Melissa Goetz McCaughan is a freelance writer and teacher. She has Master’s degrees from Xavier University and Northern Kentucky University in English and Teaching. Last fall, she taught Journalism at Transylvania University. She writes for Chevy Chaser magazine and updates social media accounts for local businesses. You can often find her giggling in a coffee shop, reading in the park or writing in a cemetery. She lives in Georgetown, Kentucky with her husband, son and pugador. You can check out her blog here!
Tell us some about your novel, Legacy.
Where do ideas begin? For me, it began with a childhood fascination with ghosts and things that go bump in the night. I devoured the works of V.C. Andrews, R.L. Stine and Anne Rice like candy. As I entered adolescence, I was drawn to artistic boys dressed all in black.
And where do those boys take girls on dates? They take them to the cemetery.
Spring Grove Cemetery is a very large, beautiful cemetery in Cincinnati that was built in the 1800s following a cholera epidemic. It covers 733 acres and an artist was once quoted as saying about it, “Only a place with a heart and soul could make for its dead a more magnificent park than any which exists for the living.” It was to this cemetery my boyfriend took me on date when I was 18 years old.
He wanted to show me a specific grave that he liked. It was off the main road and hidden by trees. When we walked back to it, I saw a large monument of a steeple with a female statue inside. Behind the monument were stairs leading down the hillside to a platform guarded by two lion statues. You can sit on the stairs and stare out over the grounds, a breathtaking view. It is so peaceful.
Long after breaking up with that particular boy, I would visit this grave site and write. I went there to think. I went there to cry. I went there after milestone events and on ordinary days. In snow, rain, summer, fall I kept going back to sit on those steps. And I noticed every time I went, I left feeling a little better.
I began to wonder who this man whose grave had become my refuge was in real life. I figured he was very rich to afford such a spot, but I knew nothing about him. One day, as I was walking around Northside (a neighborhood in Cincinnati) I noticed a sign that said “Hoffner Park.” Hmmm….Hoffner Park – Jacob Hoffner. Coincidence?
I tried an internet search for him, but it was the mid 1990s and there wasn’t a lot out there. So, I made my way to the Cincinnati Historical Society and requested every document they had. I read his letters. I saw pictures of his home. He was described as an eccentric. He had these elaborate grounds with ornate landscaping and statues from his travels around the world. He was a great philanthropist. He was a Mason. Hoffner Park sits on the land that was once his home. He founded Northside. The lion statues in front of the University of Cincinnati were gifts from him.
I found him fascinating and liked the fact that this grave site was my secret spot even more. I began to imagine him as a character in a book. Then I imagined a girl visiting him and talking with him and the story started to enfold. So, 10 years after first visiting the site, I wrote the first 20 pages of the story.
I took 10 more years to finish it. People ask me if they are characters in the book or if any of it is true. There are some true details – real places, real people. But, it is not my story. It is my creation, something from me and yet with its own evolution. Like my son, who has his own distinct personality and own mind, you can sometimes catch glimpses of me in the way he smiles or tilts his head. It’s a little like that.
My favorite part of researching this novel was learning about Jacob Hoffner and imagining him as a fictional character. I also enjoyed learning about Masonic rituals. The most difficult part to pin down was getting historical details right and making what the character did in the 1850s seem plausible.
What are some writing techniques or approaches to craft that work for you?
Like the main character in Legacy, I often write in cemeteries in a notebook. That’s where I get ideas for characters and start brainstorming. I write down a loose structure for the plot. Then, I go home and start typing. I write for about 3 hours per day when drafting. I don’t let anyone see my first work until the first draft is finished. Then, I give it to my team of beta readers before beginning revisions.
My favorite part of the publishing process is getting the proof of the book in the mail. After hours of writing and revising, months of hard work, it’s very rewarding to see it all come together. My least favorite part of the publishing process is worrying about sales.
What is your favorite writing utensil?
My favorite writing utensil is a blue pen.
What are your thoughts on maintaining a career as a writer?
I think it’s difficult financially to start a career as a writer unless you have an additional job or some other financial support. However, writing is the most emotionally rewarding job I’ve ever had.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently formulating ideas for a new novel set in central Kentucky.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
If I wasn’t a writer, I would be teaching. I’ve been a teacher for over ten years. I like expressing myself through writing and encouraging others to do the same.
Do you read reviews? Why or why not?
So far, I’ve read my reviews. However, if the reviews started to bother me, I would probably take a break from doing that for a while.
Any guilty pleasures?
My guilty pleasures are apple crisp and Game of Thrones.
You can watch Melissa reading from Legacy here and read an excerpt below! If you’d like to meet her in person, her next book signing is from 12-2 PM on June 4 at Down to Earth Cynthiana, 129 E Pike St, Cynthiana, KY
Excerpt from Legacy:
Anna watched as the light beams danced from one leaf to the next as she drove under the ornate archway inside the cemetery gates. She knew the way intuitively. Yes, she had been to graveyards before, but this was her sanctuary. A right, then another right, then another right–this was the path to her past, and she hoped to a future that would illuminate the shadows in her mind.
Anna parked. She walked along the gravel road back to the private gravesite, her family’s ancestral plot. Blocked by a sawhorse, it was one of the few spots in the graveyard where cars weren’t allowed to drive up by the graves. The sky was fading to gray and Anna wondered if she should turn back. She pulled her travel umbrella out of her pocket, hoping her notebook wouldn’t get wet, as she planned to stay until it got dark. She brought her rain jacket in case it started to pour, and a snack of raisins and chocolate – can’t leave home without chocolate. This cemetery, Pine Grove, was where Anna liked to do her writing – quiet, peaceful, no sounds except the distant hum of traffic along the interstate. Somehow her thoughts flowed more freely here – the dead quieted her inner critic. Images flashed across her mind, thoughts flowed like a solemn cavalcade of hearses at a funeral, mindful and not in a rush – if she ever was to write a novel, this was the place it would come to her.