The bestselling author and savvy businesswoman known as Zane breezed through South Florida last weekend to promote her 27th book, Z-Rated: Chocolate Flava 3.
Writing as Zane since November 1997, her first book was not published until May of 2000. “I never started out to become a published author,” said the author, who never uses her birth name. “I’d never read any erotica. I simply started out writing short stories on the Internet. I had written two novels for entertainment but had no intention of ever putting them out.”
Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Silver Springs, Md., Zane said during an interview that she writes about sex “the way people actually have it.” But when she began writing, people warned her not to continue because it would ruin her career.
“I thought what career?” Zane said. “I did not start writing to be published so there was no career to ruin.”
She continued: “I really don’t even feel that half my books are erotic. Most are contemporary romance, psychological thrillers, or what I call ‘drama-dies.’”
Despite the advice of naysayers, Zane’s books have catapulted her career beyond writing erotica. The prolific writer found Strebor Books, now the largest African-American imprint in the world, to self-publish her work. She began publishing other writers in 2001.
In 2003 Strebor became a distribution client for Simon & Schuster and in 2005 began running as one of the mega-publisher’s imprints.
“The average African-American imprint publishes about eight to 14 books in a year,” Zane said. “I do anywhere from 36 to 60 by other authors.”
Strebor’s authors include television judge Greg Mathis and former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry.
“The last thing we do is erotica,” said Zane, who has also experienced success in television too, with a series based on her life.
“We are the number one series in Cinemax’s history,” she said of her urban adult series Zane’s Sex Chronicles. The second Cinemax series, Zane: The Jump Off, premiering in January, takes place in Miami. Addicted begins shooting in October and will star Nia Long.
Zane describes balancing life as “Zane” with family and other obligations as “living a double life.”
“I pulled the name Zane out of the air,” she said. “I was in a chat room when someone asked for my name and it was the first thing that came to mind. It stuck. I have literally since then led a double life.”
People “get caught up in the sex thing,” she said. “But I deal with deep social issues in my books such as homelessness, abuse and things that happened to people when they were children.”
Zane said that until last year she had been a Cub Scout leader in a Christian school and served on the boards of directors at a Christian academy as well as several nonprofits. “But I don’t do any of this as Zane.”
She also found the female empowerment group, You’ll Never Stand Alone, that started on Facebook. Her overall platform, she said, is to empower women in every aspect of their lives.
“I have been writing advice columns since 1997. In fact 98 percent of my advice mail has absolutely nothing to do with sex. It’s about relationships, abuse, financial struggles, parenting … Many women are truly hurting and I mentor many of them. I also help women escape from abusive relationships.”
Sexuality is the area in most women’s lives where they feel the least comfortable, Zane said. “If I can liberate them sexually with my work, it can trickle over to other areas in their lives.”
Both of Zane’s parents served as her mentor, she said, “especially my father, who grew up in a shack in North Carolina on a street called Prison Road. All the young men who grew up there ended up in prison.”
Zane’s grandfather had a third-grade education, “and my grandmother didn’t even have that,” she said. “Yet my father graduated valedictorian, attended college and grad school. As a writer, his books are used as text books in many divinity schools.”
“I was lucky to grow up with parents who taught me to be compassionate toward other people. That is what really embodies everything I do,” she said.
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net