Zane (not her real name) is the best-selling author of a plethora of African-American-oriented erotica, including Dear G Spot, Afterburn, Gettin' Buck Wild, The Heat Seekers, Addicted and The Sex Chronicles, to name a few. This iconoclastic phenom has also edited and/or contributed to such other titles as Love is Never Painless, Caramel Flava, Chocolate Flava, Best Black Women's Erotica, Brown Sugar 2, Twilight Moods, Dark Dreams, and Becoming Myself. Besides writing, Zane is the publisher of Strebor Books International for which she is responsible for acquiring dozens of titles per year and currently has nearly 50 authors signed to her imprint.
She serves as the moderator of PlanetZane.net, where thousands of her fans who call themselves "Zaniacs" converge on a daily basis to discuss her work, as well as love and relationships. Zane has more than 35,000 MySpace friends and nearly 400,000 friends at BlackPlanet.com. Here, she talks about "Zane's Sex Chronicles" the daring Cinemax television series loosely based on her own real life sexploits, which premiered on Cinemax in October of 2008 and whose first season was recently released on DVD.
Kam Williams: Hi, Zane, I don't know whether you remember me, but we met last year in Manhattan at the boat party thrown by Troy Johnson on the Hudson River during the Book Expo America Convention.
Zane: Yes, Absolutely!
KW: How have you been?
Z: I'm fine, how are you?
KW: Everything's great! Thanks for the interview. You are one of the most ambitious people around. Where does that drive come from?
Z: I have always had it. I guess I got it naturally, from my parents. [Chuckles]
KW: You have so many projects in the pipeline besides your erotica, like a line of cosmetics. How's that coming?
Z: I actually have it all laid out. I have the logos done and am getting ready to place the first order. So, that's pretty much done.
KW: What about your plans to launch a line of sexual devices?
Z: With anything I do, I feel that if I'm going to be a bear, I want to be a Grizzly. [Laughs] So, while I definitely could launch that today, I want to make sure it's branded as my line of toys, and that takes a little bit longer. I don't want to just jump out and start selling adult toys. There's no challenge in that, honestly.
KW: I read that you're also planning to produce several movies.
Z: That, I'm definitely working on. I already have the script for "Addicted" done, and it's being line-budgeted. I'm working on another script now, and also on some more television series.
KW: Congratulations on the release of the first season of Zane's Sex Chronicles on DVD. Did you like the way the book was adapted to the screen?
Z: I was very, very happy with it. From the beginning, my goal was to have the highest-rated show in Cinemax history. We laugh about that now because it was kind of bold when I said it, but we actually achieved it. So, I couldn't be more pleased.
KW: Is the show presently on hiatus?
Z: The second season will start airing on Cinemax on March 5th. But there will be a sneak preview of the first episode on February 13th for Valentine's Day.
KW: What was the source of our inspiration for this steamy series?
Z: I had led a double-life for more than five years. So, it's really about me and how I led a double-life that my friends and family knew nothing about. In fact, my parents didn't have a clue that I was Zane.
KW: With your father being a minister and your mother being a schoolmarm, how did they react to learning the truth that you were the best-selling author of all this popular, graphic erotica?
Z: Their reaction was nothing like I expected. More than anything else, they were interested in understanding why I felt like I couldn't talk to them about it. They really had raised us to self-explore and to do anything we wanted to do, so they were very open about it. My father understood how he had raised me and, in his opinion, sex is a very natural part of life, and how everybody got here. And he definitely understands the basic purpose behind what I do. It's not just writing about sex.
KW: Do you take credit for creating this whole movement of black erotica?
Z: There was already an underground movement of black erotica. And I didn't start out to write erotica. This wasn't anything that was planned. I just started writing short stories for self-entertainment when I was living in this little hick town in North Carolina. One night, one of my friends handed me a story to read that was being circulated around at the factory where she worked. It turned out to be one of mine somehow. That was when I realized I was kinda on to something.
KW: Why did you start out self-publishing?
Z: Several publishers offered me book deals, but all of them wanted me to change my writing style. In fact, I never even intended to put out a book. By the time I published The Sex Chronicles in May of 2000, I couldn't even print them fast enough. The same thing happened with Addicted in August of 2000, which is when the New York Times called it the hottest paperback in the country. After that, Simon and Schuster came back and agreed to sign me as is.
KW: How would you describe your books? As erotica? As romance? Are they aimed at a specific audience?
Z: A common misconception is that my books are about sex. I think my books are really about life. The sex is literally the last thing I write when composing a book. I write the rest of it first, and then go back and fill in the sex scenes. Even with the TV series, I believe my readers appreciate and really get into the character development. So, my stories are really about life and different issues people are dealing with. And they aren't aimed at a specific audience.
KW: You're a single woman, I suppose that when you're dating a guy who knows you're Zane, he must feel a certain amount of performance anxiety.
Z: Frankly, yes. [Laughs]
KW: Children's book author, Irene Smalls who also attended the same party where we met says, "You have certainly taken Black erotica to a whole new level. What are your goals when you write a new story, characters, morals or making the story sexier?"
