If you’re a night owl, you may have tuned in to or passed by the steamy Cinemax series Zane’s Sex Chronicles or Zane’s The Jumpoff in the past few years. But author, publisher and producer Zane is much more than a creator of hay romping and hair pulling. In addition to her popular cable shows, the driven entrepreneur is celebrating success with her feature film Addicted, which stars Sharon Leal, Boris Kodjoe, Tyson Beckford and William Levy. Meanwhile, she is cranking out more of her own books, and publishing up to 60 new titles a year for other authors.
So how does she do it all? To let Zane tell it, it’s all about a true love for writing and self-inspired creativity. But we wanted to find out more about this woman’s incredible motivation and tenacity.
In this edition of UrbLife.com’s In The Cut, we learn more about how Zane decides on her topics, the process of turning her books into TV shows and films, who she chooses to mentor, why she likes to turn the tables in her passionate stories, and how bad parenting affects women in her stories as it does in real life.
And is there any validity to fans’ claims that the unedited version of Addicted is more racy than 50 Shades of Grey? Read on…
When you set out to write your first book, did you have it in your mind to have such a huge empire?
Zane: I never intended on publishing my first book when I wrote it. When I was writing the Sex Chronicles it was just a short story I was having fun with, and I never saw that as a book. Then when I wrote Addicted, I never wrote it with the intention of actually publishing it. I was just having fun! So no, I definitely did not have this vision.
What’s the process for you in taking the books into a visual experience?
Zane: I loved seeing my characters come to life. When I did my first cable show, it was amazing. I remember my first day on the set, being the executive producer and seeing the first scene we shot, thinking, “Wow, people have to do everything I wrote” and I thought it was amazing. I love seeing my work in a different medium, and I do think it brings a whole new element to it. But the most important thing to me is to have the same underlying message come across, no matter which medium it’s in.
How much input do you personally have making sure the scenes are directed properly, even though you have director for that?
Zane: Well, with Addicted I was not on the set, I was actually on a book tour the whole time. With my cable shows, I was the executive producer, so I had pretty much all the input on how things were done. In working with the director, if I didn’t like something we shot it over. In many ways I was kind of one of the directors, and some of the scenes I was the director. I just didn’t really take full credit for it.
I’m very meticulous about how I wanted things to look. If we were getting ready to shoot [or already shot]something and I didn’t like the way it looked, I would change it. The director and I were always pretty much attached at the hip. [laughs]I had basically 100% input on that.
How did that worked with Addicted since you weren’t on set? Did you see clips on a regular basis?
Zane: I knew Bille [Woodruff] for a long time, because he’s from DC as well and we kind of share the same “play mother”, so to speak. So I was very confident that he would do things the way that I would like it. I know he was in tune with it, and I think he did an excellent job. Everything was very tasteful, which was very important, and everything came across very well, so I think he did a magnificent job.
Did you help with casting for parts in the film?
Zane: The Boris conversation was the easiest. I was sitting on the couch one night, and Bille called and said “What do you think about Boris Kodjoe for Jason?” I said “that’s great”, and that’s exactly how it went.
Other decisions took a little bit more thought. With Sharon Leal, I was going to do this film before with Lionsgate. We had an audition with about 90 plus women for the main girl, and she was one of the top choices back then. You’d be surprised who auditioned for the role but just about everybody. She was one of the top contenders from the start, so that was not a hard choice either. Tyson [Beckford] obviously wasn’t a hard choice… I mean a lot of the choices were very easy.
Is it true that the unedited version of the film goes harder content-wise than 50 Shades of Grey?
Zane: That’s the first time I’ve actually heard that comparison. I will say that we had done about four test screenings for Addicted about a year before it actually came out, and based on the audiences reactions we tried to find a happy balance for the sex where people would not feel uncomfortable, but would still feel like it was something there. With the unrated version, what we did was add in about six additional minutes of the sex scenes that were cut out of the original movie that the director and I felt were very beautifully shot. They were very tasteful, and we wanted to give the people what they want.
With the comparisons to 50 Shades of Grey, I understand, I’m very happy for the author, but none of that affects what I do. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s great to have the comparison, I have no idea if my work is like hers or not, but I will it has no affect or reflection on what I do. I’ve always been like that.
When I first started writing erotica I never read erotica in my life. It wasn’t “Oh, let me write erotica and try to emulate this person”. I think I’ve had such a long-standing career because this is me. This is my writing style, this is what I write, this is me going into my zone. I never write to an audience, period. It’s great that people like and appreciate my work, but I first started writing with the intention of no one seeing my work. I still write without worrying what people are going to think about it.
I feel if I ever try to do something different from that, first of all I’m not going to enjoy it, and secondly I think a lot will be lost the second I start trying to cater to anyone. The book I’m writing now, it’s something I have never seen in a book or movie in my life. It’s just something I decided, “Oh this is interesting to me.” [laughs]So that, for me, is my process.
