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.
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.