Tribute to Jennifer Rardin

There are two reasons why I’ve been thinking about Jennifer Rardin lately.

Before I ever began writing fiction, let alone urban fantasy, I read the first five installments in Rardin’s Jaz Park books. When you read as much as I do, details tend to blend together, but a couple of things always stuck in my mind about the Jaz books. For example, in Rardin’s books, vampires die during the day. Not sleep, not weaken but remain conscious. Die. Way back when I was doing the prep work for Dead Spots, I remembered that some authors have their vampires actually die, and decided that’s what I want to do too. So you can say that Rardin was a direct influence on my books.

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But the two details that have been sparking in my brain lately are more random. First, I’ve been thinking about how Jaz Parks, the character, is an avid bellydancer. When I was reading the series I thought that was cool and original, and I’ve been remembering it lately because I started taking bellydance classes (more on that in another blog).

Secondly, I recently participated in a Facebook post about urban fantasy book recommendations, and man, there are so many. I knew intellectually that UF is a saturated market –I’ve known since that over saturation almost prevented me from getting Dead Spots published– but looking at the list of names of great authors in my genre was intimidating. I feel intimidated anytime I think of all the hundreds of great authors out there.

Whenever that happens, though –and I’m serious; every time I’ve had the “oh, I’m just one of many” thought in the last five years– I think of Jennifer Rardin. I always read the acknowledgments page, and in multiple novels, Rardin began that section by thanking her husband. I’m paraphrasing here, but the line was something like “When I told him all the vampire novels have already been done, he said, ‘but not by you.'”

I think about that all the time. I always like to believe that the null idea is fairly original (I’d never actual seen it done before Dead Spots, although I’ve read about comparisons since then, particularly to Gail Carriger and an X-men character), but at the end of the day, my books are urban fantasies, and there are a lot of those out there….but not by me. Rardin’s acknowledgments page reminds me that I add something unique to the canon: my voice, my characters, my plotting.  The elements might be familiar, and maybe even overused, but the way I put them together will always be mine. That idea has brought me great comfort whenever I felt overwhelmed, or under pressure to create something new.

When I had kids, the Jaz Parks books dropped from my “must read immediately” list of book series. It wasn’t an intentional dismissal, just something that sort of fell off my radar, like getting enough sleep and washing my hair every day. But since I’ve been thinking about Jaz Parks and how Jennifer and her books have affected me, I sat down this morning to look her up. I was hoping just to send her a little note, like “Hey, I’m an author now, and your books and your words have really influenced me, and thank you.” Maybe she’d respond, and maybe we could connect sometime at a con. .

When I Googled this morning, however, I learned that Jennifer Rardin passed away back in 2010, at the age of 45. I was shocked, and deeply saddened. I gotta say, guys, when David Bowie died, and later when Prince died, it didn’t really affect me. I was sorry for their families and fans, but in the same way you’d have sympathy for any stranger experiencing loss. This is different for me. This is how music fans felt about those titans passing.

As hokey as it may sound, the Jaz Parks books inspired me in ways I’m not even consciously aware of yet (I mean this–when I was researching the book titles this morning I realized certain plot elements may have inspired Nightshades). When I looked up Rardin, I was also selfishly hoping that by now she might have another series I could jump into. And she never will.

I just finished writing the fourth Scarlett Bernard novel, my ninth book. When it comes out next year, I will officially have published more books than Ms. Rardin. That makes me sad, too. I should never have been able to catch up to her.

Anyway. I wanted to take a moment today and encourage you to check out the Jaz Parks series, which was completed before Ms. Rardin died. I’m looking forward to rereading the first five, and finishing out the other three. The series isn’t perfect– I remember that much about it–but it came before the tidal wave of self-published urban fantasy began to crest, and it was anchored by an original voice –“but not by you“‘– and a promising writer. That she didn’t live to finish fulfilling that promise should not keep us from enjoying the legacy she left behind. In the true spirit of urban fantasy, I intend to enjoy the hell out of it.

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7 Comments

  1. I had the same thing happen with E Lynn Harris. I had a massive downturn in income at one point and books went from air and breath to luxuries. Some writers came back on my list as soon as income started back upwards but Harris had slipped through the cracks. I’ll never forget the feeling of Googling his name on my phone while walking through a parking lot and discovering he was gone. It was an icy grip on my heart that even the deaths of celebrities who’d shown their whole personality in interviews and public appearances couldn’t generate!

  2. Back when she was only a few books into the series, I started interacting with her via her website and social media. It was my first such interaction with a stranger, and I found her to be very warm and engaging. If not for her easing me into it I’m not sure I’d have embraced expanding my virtual social circle based on shared interests. I learned about her death relatively soon afterwards. It hit me hard in a really strange way, because I didn’t really know her, had never met her, but I had connected with her in a way that I’ve always struggled with doing in person (very shy introvert).

    I still haven’t finished the series, I’m just not ready to close that door yet. But I Google her name every now & again hoping to find people are still talking about her and her books, so thanks for this post!

  3. Lovely tribute & sums up nicely what I’d thought about Rardin as an author. She had a great fresh take on stereotypes, strong characters that had nuisances for readers and enjoyed language.

  4. I just finished Another One Bites the Dust and I am officially hooked…and now sad, that, like you, I found the sad news via Google. I am still going to go get the rest and I hope Ms. Rardin knows now how much she meant to people.

  5. I love that you love Jennifer Rardin’s books! I just recently discovered and read all of your books and truly love them like I did hers! I read ALL of the Jaz Parks books and they are one of my all time favorite series! I like to think I was one of the first to start reading urban fantasy books actually when they were still just labeled paranormal! I actually read Jennifer’s books as she wrote them and when I found out she died was deeply upset especially since I read that she actually committed suicide! I couldn’t understand how someone with such a gift and talent could not realize all the great things she had to live for. Her death and the end of the Jaz Parks series reminds me of the same tragic passing comparison as Robin Williams. You can never know the private details of a person’s life that is known to the public, but it seems to me if we the public took the time to let them know how much we appreciate and enjoy what they contribute and bring to the world it might mean something to them in return! Soooo Melissa F. Olson just as I admired and was awe enspired by the creative writing and imagination and natural story telling abilities of Jennifer Rardin, I am equally impressed with you! I think Scarlet Bernard and the Lex Luther book series are now among my favorites and I will continue to read anything that you write and I am truly one of your fans! Thank you for what you bring to the world and that to my life you bring the enjoyable experience of reading a great story!

    • Thank you so much, Cathy. I agree; we can never know what a person is feeling or thinking, and as far as I know, the reports of suicide were never confirmed by police or family, so I didn’t include them in this post. Regardless of how Ms. Rardin died, her books really affected me, and I’ll always be grateful for that. 🙂

  6. Once I started reading her books, I just couldn’t stop. Like you said, they had some issues but to me, they still stood out. Weird thing is that I read a looot of UF and they still left an impression 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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