How do you go about the process of selecting another author’s book to put out under your publishing company?
Zane: Well, I’m very picky. I have published over 100 other authors, and I actually publish a book every single Tuesday! [laughs]With that being said, I like writers who write outside of the box. I like writers who really develop their characters, who kind of surprise me in many ways. Every single story, to some degree, has been told before; but I like people who have no fear with their writing, people who are very prolific with their writing.
A writer named Allison Hobbs is up to book number 24 underneath me. She’s been writing full time for the last seven or eight years underneath me, and even with all that she still asks for my advice. She’s still very coachable. When she first started she didn’t believe she could write more than one book a year. I’m the one that trained her to focus, because I felt that she was so talented.
I like authors who are coachable. I love ones who are trying to build a career. It’s very rare that I will pick up a new author who doesn’t have more than one book in them, because I really like to build careers. Cairo is up to book 12, and I think Suzetta Perkins is up to 15, so I really like nurturing these careers. That’s very important.
Do you have goals of going into a self-help career?
Zane: A lot of people don’t realize that this is how I started out. I was giving out advice at least three years before I ever put my first book out. So this is actually like my foundation in a way. I do have one self-help book Dear G Spot: Straight talk About Sex & Love that was also a New York Times Bestseller on the non-fiction list.
I actually do have another non-fiction book coming March 17th, but that’s on writing. It’s called Infinite Words: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Publishing, which is a book that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. It really breaks down the entire writing process first and the publishing process. I break down fiction, non-fiction, television, and film in the book, and even in television the difference between writing a 30-minute sitcom and a 60-minute drama. I wrote this because I get so many questions about writing and publishing every day. The second half is about publishing and marketing and all that kind of stuff. I write about how to be disciplined, and how to outline and develop your characters. I end the book with several writing exercises that people can use to spark their imagination.
Outside of that, I plan to write another book that really goes deeper than I did in Dear G Spot… because I feel that there are a lot of women who are truly hurting. With me, that is my true purpose in life – to try to make life easier for people. Life is hard enough as it is, and I see so many women tearing each other down instead of try to empower each other. I get emails from girls who never had a positive role model and they really just don’t understand the right way to do things.
For a lot of people, chaos has become their sense of normalcy. I have a lot of girls email me and say “Mama Zane/Auntie Zane I need your help. I’ve only seen my mother in bad relationships. I don’t know how to have a normal relationship. I don’t know what real love is supposed to feel like.”
Then it’s the whole parenting issue. A lot of women are not parenting their kids right. That of course is a big thing, because all of my books deal for the most part deal with the characters at some point when they are children. The reason I do that is because what happens to us in our childhood is a direct reflection of who we become as an adult. The book I’m currently writing now deals with what happened to this young girl when she was a child and how it drastically affected her when she became an adult.
What do you want people to take away from the movie Addicted with regard to your work?
Zane: I think for me, what the movie has done and will do is open up a discussion between couples. Even my father who is a Theologian said he thought it was an important movie, because the husband wasn’t paying attention to what the wife was trying to tell him. I hope that was this does is show people that they really need to pay attention to what’s going on in their relationships.
I even saw a couple of men who had to walk out of the movie, because they were so overwhelmed with the subject matter. It kind of shined a light in their face to A) what could be going on with their own wives and B) because of the William Levy character, he was to be what a female mistress is like.
I really wanted to show men that when you go out and cheat on your wife and you start these so-called sexual relationships with women and they start saying they love you, they want you to leave your wife, they want to have kids with you too, all this kind of stuff. This is real pain. For a lot of men, when they saw a man go through that, it was like a shocker to them.
That happened in my cable show too. I’m very god at reversing the gender roles in relationships. I had this scene on Zane’s Sex Chronicles, I had so many men get upset and they were like “Wow, women really do stuff like that? I’m not gonna ever trust a woman again.” [laughs]Men do it all the time.
What happened was, she was dealing with this guy who wanted to remain abstinent until marriage. She really liked him, was dating him and was really feeling him. But one day when he left her place, her neighbor came over, and the next thing you know she was doing something with her neighbor. But men do that all the time. They’ll date a woman that they really like and if she doesn’t wanna have sex with them for whatever the reason, they will go out and get their needs met by somebody else. And men cannot deal with that. [laughs]
What do you want people to know about you and your career at this stage of your life?
Zane: This truly comes from an area of love and compassion for me, believe it or not. I do all the things I do because I do feel compassion and empathy toward other people. I think a lot of my fans realize that, which is why they email me and why they come out to support everything that I’m doing.
Watch the Addicted movie trailer
Photo via SchmoesKnow.com