secret for indie authors: media mail

I would say the book giveaway on Goodreads was a success. I want to share a little secret about the United States Postal Service. If you are sending hard copies of your books out to patrons, contests, and book fairs in the US, save money by using the book rate. When you go to the post office, just ask your packages to be sent using media mail for a ~50% savings. Slightly slower delivery speed than with regular mail, but well worth it if you have a little extra time.

Job # 7 and #8: Tied House busser and waiter

I’d like to thank beer-drinking hockey fans for making possible my sabbatical from school in the fall of 1997; your contributions were significant to my young life. My older colleagues deserve some credit for helping build my self-confidence (I was once a timid field mouse).

Because my brother was a Theta Chi, I achieved an honorary frat brother status in my high school days (note: I got Greek life out of my system by the time I arrived as a student at SJSU); my brother also worked at Spaghetti Factory and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant. Therefore, I had some connections to the service industry. In the fall of 1996, I landed the job at the Tied House Brew Pub on San Pedro Square. I made significant cash as a busser, especially off the pre-gaming Sharks fans who regularly flooded that establishment.

I saved up enough money in a year to pay my own way for a 2-month journey to 11 North American cities (early September thru end October 1997; it should be noted that my parents paid for school and half my rent and, with the promise that I’d return to school in Spring 1998, were cool with me taking a semester off). I got promoted to waiter not long after I got back from that journey. And I started saving for my first car.

job #0.40 – Paperboy’s assistant

Let’s blame this job for me not getting into Naval Academy or becoming a pitcher in the majors. Sleep deprivation is a real thing for me. I bet it stems from my time as a paperboy’s assistant.

I was about ten years old. Somehow, my brother cajoled me into helping him with his paper route. Up before the dawn, we would fold the ad inserts into seventy or so bundles and secure them with rubber bands. And we would curse the world if it were raining because we would also have to put the bundles in plastic bags. Rain or not, we would ride a mile or so to deliver the news to a sprawling apartment complex.

The picture is of me around that time. It’s the first one of me playing the blues due to all the lost sleep in my life.

endorsements for The Emergent

“A woman’s bold reckoning with memory, and pursuit of all its drifting pieces. The Emergent is just that – an aching recognition of how family narratives persist, holding us in their loving embrace, or imprisonment.”

–Marc Palmieri, author of She Danced with Lightning

The Emergent is a tale of blood, loss, family, and departures that orbits a continent, its casualties, and its letdowns. It is a story for those of us who will never be sure if we only imagined that hand at the shoreline reaching for us.”

–Salar Abdoh, author of Out of Mesopotamia

The Emergent is a haunting first-person narrative about young Kat’s shattered family and their complex histories. The title of this sensitive, evocative novel says it all: life is about our emergent selves and the stories we tell and hear along the way.” 

–Susan Shillinglaw, author of A Journey Into Steinbeck’s California

“For a novel that moves so swiftly from one American coast to the other, and back again, interestingly it is the obscure neighborhoods of San José that inform the soul of Holmberg’s polyphony of a novel, The Emergent. As a Californian I love this book. I love it because it’s the California I know but almost never read about. In this way, I see it on the bookshelf between Helena María Viramontes’ little masterpiece Under the Feet of Jesus, and Leonard Gardner’s beautiful Fat City. It’s that good.”

–George McCormick, author of Inland Empire

“Holmberg has created a compelling and thoughtful novel that is a beautifully crafted and complex narrative. The Emergent causes one to wonder if they will be bystanders in life, or if they’ll jump in–allowing the mysterious mosaic of life to create something fascinating.” 

–Emily Keefer, author of The Stars on Vita Felice

The Emergent is more than just a family history — it’s Kat’s attempt at finding her own voice and defining herself on her own terms, crafting her identity by choosing what details of her life should make up the person she has become. Kat’s account of what appears as a family history spanning generations succeeds at holding the reader at bay much more effectively than can be [fully] understood until the novel reaches its close.”

  –Kelsey Conrad, Little Village Magazine

The Emergent is not to be rushed through, if you can help it. Each paragraph is lovingly crafted, and I deeply enjoyed Kat’s Holden Caulfield-like alienation. As I read, I began wondering how real any of our ideas about our personal histories are.”

–Tim Gerstmar, author of The Gunfighters

The Emergent is a modern The Outsiders, a gritty look into the subcultures of America.”

