Author Spotlight Interview: Holly Bargo
Today’s interview is with romance author Holly Bargo. Holly is also a ghost writer and editor and we enjoyed hearing more about her writing process, how she switches gears and her life outside of writing.
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
HB: My stories go where my imagination takes them. I try to produce stories that engage the readers with realistic characters who have realistic reactions to extraordinary circumstances. I also do research to inject verisimilitude or realism into my stories, so the details ring true.
HG: Tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind your books or where you get your ideas.
HB: A lot of my ideas come as “what if” questions. Others arise from secondary characters in other stories wanting their stories told. That’s how I end up producing series. I don’t write stories in response to story prompts either from AI or other people’s suggestions. If the concept doesn’t come to me naturally, it won’t get written.
HG: That’s great. Thank you. What feeling do you hope readers are left with when they finish one of your stories?
HB: I hope readers are left both satisfied and wanting more. Satisfied in the sense that the protagonist is happy and will meet the challenges life brings her. Wanting more in that the reader wants more from the story’s fictional world, from characters in the story, or simply more stories from me, because I loathe cliffhangers I won’t inflict them upon my readers.
HG: Wonderful. Do you have any interesting writing or brainstorming quirks?
HB: Because I’m a freelancer working from home, I treat my desktop computer in my office as my “at work” space. I seldom write my stories at my desk; that’s where I write my clients’ stories. For my own story writing, I usually retreat to the living room, plop down on the sofa with one of our many house pets (seven cats and two dogs), and write on my laptop computer. It’s not as convenient as my desk and the full-sized keyboard, but the laptop makes writing seem more like fun and less like work. I’m more relaxed.
HG: I like the distinction! What have been the challenges you’ve faced in your publishing career?
HB: My publishing career is a challenge in itself. I’m an independent author who self-publishes, so I’m cognizant that everything depends on me. To that end, I have to earn enough—whether as a freelancer or from royalties—to cover expenses from outsourcing editing, cover design, and marketing. I learned the hard way that I cannot effectively edit my own manuscripts. (Actually, no author should.) I’ve designed my own covers, but I don’t have quite the skill to do a really good job with cover art. And I’m a marketing dunce. I have not the time, the interest, or the skill to be effective in marketing my books. Hiring those services gets expensive.
Another big challenge I face is burnout. I’m not a disciplined writer in that I don’t have an established schedule for writing. I write when inspired. Therefore, I tend to go gangbusters then sputter to a stop when I run out of steam. Sometimes, the lapse between books is a few months; once, it was two decades because life—the job, children, etc.—took priority. And in 2021, a family tragedy completely annihilated the creative spark. I had a lot of healing and grieving to do before I could resume writing again. The first book I produced after that tragedy was Knight of the Twin Moons.
HG: So many hats to wear. Thank you for sharing your experience. What was the best advice you ever received related to writing and/or publishing?
HB: Focus on active voice. I hadn’t realized how much I and other writers relied on passive voice until I came across that golden nugget. Now when I write, even when writing nonfiction content for clients or my own blogs, I focus on writing in active voice to keep the writing strong so it draws the reader through the pages.
If you’ve heard the saying “you can’t push a rope,” then you know what I mean by this. If you have a boat, you can draw or pull it through the water with a rope, but you can’t push it forward with a rope. Active voice works like a tow rope. Too often, authors use active voice like a rope pushing readers through the content. It just doesn’t work well.
HG: That’s great advice. Speaking of writing, your official bio mentions you also ghost write for other authors. Can you tell us more about what that process is like?
HB: I call my ghostwriting process “simple but messy.” I tend to plunge into a project and the research on the fly. (I never claimed to be organized.) This lets my freewheeling brain get the “story” out (even when it’s not a story) and ensure that what I’ve written is factually correct. Once I get the draft down and have reviewed (and revised) it by myself, I send it to the client for review. The client’s feedback guides the revision process.
My ghostwriting work is eclectic. I’ve done blogs on myriad topics, white papers, email campaigns, etc., but my very favorite ghostwriting projects are the fiction books. These include screenplay-to-novel adaptations—great fun! I’ve done mystery, historical drama, YA fantasy, science fiction, and romance. I’m currently finishing up a western.
My contract for ghostwriting services specifies a maximum of three rounds of revision. This clause ensures I won’t be trapped in a never-ending and upaid cycle of revising this or fixing that.
I also freelance as an editor and book designer. That, plus ghostwriting, keeps me busy.
HG: Keeps you busy and gives you variety, I imagine! Switching gears back to your books, your most recent release is Champion of the Twin Moons, Book 5 in the Twins Moon Saga. Tell us more about this book and what readers will love about it.
HB: Champion of the Twin Moons returns to the imaginary world of the fae. This book departs from the common theme of the other books in that the hero, Chastian, finds his fated mate and loses her. The book challenges assumptions with regard to a one true love and journeys with a hero who give into despair, succumbs to addiction, and turns morally gray if not outright villainous. The other books mostly focused on the heroines, but this one is strongly centered upon the hero. Like many of my books, this one carries a strong redemption arc. I’m a great believer in second (and third and fourth) chances.
Like each book in any series I write, it is a complete novel in and of itself. I detest cliffhangers. Each standalone book in a series is loosely connected with some crossover, but you can pick up any book and not be lost wondering what happened in a previous book.
