“Queen of Erotica” Brings Flava to Festival
By Elise Bouchard
St. Petersburg-New York Times best-selling author Zane started her writing career as a blogger and urged other black writers to do the same at the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading Saturday.
Zane, the author of nine black erotica titles and publisher of Strebor Books International, whose titles are distributed by Simon & Schuster, spoke about her latest title, Caramel Flava, an anthology of short stories she edited, and self-publishing at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Campus Activities Center.
“When I started writing, it was for entertainment,” she said.
Publishers were interested in her work but shied away at first. Her writing, they said, was “too risqué,” and she received enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room.
MySpace.com and more than 6,000 fans changed all of that, said Zane, who now uses the site to communicate with fans.
“One of my goals now is definitely to empower people and liberate them sexually because that tends to trickle over to other part of their lives,” Zane said.
It’s working, said Quiaira Brown, of Minneapolis.
“I have been inspired to spice up my love life and just be more confident sexually.” She said she reads Zane’s books because they are steamy and taboo.
Zane reaches out to her male fans, she said, to help them better understand women.
“I have a lot of women tell me that their husbands or boyfriends only read Sports Illustrated, but they’ll read my stuff,” she said.
Jarvis Talley, of Atlanta, agreed and described Zane as a “true diamond.” He said he enjoys the books because “Zane’s work expresses a strong voice in the celebration of African-American sensuality.”
That’s one of the reasons Zane was invited to the festival, said Margo Hammond, book editor for the Times. Organizers wanted a wide range of writers, and Zane provided a perspective unmatched by other writers.
“We hope to attract people of all ages, races and book tastes, including erotica readers,” Hammond said.
Anthea Penrose, the festival’s public relations manager, said other festivals in Miami, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, compete for the same list of authors. She said she received positive messages from booklovers when the Times announced Zane would participate in the festival.
Zane brought author Rique Johnson with her to speak. Johnson, the author of Love and Justice and two other books published by Strebor Books, said the genre of erotica allows writers to tackle intimacy issues as well as social issues.
Zane said in future books she wants to continue touching on sensitive issues. In Addicted, she wrote about issues such as extramarital affairs, alcoholism and sex addiction. That book was optioned by Lions Gate and may be released as early as summer 2007.
Zane’s latest offering, Love is Never Painless, will be on bookshelves Nov. 14. The book chronicles the life of Tiffany, who is in an automobile accident and becomes addicted to pain pills. Zane said the situation is common, and doctors are often too quick to prescribe medications to people who must later rid themselves of the drugs.
“It is almost like a bandage, not a cure,” she said.
Zane said she gets ideas for her books through experience, observation and imagination. During her day, she jots down what she sees and she hears.
“I could be anywhere, in a store or on a plane,” she said. “I think most authors are very observant.”
Zane looks for this trait in the more than 350 authors who submit their work to Strebor Books each month.
“I am probably more open than most publishers because I am looking for something different,” she said. Strebor Books has published the work of more than 70 authors.
Lovelle Owens, 21, wants to be one of those authors. Carrying her manuscripts in a backpack, the Zane fan and aspiring writer came to hear Zane speak about publishing requirements.
“Sometimes I get frustrated,” Owens said.
Despite receiving rejection letters, Owens said Zane inspires her to continue to write and submit her work.
In the meantime, Zane shows no sign of slowing down. She has several projects in the works, including a cable series based on The Sex Chronicles and a black soap opera for Black Entertainment Television. In 2007, Zane plans to launch a street fiction line. Strebor Books goal: Release one book each month. Zane also wants to launch Zane Sensuality, a body product line of perfumes and colognes, said Tillis DeVaughn, vice president of operations for Enrizen Worldwide and Planet Zane.
“We want to make sure it is the right time,” he said.