying to figure out how to fix the mess I’d gotten myself into…again!

I have a similar love/hate relationship with writing. And I’ve discovered I have a lot of company out there. I’m sure there are many writers who write for publication who love what they do. But since so many of us struggle to find time to write only to sabotage ourselves when we have that time, tells me I’m not the only who is driven crazy by writing.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
That God often works in and through our lives in unexpected ways and He is always at work in ways we can’t even fathom. So many people and circumstances are intertwined when events unfold in our lives, how can we expect to understand what God is doing in our lives or the lives of those around us?

Sometimes, He allows us to take a little peek inside His realm as He is at work but more often, we don’t get to see or understand what He is doing in any given situation. Isn’t that what faith is about? Not knowing, but trusting?

In the novel, Mack’s whole life changes dramatically and all his plans begin to unravel. When this happens to us, we want to hold things together ourselves. But you get a hint that God had different plans for Mack when you read the quote at the top of the back cover – ‘…When your plans unravel it may be God who is pulling the strings…’.

What new adventure awaits Mack in this series?
Rough Way to the High Way is a stand-alone novel. But suffice to say, the intrigue continues. When readers read The End on the last page of this book so many of them have asked me if this or that character is going to be back. The only one everybody is sure about is Mack, obviously, but some have fallen in love with other characters as well and want to see them come back for the sequel.

I can’t say which ones without giving too much away now. But I can say many of the main characters will return. But at least one important one will not. How’s that for a teaser?

It’s quite an experience for me to see so many people who are concerned about some of the characters. As I said earlier, I become so immersed in the story that for a time it becomes my reality. It’s the same for all of us when we read or listen to a good book. I don’t think there is any kind of objective standard as to whether a novel is well written. But if readers are able to suspend disbelief early on in a novel that’s a good indication you’ve been successful as a storyteller.


As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author.

Her soon to be released debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo worthy quotes and updates on her publishing journey.

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