HG: For fun, if Champion of the Twin Moons was turned into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?
HB: Henry Cavill is so great as the Witcher that I’d love to have him cast as Chastian. Kristen Ritter would make a good young Rosalia with Anne Hathaway as Rosalia in maturity. Emilia Clarke or Mia Wasikowska has the look I envision for Coral.
HG: Great actors! What can you tell us about any other projects you have in the works?
HB: Shortly after finishing Double Cut, the second book in my Triune Alliance Brides series of science fiction/alien romances, one of the characters began demanding his own book: General Superior Yas’kihn mek Kuresh’Zha. I felt bad about leaving a quickly mentioned and abandoned character in the clutches of a terrible enemy and presumed dead, so I put her and Yas’kihn together. Thus far, she’s taking him down a peg—trust me, he deserves it—and he’s giving her the support and care she needs. After this book, I’ll work on another alien-human union focused on the third planet in the Triune Alliance, Kaan.
Another character, Iselde, daughter of the mysterious and powerful oracle of the fae world of the Twin Moons Saga, is knocking at my skull to get her own story. In a reversal of previous themes in the series, I’ll have her find her one true mate—probably not fae or human. We’ll see how the story unrolls and how the characters reveal themselves to me.
I also have an idea simmering on the back burner for a sixth and final book in the Russian Love series. The first three books dealt with three members of the Cleveland, Ohio branch of the Russian Bratva. The fourth, fifth, and upcoming sixth focus more on the Italian mafia. Yes, there’s still a Russian connection.
HG: Exciting! Switching gears, what do you enjoy doing when not writing?
HB: I enjoy reading—no surprise there! I’ll read almost anything, but find myself generally reading romance, romantic suspense, and mysteries. Not horror. Ugh. Dick Francis, Robert Crais, and Robert B. Parker are three of my favorite authors. C. L. Wilson and Nora Roberts would be blamed for hooking me on fantasy romance if a lifelong love affair with fairy tales hadn’t already done that. I never met a fairy tale I didn’t like. I like mythology (Greek, Norse, Egyptian), too.
I also enjoy horseback riding. I’ve been an equine aficionado since I was a little girl and more than fifty years later still am. I currently have two ponies: a Morgan-Arabian gelding and a Halflinger mare that I use for trail riding. I try to get together with my best friend to ride at least once a week.
And I paint. My best friend got me into painting through those paint-and-sip classes about five years ago. I really enjoyed it and have continued to paint on my own. Now I produce enough inventory to sell. I’m lucky there are people who think well enough of my work to buy it.
HG: That’s awesome! What was your last 5-star read?
HB: My last 5-star read was The Matchmaker’s Rogue by Regina Scott. I enjoy historical romances—blame my mother for introducing me to those—and this one ticked all the boxes without devolving into melodrama and an overload of angst. I dislike angst; it’s too close to whining. The heroine was strong and graceful under fire, but without being obnoxious or terminally stubborn. The hero has issues which make him more human, but he’s not an overbearing, womanizing jerk. The icing on the cake was flawless editing.
HG: For fun, before we wrap up, let’s do a fast five! First one…cookies or cake?
HB: That depends on who makes it. If I have to do the baking, it’s cake. Without frosting, please. If someone else does the baking, cookies! Nothing with nuts. I really like ginger and molasses cookies.
HG: Movie or book?
HB: Again, it depends. For instance, I absolutely love The Last of the Mohicans in movie format. The 1992 movie with Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe was marvelous; however, I could not manage to slog through the book. It’s terrible. I loved The Black Stallion in both print and film versions and can appreciate them separately, because there’s a lot in the movie that doesn’t follow the book. The same goes for The Phantom of the Opera and Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series. I like watching those sappy Hallmark romance movies, but I don’t particularly like reading books like that. I tend to prefer content on the grittier side.
For the most part, though, I prefer books.
HG: Pool or ocean?
HB: Ocean. I can watch and listen to the waves roll in and out for hours and be perfectly content. I like the immensity of it. I have little to no desire to go swimming in the ocean; I’ll just wade in up to my ankles.
HG: Introvert or extrovert?
HB: I’m a diehard introvert, but I can and do force myself out of my comfort zone. I learned to do that when I was a kid going door to door selling candy for Campfire Girls club fundraisers, as a teenager working in food service, and elsewhere having to meet and greet and interact with people when I would rather have curled in a corner with a book. These days, I smile and put on my friendly face at various festivals and author events to greet potential customers and try to sell books and paintings.
HG: eBook, print book or audiobook?
HB: I prefer to read print books, but mostly read e-books for convenience. I started reading e-books because of how often I traveled in my old job; it was too much of a hassle to bring printed books with me. My Kindle has thousands of books downloaded to it, and I keep adding to the electronic pile. I borrowed the Chief Inspector Gamache series (printed books) by Louise Penny from my best friend a year ago and have yet to read that. I need to get cracking and read them.
HG: For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
HB: Readers who want to know more can go to my blog on my author website, www.hollybargobooks.com. They can also subscribe to my newsletter from the website. I post once a month, so no one is overwhelmed or feels pestered. I also maintain another blog focused on freelancing at www.henhousepublishing.com.
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