The Queen of Erotic Literature Looks Back: One on One with Zane

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Calling Zane a pioneer feels like an understatement. Before her reign on countless bestseller lists, the erotic literature scene was devoid of any major Black voices. Zane changed that with the release of her debut novel, Addicted in 2001. Since then the prolific writer has remained busy, branching out to TV and podcasts along the way. We caught up with Zane and talked about the way she’s empowered readers through her stories over the years. 

Q: Over the years, your work has meant a lot to Black women and femmes. For a lot of these people, your work was their first foray into erotic literature. Can you talk about being a Black woman working in this space, a pioneer, and have a large Black following?

Zane: Well, I can say that it was very shocking to me to hear a lot of the backlash that was around when I first started, even from a lot of other black writers that were already published, some that were very established. 

When I put out the Sex Chronicles, a lot of the Black bookstores that were around at the time said they were never going to carry my books because they were too filthy. Ironically some of those same stores were literally thanking me for keeping their lights on because I was selling so many books.

I feel like there's nothing wrong with a woman talking about sex. There's definitely nothing wrong with a black woman talking about sex. I was telling my daughter today actually, that I'm tired of people telling me I need to try to clean up my image or shift what it is that I do. Now more than ever, it's fine to talk about sex. I'm happy that I do it. I'm amazed by the number of women who have told me they had a lot of sexual hangups before reading my writing and now they're able to talk about what they want with their lovers. Women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are just now finding sexual liberation.

Q: You’ve written stories about everything from sexual misadventure to sexual awakenings, but how do you think your work fits into the larger black sex-positive movement?

A: One of my gifts is that my characters are real people. They are real women dealing with real issues. None of my characters are perfect, they all have flaws. A lot of them, at the beginning of my books, start out having a lot of things they need to overcome, and they overcome them. 

I believe that when you're intimate that’s one of the times when you're most alive and so there's no reason for me to tone it down. I'm a very vivid detailed writer all around. I don't degrade women with my writing and I have a sense of empowerment. My characters have a sense of being in control of their body. It’s very important to show that women can be in control of their bodies. They can be in control of their sexuality and what they will and will not do. 

Q: You are a very prolific writer who has amassed a great amount of success but throughout this, you have remained relatively anonymous, at times choosing to be public on your terms. Can you talk about this? Was it a case of letting the work speak for itself or setting boundaries?

A: It's definitely a combination of the two. I do prefer to let my work speak for itself. Anytime I let a book go I'm comfortable with everything that I've said in it. I'm very unapologetic about anything I say or do.  

Q: In 2008, with Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology you branched out and edited this series of lesbian erotica. This was groundbreaking at the time. What was the response from the Black queer community?

A: Wonderful! The only backlash that I got was a few of the bookstores were uncomfortable with the cover and wanted me to change it. I said no, I’m not changing it because the cover was no more provocative than any of my other covers it was just that it was two women. 

As far as the reception, it was absolutely wonderful and I’ll say this, a lot of straight women were reading Purple Panties as well. 

Q: Now you have the Purple Panties podcast. Can you talk about translating your work in a different medium?

A: One reason I decided to do the [purple panties podcast] is because there are still are so many hangups about certain things. I figured it would probably never end up being an actual television series. I decided to take the Purple Panties concept, the book is an anthology of short stories, making it a storyline with [the characters] Maddox, Loren and Stephanie in Atlanta. 

I love doing it. I’ve never worked within the podcast medium, as far as scripted podcasts. I've been writing scripts for a long time, but the scriptwriting process was different because instead of saying, “she walked across the room,” I had to put the different sounds that I wanted into the script. I found that to be a fascinating way to write a script because it was different than what I was used to. 

Q: Over the years we have seen the rise of erotic lit in pop culture but in 2008 you had a TV series, Zane's Sex Chronicles that premiered on Cinemax. Can you talk a little bit about your experience on the TV side of things?

A: I was the one of first to do that type of show with people of color and it ended up being, at the time, the number one show in Cinemax history. When I first went in there, I said that this is what I was going to do. I knew my audience and I knew they would support it.

The main character was portraying me. I would say the show was about 75 percent true to my life. There is a scene in there where one character experiences an orgasm for the first time and is describing it to her friends because she thinks she had a seizure. That actually happened to one of my friends.

Q: Any upcoming projects you want to talk about?

A: I am working on my next two books. I’m planning on directing a movie later this year not based on a book but from an original script that I wrote. I teach online writing classes. If anyone wants information about these classes they can email me (zanestreborbooks@gmail.com).