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Zane

Zane

1967(?)—

Novelist

Zane is a literary pseudonym used by the writer of best-selling erotic fiction whose works consistently dominate the Essence bestseller lists. With sales of six million books in less than a decade, Zane is the leading name in a fiction genre dubbed urban erotica. "Once I got into it, I knew it was my calling," Zane told Lynette R. Holloway in Ebony. Noting that she hopes her books and their assertive, confident heroines serve to empower her largely female readership, Zane said, "Men never hesitate to tell a woman what they want. Women need to learn to speak up and do the same."

Zane was born Kristina LaFerne Roberts in Washington, DC, in about 1967. In interviews, she has revealed that her father is a professor of theology and religion with teaching stints at Oxford, Duke, Yale, and Howard universities, and her mother an elementary school teacher; both are supportive of her literary efforts, and Zane's sister works as an editor for Strebor Books, the publishing company Zane founded.

Zane has said that she never planned to become a writer. She earned a degree in chemical engineering from Howard University before embarking on a career in insurance sales. Her first child, a son, was born in the late 1980s, and a daughter arrived in the mid-1990s. A few years later, as a single parent living in North Carolina, she began writing after her children had gone to bed. She completed her first piece of erotic fiction in November of 1997, e-mailing it off to a few friends, who then forwarded it to others; soon, Zane's e-mail inbox was flooded with requests for more stories.

Zane launched her own Web site, www.eroticanoir.com, and soon it had 8,000 regular visitors. An e-zine, or Internet newsletter, of her stories followed that, and then an ad on her site for a printed collection of stories—which she photocopied and bound herself—netted a terrific response. Word of her self-publishing success reached publishing executives, and she fielded a few offers but declined because all had recommended that she tone down the more sexually explicit passages. In 1999 she created Strebor Books—her surname spelled backwards—and issued her first collection of short stories under the title The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth. She wrote her first novel, Addicted, in less than three weeks, and it became an underground bestseller. The story of an art-gallery owner whose solid marriage is threatened by her extramarital dalliances, Addicted sold 50,000 copies in its first six months, and was picked up for distribution first by book wholesalers and then by major chain bookstores, whose customers had been requesting it.

Zane quit her sales job in 2001 and signed a deal with Simon & Schuster for new trade paperback editions of Addicted and The Sex Chronicles. With the greater distribution came some of the first mainstream media reviews for her books. Writing in Black Issues Book Review, Kimberley White called Addicted "a novel with all the elements necessary for a best-seller…. Every character is motivated by their dark secrets." Subsequent works including Shame on It All, The Heat Seekers, and Skyscraper all sold equally well, and at one point in 2004 Zane had three books on the Essence bestseller list, which ranks the previous month's sales at bookstores catering to African-American readers. Her titles even began making appearances on the New York Times list, which gave her the distinction of being only the third African-American woman—after Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan—to have a title on the Times's fiction rankings since 2000. Citing her success, Dwight Garner asserted in the New York Times Book Review that the works "are filled with smart, believable and self-deprecating young and middle-aged black characters…. They are also filled with sex scenes that will smoke your fingerprints off."

Though her stories were known for those racy scenes, Zane always tried to impart an underlying message or moral caution in her books. In some cases the characters' sexual addiction or behavior masks deeper issues that they come to realize as the plot draws to a conclusion, and usually decide to seek professional help. "When I sit down and write each book, I have something different in mind of what I'm trying to get across," she told Margena A. Christian in Jet. "I do it in a comedic and in a sexual way, but I always have a deeper purpose."

Despite the fact that so little was known about the pseudonymous author—some even speculated that "Zane" was a male writer—she gained a devoted fan base, and finally agreed to make public appearances for the first time in 2004 on the book tour for Afterburn. She did so in part because others were claiming to be her and holding book signings, she told New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante. "Once, I was online and noticed someone saying she was on her way to a reading of mine in Atlanta," she recalled. "I wasn't in Atlanta. I was in my house."

Zane's own publishing company, Strebor, was by then doing a brisk business publishing the works of other writers, and not just the erotic fiction submissions. Strebor issued titles from dozens of up-and-coming authors whose styles ranged from religious tales to crime stories. Zane also edited various anthologies for Strebor, including Breaking the Cycle, a collection of tales about women exiting abusive relationships. The stories in it—including her own—were every bit as graphic as the erotic fiction, she noted in Jet. "The stories are very harsh. I wanted them to be that way because I want people, when they put the book down, to say, ‘Wow, I really need to get out.’ And if they know someone in that situation, for them to say, ‘I've really got to help them.’"

In 2005 Zane sold Strebor's back catalog to Simon & Schuster and Strebor became part of Atria, Simon & Schuster's African-American-focused imprint. This freed her to devote more time to her own fiction. A year later, she inked a deal with Lionsgate Films to bring Addicted to the big screen through a new company, De Passe/Zane Entertainment, that the writer formed with onetime Motown Records film and television executive Suzanne de Passe.

Since she began publishing her best-selling erotic fiction, Zane married her childhood sweetheart, who is an environmental engineer, and had a second son. She and her family live in suburban in Maryland. "My life is boring," she told Holloway. "I grocery shop, cook, clean the house, and attend soccer games and PTA meetings."

At a Glance …

Born Kristina LaFerne Roberts c. 1967, in Washington, DC; daughter of a theology professor and a teacher; married Wayne (an environmental engineer), c. 2002; children: two sons, one daughter, one stepchild. Education: Earned degree in chemical engineering from Howard University, c. 1989.

Career: Worked as a sales executive in the insurance industry until 2001; Strebor Books, founder and publisher, 1999-2005; DePasse/Zane Entertainment, principal, 2005—.

Addresses: Office—c/o Author Mail, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

Selected works

Books

The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth, Strebor Books International, 1999, reprinted as Zane's Sex Chronicles, Atria Books, 2008.

Addicted, Strebor Books International, 2001.

Shame on It All, Strebor Books International, 2001.

Gettin' Buck Wild: Sex Chronicles II, Atria Books, 2002.

The Heat Seekers, Atria Books, 2002.

Of Royal Blood, Silhouette, 2002.

Nervous, Atria Books, 2003.

The Sisters of APF: The Indoctrination…, Atria Books, 2003.

Skyscraper, Atria Books, 2003.

(Compiler) Chocolate Flava: The Eroticanoir.com Anthology, Atria Books, 2004.

Afterburn, Atria Books, 2005.

Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk about Sex and Love, Atria Books, 2005.

(Editor and contributor) Breaking the Cycle, (anthology), Strebor Books, 2005.

(Editor) Caramel Flava: The Eroticanoir.com Anthology, Atria Books, 2006.

Blackgentlemen.com, Atria Books, 2007.

(Editor) Honey Flava, Atria Books, 2008.

Sources

Periodicals

Black Issues Book Review, November-December 2001, p. 58; September-October 2005, p. 10.

Daily Variety, May 10, 2006, p. 1.

Ebony, March 2005, p. 100.

Entertainment Weekly, August 13, 2004, p. 94.

Jet, October 4, 2004, p. 56.

New York Times, August 22, 2004, p. ST1.

New York Times Book Review, January 30, 2005, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002, p. 20.

St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), October 26, 2006, p. 14K.

—Carol Brennan

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