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"OK, here's the question," Zane writes in a chapter called "Cheaters" from her newest release, a sex and relationships advice book called Dear G Spot: Straight Talk about Sex and Love. She's responding to a reader who's spilling the beans about going on a cruise with her mom and fucking the "extremely endowed" bartender as well as the cabin steward who was "working with a big dick too."
"Do you think the woman is a whore?" Zane asks. "Most men are probably saying, 'Hell yeah, she's a fucking whore!' Most women -- particularly my regular readers -- are probably saying, 'Damn, I wish that had been me!'"
"After my cruise was over," the reader writes, "I returned home to my husband and five kids. That was the first cruise during which I had been unfaithful."
Apparently there've been other "love boat" runs. And Zane has loads of letters to her Web site (eroticanoir.com) to prove it. She writes in G Spot, "Yes, groups of women do travel out of town -- sometimes out of the country-- to get their freak on together."
For Zane's readers, the wildly successful, pseudonymous Zane is cheerleader, confessor and counselor. A decade ago she started e-mailing steamy stories to friends who couldn't resist hitting the forward button to their friends. Next came a small AOL Web site. Today she's the multimillion-selling author of such titles as The Heat Seekers and The Sisters of APF: The Indoctrination of Soror Ride Dick, and publisher of her own Simon and Schuster imprint Strebor Books, which put out 60 titles last year and is slated for 24 this year, including a first fiction book (Inner City Judge) for Detroiter Judge Greg Mathis of TV fame.
Zane is credited with single-handedly uncovering a market publishers didn't even know existed, forging a way for a new generation of African-American authors who write hot books with African-American audiences in mind. A cable-TV show and a film adaptation of her novel Addicted in the coming months will give her an even wider audience.
"We have one major rule," another "cheater" shares in G Spot. "Once we land back at our hometown airport, nothing else is spoken about it. ... It keeps us close and relieves pent-up sexual frustration." Zane cites being "fuckastrated" (to use a term coined in the author's 2002 collection of short stories Sex Chronicles II), as the main reason married women engage in these "sexcapades". They feel neglected, in the bedroom and otherwise. "If men don't start catering to the women's needs," Zane writes "eventually some will stray, get what they need elsewhere, and then return home for dinner."
Men may balk, but it's obvious that the popularity of shows like Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City confirms what writers like Nancy Friday and Erica Jong revealed in tomes decades ago -- that many women identify with characters whose sexual appetites are just as voracious as any man's. However, it's traditionally been more acceptable for men to dally sexually, while similar dalliances by women get frowned upon.
"Why are men allowed to even judge us in the first place?" quips the 41-year-old divorced mother of four in a phone interview from her home in Maryland. "Women just need to get a grip and just stand up for themselves. ..." Zane continues. "We should not be ashamed of who we are. We are who we are. I am what I am. I make no apologies for it. Women have to say, 'Look: I'm a grown woman. I like to do these things. This is who I am.'"
The author, who adds that she "doesn't just write erotica," and whose favorite writer growing up was Stephen King because of his "vivid imagination," says one of her purposes as a writer is to validate and encourage women's sexual selves and let them know they are "entitled to fuck [their] way," as she writes in G Spot's dedication.
"I think there's something terribly wrong that we live in a society where the main sexual position is the missionary position," Zane points out. "Every other sex position there's a reason why it's called that. The doggie style makes sense because that's how dogs screw. Spread eagle ... [No elaboration necessary]. Why is the main position called the missionary position? It's because for far too long we've been considered just vessels for a man's pleasure."
Women's "sexual empowerment" will be the theme of Zane's Sex Chronicles, a television series to premiere on Cinemax in May. Loosely based on Zane's life, it follows the writer and her female friends as they explore love and sex in New York City. "It's about them, their relationships with men, their closeness to each other. It's a cross between Waiting to Exhale and Red Shoe Diaries in that it's a really close friendship thing.
Zane's Sex Chronicles, produced by Zane and her business partner, film and music industry maven Suzanne De Passe, will feature nudity and some R-rated simulated love scenes, but Zane insists it won't be the usual "skinemax" fare. "The typical shows on Cinemax are geared toward men and just show a lot of tits and ass," she says. "This show is geared toward men and women, but particularly showing how women can become liberated sexually, which is what I stand for."
One of the characters in need of "sexual liberation" in Zane's Sex Chronicles, Mara Cruz, comes from a Hispanic family that doesn't believe in divorce, but she ends up divorcing her husband Randall because she catches him in bed with another woman. Despite them being divorced, Mara Cruz is still sleeping with Randall. So when he comes over to drop off their kids, he's making a booty call at the same time. In the show, Zane, who's played by actress Patrice Fisher, tries to get Mara out of that situation. "The whole season shows the women evolving and becoming more empowered," Zane says.
Often in her fiction, it's the woman who initiates sex, and most importantly, the stories are written from a woman's -- not a man's -- point of view. Since the African-American community can be a bit parochial at times, she's gotten some flak.
"When people criticize erotica I'm wondering why they are even worried about it," Zane says. "In the case of my books I have yet to force anybody to read any of my books or to beg anybody to buy one."
Still, her books have become so popular that G-Spot tries to address concerns about promiscuity by offering practical advice: first off, use condoms, and then there's no reason to walk away less satisfied than the man. That's along with the responses to e-mails and letters from fans and instructional material for couples to improve their sex lives.
"Men have double standards," writes Zane in G-Spot. "They think it's cool for them to get their freak on, but women are supposed to settle. Those days are over." In Zane's world, girls can do what the boys do.
"We live in an age now where there are more women heading up corporations," she says in the phone interview. "We've got a woman running for president now and there was a time when women couldn't even vote. I think it's time for us to embrace our sexuality. Sex is an area in most women's lives they feel the least comfortable talking about and the area they feel the least liberated. If women could become liberated and empowered with their sexuality it will trickle over into every other aspect of their lives."
Makkada B. Selah is a Miami-based writer currently working on a book called The Joy of Lil Kim: The Rise of the Hip-Hop Sex Goddess. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.