–Wally Jones, author of Sam the Chosen

job #5: intro to tedium

A buddy of mine, Colin, got me this little side gig one summer during high school. His dad was a divorce lawyer and was involved in a case in which some old apparently rich dude was in a fight over how he spent his money. As a part of the discovery process, the old man was compelled to let Colin’s dad have access to all this financial records. And the old dude kept all his cancelled checks. Mind you, this was before internet banking was a normal thing, so this guy voluntarily kept thousands and thousands of checks. And it was my, Colin’s, and Colin’s sister’s job to make photo copies of all these checks and somehow log them in some antiquated way.

The picture of me (c. 1993) kind of sums up the stupidity of this job, if not its mind-numbing qualities.

Job #2 (Summer ’92): landscape assistant

This was not an allowance job (more like a smart way for my parents to reduce the cost of the landscaper. Isn’t that why people have kids?). I had health benefits, room, and board which, like taxes, were not deducted from my $4.50 an hour (yet I still found a way to rib my parents about the low wages until a shamefully recent time. Isn’t that why people have kids? So they can grow up to be assholes?).

I typed up, printed, and submitted invoices to itemize the time it took to jackhammer a 14×10 slab of concrete, cut down and chop up a couple plum trees (I have a shin scar as proof of my first wrestling match with a chainsaw), tear out dead crab grass (which never really dies and clings to your rake when you’re trying to clear it out), dig trenches for cement stripping and a sprinkler system, level dirt, and lay sod.

Radio hits like Annie Lennox’s “Walking On Broken Glass” and Guns N’ Roses “November Rain” accompanied my labor in the sweltering Modesto heat.

Click here to follow my job journey. Share your thoughts on your own jobs in the comments.

Déjà Vu (Restaurant) all over again

As you read through these over the coming weeks, the name of the restaurant at my first job seems oddly appropriate, given all the jobs I had in the service industry.

In the summer of 1991, I bussed tables at a restaurant called Déjà Vu in Roseburg Square in my hometown of Modesto, CA. My mom frequented this restaurant and helped me land the job shlepping dirty dishes and setting tables. The job must have been under the table, because I was fourteen and a half years old at the time.

NOTE: Since I don’t have pictures from every job I’ve ever had, I will often give a nod to the music of the time. Up first: Jesus Jones (“Right Here, Right Now).

How many jobs have you had? Share in the comments. Rules are listed here.

screenshot from

The Emergent – a synopsis

“Unknowns can be handled in two ways. You can stay on the beach and watch, imagining what
might—but probably won’t—happen. Or you can offer up your mere physical existence for the
chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

These are among the last words that Kat hears from her lifelong friend, Alma. The Emergent opens at the dawn of the internet era, and nineteen-year-old Silicon Valley native Kat is alone.

Haunted, she wonders if her actions drove Alma-and the rest of her family-away. Soon after
Alma’s disappearance, Kat finds herself in New York City with a new companion. In an apparent attempt to understand why she ended up across the continent, Kat relates her family’s story. Set in places like the shores of Oakland after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Depression-era farming communities of California’s Central Valley, and cold-war Santa Clara Valley, the family history and its ghosts also seem to shroud who Kat really is. But a series of mysterious injuries compel Kat to reveal more about herself. Will these revelations save Kat from her past? Or will they forever define her future?

Contact the author for a full tip sheet and to discuss speaking engagements.

in honor of election day: Variations on a Sickness – a dark satire

Variant: a dystopian prelude (a very short chapter from my dark satire-in-progress)

Julius’s niece is dead after following the advice of Our Dear Leader (ODL).

The armies in the north are gearing up, their leaders salivating at our weakened defenses and superior, unused medical resources. A whole division of our troops in that region ingested a cocktail of over-the-counter cleaning supplies a couple days ago. And radio silence from ODL, the man who said such an injection could be a good idea. “Whaddya have to lose?”

ODL is a man whose power is derived from his association with and intimidation of scientists who found the “sociopath” gene. A decade ago, he won office on the idea that he—and he alone—could rid the country of sociopathy.

Were it not for Bliss, Julius might have voted for ODL all those years ago. But his wife’s constant raging brought on sweat, chills, fever, headache, dry mouth, and shallow breathing. Anxiety like this overwhelmed any vague fear Julius had about The Sickness.

