Zeno Denolo on Uberman and winning the Madrigal-Gonzalez Award

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We caught up with Zeno Antonio Denolo, author of the acclaimed novel Uberman (under his pen name, Zero A.D.) which won the Special Jury award of the 2015 Cirilo F. Bautista Prize, as well as the Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award in 2016. He gamely talks about the fighting chance of self-published books, joining literary contests, and a renewed belief in Santa Claus.    

 

UP ICW: How did you find out about the MG awards? What do you know about it and its past winners?

Zeno Denolo: I don’t trust my memory enough, but I think it was first mentioned to me by Sir Chuckberry Pascual. His book Kumpisal was also one of the finalists. Nagkita kami nun sa may Jollibee sa may Mandaluyong.  Bumili kasi siya ng self-published release ng Uberman. While eating his chickenjoy, he encouraged me to join the MG contest since it is my first book. Then I saw the requirements and mechanics on a Facebook post by Likhaan on the pantikan.com.ph page, a month or two before the deadline. Sakto, ang category last 2016 ay Filipino-language written books. Sige, I said to myself, I’ll give it a try since may natira pa namang stock ng libro ko. Buti na lang; mahirap magbenta ng self-publish kaya may stock pa ko para ipasa sa contest.

Out of curiousity, nag-research din ako sa Google kung sinu-sino yung mga nanalo na dati. Mga kilalang writer na rin ngayon at karamihan pala galing sa mga academic at established publishers ang nananalo. Hala, mukhang malabo ang tsansa ko. Ganito na lang, magpapasa pa rin ako pero hindi na ako aasang mananalo. Ang importante naman sa buhay ay sumubok at lumaban ka, di ba?

 

ICW: Who nominated your book Uberman?

ZD: Since self-published book ito, ako lang din. Kinapalan ko na lang mukha ko na mayroon akong ibubuga kahit papaano. Personal kong ipinasa sa library sa araw mismo ng deadline. Umaambon pa nun at trapik. Naligaw pa ako kasi hindi ako pamilyar sa mga building ng UP. Hindi rin ‘ata alam ng Google maps. Nagtanung-tanong na lang ako.

Pagdating ko sa library, wala nang mga tao. 6PM kasi ang deadline pero sabi ng guard, 5PM pa lang nag-uuwian na sila. Wala na. Buti na lang may naiwan pang isang tao sa library. Iniwan ko na lang sa kaniya yung ipapasa kong libro na may kasamang note. I forget her name, but thanks to her kindness, I was able to submit. The deadline was a Friday, kaso mabibigay na lang daw niya iyon sa kinauukulan sa padating na Monday pa.

So there was no assurance that my entry would be qualified for the contest. Pero iniwan ko na lang din. I just said to myself, babalikan ko na lang yung mga kopya kung hindi man nila tanggapin. Sayang din kasi yun eh; puwede ko pa mabenta. I just emailed the MG awards, asking if they would still accept my book entry. Nagpaliwanag na lang ako nang matindi. Buti na lang tinanggap nila. A few days later, Likhaan FB page posted about the extension of deadline. Buti na lang.

ICW: How did you feel when you found out that you’ve won? Was it unexpected or were you confident that you’d win?

ZD: It was very unexpected. Actually, being one of the finalists was already surprising for me. I never really thought that I would have a chance. Especially when I look back at the history of winners. Most of them were already established as writers and produced by known publishers.

As for my book, it was just me and my friend Pangz, with the financial support of friends and family, who contributed to self-publish the book. We didn’t know anything about writing or even publishing. We didn’t have expert advice, mentorship, or any of the sort. It’s just really to put my work out there. So, to be included as finalists is already a prize for me. And can you just imagine the feeling of actually winning the contest? I have to remind myself a few times that this was really happening.

ICW: What, if any, are the benefits of the MG awards on your book? Did the sales go up, etc.?

ZD: Since it’s expensive to self-publish a book, we only had 200 copies printed. Ang hirap pa ibenta nun kasi hindi naman ako kilala at wala naman akong libro sa mga bookstore. Kadalasan, ang benta ko ay through meetups, which is personally nakakapagod, pero okay lang naman dahil wala naman akong choice. O kaya through shipping, especially sa malalayong lugar. Recently ko lang nai-consign ang libro ko sa Wiseguy’s Book Shop sa Teresa papuntang PUP.