Z: The first two are my priority. The sex scenes are very easy. To me, sexuality is just a part of normal everyday life. I concentrate much more on the morals and character development than anything else. Getting my message across is what really matters to me. I get letters from women who express that they realize that there are good men who exist, and that they don't have to just settle, and that maybe they should expand their options and what they define as a good man.
KW: Irene also asks, given your success as an author, having your own imprint, and with the TV series, where do you want to go next as an entrepreneur?
Z: My goal for this year is to delve deeper into movies and television. In addition to that, I'll be starting a Zane-branded music label, because music has always been an important part of my life, and I like to do things I'm passionate about. Music in many ways defines who I am today. Prince is almost single-handedly responsible for my being sexually uninhibited. [LOL] And I write to music. So, music, in many ways, has defined me.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, does Tiger Woods have a sexual addiction, because he allegedly had multiple sexual partners outside of his marriage, or do you think the rehab is a ploy to repair his previously pristine image?
Z: Technically, I have no idea. But I have noticed that a lot of cheaters automatically claim to be a sex addict as an excuse. In his case, I really don't know. Without knowing him, I couldn't possibly respond to that question. If he were single, it wouldn't be a big deal.
KW: Reverend Thompson also asks, why do you think so many professional athletes are perpetrators of domestic violence and how do we overcome domestic violence in the African-American community?
Z: One thing we have to do is face it head-on, and it's interesting she should bring that up because one of my offices is just publishing a powerful book called My Darkest Hours, written from the perspective of a man who admits to being an abuser.
KW: The good Rev was wondering whether there's always price of pain to pay for love.
Z: I think there is. Love does require a degree of sacrifice on the part of both people.
KW: Finally, she asks, who or what do you credit for your success?
Z: Wow! Well, other than God who obviously is the source of my talents and blessings, I would say my parents.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks, when Zane's Sex Chronicles came to life on Cinemax, whether the characters were portrayed as you had visualized them originally in your mind's eye?
Z: Yes. And that resulted from my being very hands-on from the casting to the script.
KW: Laz Lyles was wondering whether your writing about the black body and black sexuality carries any political implications.
Z: I don't feel that my writing is really political. I believe that women are still very much undervalued by today's society. My whole point overall is to empower women of all races to understand that we only get one shot at life, and that we are entitled to be just as satisfied as men are. We shouldn't have to sacrifice our happiness because we think we're less worthy. I believe that a woman should feel empowered to make her own choices when it comes to her sexuality.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
Z: Nobody's ever asked me if I have any regrets.
KW: Do you have any regrets?
Z: Yes, I do have many, many regrets. But at the same time, I do understand that everything I've done was for a reason, and I've accepted and learned from my mistakes. And as I've matured, I've learned how to have fewer and fewer regrets by simply doing what I want to do regardless of the consequences. For instance, if I have feelings for someone, I will tell them. So, at least I'll know that I expressed them.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
Z: Last night.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
Z: Daddy by Default
which is a book that I'm about to publish. The last published book I read was The Tipping Point
by Malcolm Gladwell.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
Z: One of my favorite songs right now is "Sex Therapy" by Robin Thicke. I also like "It's the God in Me" by Mary Mary, but Prince is still my all-time favorite. I listen to him all the time.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
Z: The minds of repressed people who prejudge me without knowing anything about me. Most of my harshest critics are people who have never read any of my work.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Z: Someone who just enjoys life, and knows that every day is a gift. Someone who tries to be the best mother that she can be, because that's my biggest job in life. I believe that the best judge of my character, and the only thing that matters to me, is what my children say about me to their friends when I'm not around.
KW: How old are your children, and do they know that you're Zane
Z: Yes, they do. They're 6, 15 and 22. But nobody at my daughter's high school knows that I'm Zane. And until recently, when I did The Mo'Nique Show, nobody at my daughter's school knew. But a secretary recognized me.
KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Z: My children.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
Z: Probably spaghetti.
KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
Z: Prayer. I also cry, and I do what I call an emotional clearinghouse. I'll take however much time I need to pray, to cry and to let go. To accept the things I can't change, and to release the people out off my life who aren't good for me.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
Z: When I was 3 years-old, my uncle brought over a puppy Labrador retriever to give to me as a pet. I was terrified of it at first. But my brother made me pet it on the porch for hours, until I wasn't scared anymore. And I ended up having that dog for 16 years.
KW: The Mike Pittman question: Who was your best friend as a child?
Z: Pam, Cornelia and Don were my best friends in high school, and I'm still close to all of them.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Z: To find their own voice, and not to try to emulate anyone else. To do it for the right reasons. I write because it's a cleansing and an entertaining experience for me. Too many people get caught up in how much money they can make, ignoring the fact that the readers don't care about that.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
Z: By living and appreciating life to the fullest. So, what people can do for me is to really be themselves.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
Z: As someone who made her own path in life, and left her own trail.
KW: Thanks again for the interview Zane, and I hope to see you at the book convention in the Spring.
Z: Thank you very much.