“You cannot vote for him, Jules,” she had said ten years ago, her dinner getting cold. “Don’t be fooled by all the free coverage the media is giving him. I mean, listen to this fucking idiot prattle on incessantly. It’s the same thing every single time! It’s not news. It’s indoctrination.”

Bliss brought up a video on her phone of ODL at one of his recent election rallies. The future dictator screamed, “The illness—people call it The Sickness—of socioplathy [sic] inflicts one in every 25 people. And it’s a terrible terrible terrible disease that is coming for you and your kids. It’s Lizzie, a great doctor of medical, who determined all this. A great person; we have a very great friendship; Lizzie always tells me what I want to hear. I really like her. I know…we know, right Lizzie?…we know some great people, great great great wonderful people, who say they’re able to detect socioplarthy [sic].”

“Did you know?” Bliss shouted as she scrolled through social media for another example. “Did you know ODL’s followers think he is a brilliant clairvoyant? What the actual fuck is going on?! The goddamned lunatic says he is able to use his ‘immense intuition’—whatever the hell that means—to determine who has The Sickness.”

According to ODL, alarmingly high rates of The Sickness supposedly existed in people who wear glasses, read books, or write newspaper articles. Of course, this idea got massive pushback in the media, playing into ODL’s trap; the dissenting thinker-writer types (and those who wore glasses) were the first to be attacked, abducted, and disappeared after the election.

“These campaign rallies,” Bliss continued as she swiped up again and again on her screen. “These rallies are recruiting tools for CC squads. Christ & Country squads! Can you believe that shit?! I’m telling you, they’re going to start rounding up people like me…and you; guilt by association. And what if we have a baby? Who knows what those animals would do to our baby. Just listen to this.”

Again, she shoved the screen in Julius’ face. ODL said, “Once we know who’s socioplarthic [sic], we can do something about it. And it’s gonna be so great you’re not even gonna believe it. We’re gonna get rid of these dangerous dangerous dangerous people, the sylviaplathics [sic]. Lots of smart people are saying this is what we should do, some of the smartest people with the biggest you-know-whats.”

After his election, ODL and his cold-blooded devotees hunted down “the infected,” employing the very same extreme ruthlessness known in the most extreme cases of sociopathy. Without a trace of irony, CC squads crisscrossed the country gleefully chanting “89% of slaughter is laughter” while efficiently taking the supposed sociopaths out of the population. Through the success of re-education camps, conversion therapy, and deportation—but mostly through wholesale butchery —ODL triumphantly, and with little physical resistance, attained total and lifetime rule of the country.

The plucky band of late night hosts, saved by celebrity, soon were the only voices of opposition. So long as they didn’t fade from memory like a movie star with a dreadful agent, the hosts were protected by their popularity. And the kettles of civil unrest that they had kept simmering for years were now at a low steady boil. Now, the late night hosts’ millions of fans have come to believe that the spread of highly contagious, air-borne sociopathic variant to be a hoax, that the resulting national quarantine is part of an ODL power grab.

“This damned hypocrite!” Bliss yells at the screen, diverting her thoughts from much more local and personal tragedies. “He’s shameless, as usual. It doesn’t matter to his followers if he’s breaking his own quarantine decrees. He’s touring these huge indoor stadiums, spouting this new theory. Didn’t I say he would come for the babies? Ten years ago, I said this would happen. Have you heard this shit, Jules?”

Her screen thrust in his face, Julius has no choice but to watch.

ODL shouts, screams, slavers to the adoring fans, “They say the novel sickness is a disease that infects little babies in the womb; and until now nobody had a way of knowing until much much much later, who had socio…socioplithy [sic]. They still say one in every 25 people is a socioplith [sic]. But some great people—people I know, great people, people who love me—great great great people are saying there’s a way to detect socioplicthy [sic] in the womb. Orange you glad you know that now?”

It is this kind of rhetoric that distracts even me, the demi-god: a semi-omnipresent, semi-omniscient, semi-omnipotent, or however it is you want to semi-classify me. I find myself distracted from this demi-epic about Julius.

His niece, Frenchie, died just the other day after a lethal cocktail of Tide Pods dissolved in bleach and a deep huff of aerosol disinfectant. She didn’t even get tasty Kool-Aid or shiny Nikes out of it.