by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Zane is the New York Times bestselling author of a dozen titles and the editor of many collections. Almost three million of her books are currently in print; frank tales of sex and romance among black professionals.
The daughter of a renowned theologian and a retired elementary school teacher, she earned her degree in Chemical Engineering from Howard University. While working in North Carolina, she began writing erotic stories for friends using a pseudonym. She developed a quick following, and not long after, was publishing. She kept her quick success from her parents until she was making regular appearances on the Essence bestseller list, apprehensive about their reactions to the racy tales.
While one aim of her work is to make women more comfortable talking about and discovering sexual fulfillment, she also tackles issues like unplanned pregnancy, sex addiction and more in her stories, which are usually laced with a moral. The combination won her parent’s approval, and has earned her thousands of loyal fans, who call themselves “Zaniacs.”
But Zane is far from being a sideline success on the fringe. She’s been featured in publications worldwide, including the New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, Newsweek and more. She appears in HBO’s “The Black List,” which includes luminaries like Toni Morrison and Colin Powell. She was screenwriter and an executive producer for the Cinemax series “Zane’s Sex Chronicles” which premiered last fall.
She lives near Washington, D.C. with her three children, aged 5, 14, and 21, and is the publisher of Strebor Books. She also heads her own company, Planet Zane which will launch a cosmetics line in the spring, followed by an adult toy line in the summer.
Although she guards her privacy carefully, including her real name, and only recently began allowing photos to be taken of herself, she is warm and considerate in conversation.
What’s happening for you this year?
I’m launching my own social network site, www.PlanetZane.net. I’ve always had this dream of having a platform where people can come and share erotic poetry, stories and talk about relationships. I wasn’t able to accomplish it in years past because it involved too much of me trying to design everything. Now I’m able to do it so that people can do their own, it’s really exciting.
I’m also getting ready to launch www.BlackGentlemen.com, my dating Website. I actually used dating Websites myself to try them out and I couldn’t find a Website where the men are pre-screened. [In my site] the men have to write an essay to be considered. I’m really trying to have men who are sincere about wanting to have a real relationship.
Why is a dating site important to you?
First of all, there are a lot of women looking for good men, and good men exist. But it’s really hard for people to make a connection. I used to have mixed feelings about Internet dating, and I still do. But I don’t feel it’s any more harmful than meeting someone on the street or at a club. You still have to use common sense.
I think the advantage of Internet dating is that people are kind of forced to get to know each other before they meet. So it’s almost impossible to meet somebody who just wants a one-night stand unless he is really “out there.” [laughs] I feel there are some advantages, like people would have some kind of communication and feel each other out before hand. But I know that on a lot of the other sites, there seemed to be a lot of game-playing and the things that go on in real life. I will be honest and say I haven’t seen a lot of the female’s profiles. But I know in a lot of the male profiles, there seems to be a lot of arrogance. A lot of the profiles are not grammatically correct. A lot of the profiles aren’t filled out. Some guys have pictures of their dream cars. On my site, they have to be professional. They have to be in a suit or a tie.
What is your hope for women using your dating site?
My hope is that they find men that they are actually compatible with instead of continuing to chase after men who they are not compatible with. There are so many women out here who are desperate to have men in their life. I’m just hoping I can provide a site where the men are somewhat pre-screened, where they are looking for a serious relationship, not looking to play games. I’m hoping this will somehow benefit [women], which is why I’m calling Valentine’s Day “Claim Your Dignity Back Day.”
As the editor of successful erotica collections, what do you look for in a story?
I look for characters that are developed, or adventure in the concept. The stories that I will not use are the stories that are people having sex for no reason whatsoever. For me, it’s always been that I’ve always wanted to know why people are having sex. Who are they to each other? If that isn’t there, then you’re really talking porn.
How do you conceive of characters?
All of my characters, honestly, are people to me. There are some that are more endearing to me than others because they’re closer to who I really am in real life. But all of my characters in my opinion are important; somebody others should know about. If I take characters that are closest to me in real life, it would be Tempest from The Heat Seekers, Rayne from Afterburn, and Brooke from Total Eclipse of the Heart (released later this year)
Which characters are based on you?
Tempest is a character who runs a teenage pregnancy center. I would do something similar. She is very opinionated about men who take care of their responsibilities, and those who don’t; about those who step up to the plate and take care of other men’s children when the real fathers don’t do it. I often ask women if they’d ever date a man who didn’t take care of his children. I know that I wouldn’t. I’m actually attracted to men who are like either single fathers or spend a lot of time with their children, or who coach their children or teams. That is something that is very attractive to me. In spite of whatever else they’re doing in their life, they really take care of their children or parents.
Rayne from Afterburn is a lot like me because she tends to waste a lot of time in life. I feel like in my past and even sometimes now, I find myself wasting time. I don’t like to be distracted anymore. If it’s something that I would not have put on my schedule for that day, I try to stay away from it. I try not to bring a lot of drama into my life. I’m careful about who I let around me for that reason. There are friends I have known my whole life, who I really don’t hang around with anymore because I came to realize that they have a lot of drama in their life, and it’s self-created drama. I can’t allow that to invade my space and distract me from being productive.
Brooke is someone who loves very deeply and loves unconditionally. But she finds out that a lot of people are not capable of unconditional love. My own opinion is that real love stories never end. They last through eternity, literally. A lot of people are quick to walk away from a relationship if something little happens or if someone changes. Change is inevitable. The key is to be with someone that you love so much, that even when the changes come, you are able to accept the way that they change, and they’re able to accept the way that you’ve changed.
What’s an average day for you?
By far, the most important thing in my life is my children. There are many times where I’ll go long stretches without even going into the office. Even though I run an imprint at Simon & Schuster, I do a lot of work from home. I went into my office once very briefly in the last month. I have my staff come over to my house a lot. For the most part, I really have been trying to spend my time with my kids. I even home school my daughter.
Do you talk to the younger children about the subject matter of your books?
My 5 year old knows that I’m “Zane.” But he has no idea what it’s about really. My 14 year knows that all her friends read my books. So she knows, but she doesn’t read them.
Is there romance in your life right now?
I do fine. [laughs] I’m happily divorced. I date. It takes a special kind of man to deal with me. He has to be very open minded because of what I do. But at the same time [he has to be] very respectful of my space, because I am very busy. Someone who’s not intimidated either, by my success or my openness, because I’m very open.
Are you living your ideal life?
That changes everyday. [laughs] One day I’m ready to settle down. And other days, I’m not so sure I want to do that again. I’m very content with what I’m doing and with who I am. Right now, to settle down would be a huge commitment, and mean dedicating a lot of time. I’m not so sure I have that right now.