Kaya nung nanalo ng award, naubos ang stock. Supposedly, magbebenta rin ako sa BLTX nung December 2016, kaso kaunti na lang ang natirang kopya at reserved pa, kaya nakipag-meetup na lang ako sa kanila doon.

There are also well-known and kind writers who would post copies they purchased from me, and that also helps me in selling and advertising the book. Word of mouth, mostly. Kung dati ang problema ko ay paano ko ito ibebenta, ngayon ang problema ay wala na akong mabenta dahil ubos na. Malaking tulong ang MG awards kaya na-sold out ang Uberman.

ICW: What did you do with the monetary prize?

ZD: Nagka-issue pa nun sa tseke. Ang istrikto kasi pala ng banko pagdating sa pangalan. Eh hindi nakasulat ang second name ko sa tseke, kaya ayaw nilang tanggapin. Gumamit kasi ako ng pen name. Pero ako rin naman iyon. Binalik ko pa at pinabago. Pero naayos naman, salamat sa tulong ng UP.

Bago pa ang awarding, nagbitaw kasi ako ng proklamasyon. Nung nalaman naming finalists sa MG awards ang Uberman, sabi ko sa pamilya ko, sagot ko yung gastos namin sa Cebu pag nanalo yung libro. Confident naman kasi akong hindi ako mananalo kaya nasabi ko yun. Kaya nang mapalitan na ang tseke, napunta ito sa canyoneering at pambayad ng accommodation. Habang ang natira ay nakatabi bilang pambayad utang kay Pangz para sa nagastos sa self-published na libro.

ICW: Please give us details about your next book (working title, when you hope to publish, etc).

ZD: Pag sinabi ko kasi yung gist ng kuwento ay magiging spoiler na ito. Sa title naman, wala pa talaga akong naiisip kundi Ano. Siguro kung ang Uberman ay repleksyon nang nakaraang gobyerno. Ito namang iginagapang at di ko alam kung kailan ko matatapos isulat.  Ito ay salamin ng kasalukuyan. Ang sigurado ay bahagi nito ang ipinasa ko sa nakaraang 56th UP National Writers Workshop.

Tulad sa naunang libro, umaasa pa rin ako na mai-self-publish ito ng ilang kopya kung papalarin, para may kalayaan akong gawin at isulat ang gusto ko nang hindi iniisip ang censorship. At the same time, ipapasa ko rin ito sa mga publisher (sana may tumanggap) para mabasa pa ng mas nakararami.

ICW: Are you planning on joining any other literary contest soon? If yes, which?

ZD: Mayroon na akong sinalihan, pero sikreto muna kung saan, baka kasi mabati. Tsaka para walang nakakaalam kung sakaling matalo ang akda ko.

ICW: Please say something too about the Madrigal-Gonzalez awarding night and how it went.

ZD: The only proper word I have in my vocabulary to describe the event is ‘surreal.’ I invited my family to come with me kasi balita namin masarap yung pagkain doon. I’m not expecting anything aside from eating good food, which was true. I’ve made peace with myself that just by being there already makes my book a winner.

We were also late. Traffic at ang tagal pang mag-makeup ng kapatid ko. Nakarating kami mga kalagitnaan na ng programa. Sakto: pagdating namin, mukha ko na yung naka-flash sa projector. Nagulat din ako, eh. They were saying something about my book, kaso hindi pumapasok sa utak ko, mukhang maganda pa naman. I’m just so happy to be part of the program. Buti na lang nakasulat din yun sa certificate of recognition.

So when Sir Jun Cruz Reyes was describing the winner, ayaw pa niyang pangalanan para raw surprise, pero nang marinig na namin ang salitang ‘superhero,’ may ideya na kami kung sino ang nanalo.  Pero hindi pa rin ako naging sigurado; ayaw ko munang mag-assume para hindi ako masaktan.

Kaya nang marinig ko na yung Uberman, (ang korni ko pero) it was like a dream. Yung parang, hindi naman ako naniniwala kay Santa Claus, pero nakatanggap pa rin ako ng regalo mula sa kanya. Mabuti na lang at pinilit ako ng Ina kong gumawa ng speech. Kundi, wala akong masasabing matino sa harap ng lahat. Though hindi ko masasabing matino ang mga nasabi ko.

Overall, I am very grateful. An institution found the rawness of my work meritorious. The people were warm and kind. The food was good. I had a beer. It was indeed a good night.

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