With Success, Zane Has The Last Word


April 05, 2009|By Ericka Blount Danois | Ericka Blount Danois,Special to The Baltimore Sun

She's been called a publicity-seeker, a sinner, a true talent. What her fans and critics haven't called her, for the most part, is by her real name. And that's the way she likes it.

The enigmatic erotica author widely known by her pseudonym, Zane, began her writing career by posting stories on the Internet and quickly soared to popularity. Some publishers called her material too "risque" for the general public, so she self-published her first three books, selling more than 250,000 copies.

Publishers soon changed their tune and gave her creative license. She signed on with Simon & Schuster and garnered a deal with the books giant for her own publishing arm, Strebor Books International.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the April 5 Unisun section incorrectly referred to author Zane as the third African-American woman to make The New York Times best-seller list for fiction. More than three black women writers have appeared on the list.

Today, Zane is one of only three African-American women - Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan are the other two - to make the New York Times best-seller list for fiction. A resident of suburban Washington, Zane publishes her own handpicked authors, has a Web site and a book club. Her latest novel, Head Bangers, will be out in June.

Her books also have spawned other ventures, including Sex Chronicles, the cable TV series based on the title of her first book. In the spirit of the hip-hop industry, she is even creating a clothing line and a makeup line. We sat down to talk with Zane about her work, her Baltimore connection and how she never intended to be an author.

When you first started, you were bored at work, you were a single mom, you used to write when the kids went to the bed? How did you take that leap to posting your work on the Internet?

I never intended ever to publish a book and when I first started writing the short stories on the Internet; it was never with that intention. It was never even on my radar to publish a book. I started writing these short stories, like you said, because I was bored. I started sending them via e-mail, and the whole word-of-mouth thing just sort of caught on. ... I eventually started eroticanoir.com, which is still my main private Web site.

You tap into women's most taboo fantasies. Does that get you into trouble?

I never expected what I do to be accepted by everybody. I know that America is one of the most sexually repressed countries in the world. People fear that which they don't understand. It's very rare that I have a negative comment come to me.

I have a huge base of readers and fans that appreciate what I do and are excited that I have spawned a whole league of writers who now feel free to be able to express themselves about what they want to say without worrying about what may happen.

Initially, when you self-published your first book, did you have a hard time getting it into stores?

There were some stores where people were like, "Uh, I'm not gonna sell that book." They eventually ended up selling my book so they could keep their lights on. A lot of the bookstores that were very negative, a lot of them are out of business now. Not just because of my books, but because they were trying to dictate what people read.

When I owned a bookstore, I sold books. It wasn't based on what my particular tastes were or reading style or what I liked or anything like that.

Do you still have your bookstore in Fells Point?

No, but it's funny. I should have left it open, 'cause still wherever I go it's, "Oh, Zane, I wanna come to your store." I had it about three years.

With your publishing house, you've helped a lot of writers. How has that been?

Yeah, we publish between 36 to 60 books a year. That's been really great. It has given me the ability to really have a hand in how diverse the books are on the shelves in bookstores, which is something that was missing for me as a child, because before I was a writer, [I was] a reader. I read every single day. So it's important to me also to have good books on the shelf for future generations as well. And I don't just publish erotica - far from it. ... I publish memoirs, murder mysteries, police dramas, just about every type of book you can name - science fiction, paranormal, all different types of books.

What kinds of books do you read? Do you read erotica?

Not really. My biggest reads are murder mysteries and science fiction and horror books. I don't read a lot of relationship books, either. I read murder mysteries as a kid. V.C. Andrews. Stephen King was my favorite writer as a child.

What made you write a lesbian erotica anthology? As a straight woman, how did you have to stretch yourself to do that?

Passion and sensuality is universal and that includes gay and lesbian sex. I have always been an advocate for sexual freedom. ... I thought it was a market that was underserved. I knew a lot of lesbian authors that had done books and not been well received at bookstores.

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