Dear Uppercase subscriber,
When you open your copy of Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee to the dedication page, you’re going
to see the name Jessi Zazu. I want to tell you who she is and why her name appears there.
I met her in 2006 or so. I was a musician long before I ever started writing, and I was playing with a
band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I’d begun to hear murmurings of a new band in town called
The Darlins. My bandmates knew them and asked them to play a show with us in Knoxville. Jessi
was one of The Darlins. She was barely eighteen.
They blew me away. They were as if Loretta Lynn were a member of The Runaways. They sounded
simultaneously ancient and brand new. Their songs were loud and funny and angry and ecstatic and
goofy all at once. Their sheer energy and joyousness felt like running as hard and as fast as you could
on a hot summer day when you were a kid, when doing things like that reminded you how alive you
were and not how old you are. To this day, I’ve never seen any other band capture that sort of
I wasn’t the only one who noticed. They blew up. They toured the world, graced the pages of Rolling
Stone, played the biggest festivals. They were honest-to-God rock stars.
I found out that they met and formed at Southern Girls Rock Camp. It inspired me to volunteer.
Working with young adults, I fell in love with the way young people connect with the art that moves
them. It made me want to create art for them. By then I was too old to make the sort of music that
gets marketed to young adults. So I turned to writing books for teenagers. There is a direct link from
Jessi Zazu to the book you now hold.
I watched Jessi’s career as The Darlins (later called Those Darlins) ran their course and ended, as
good things do, and Jessi went on to other things. She was tireless. She ferociously created art and
even more ferociously fought for the causes she believed in. She lived like she had three hearts, all
beating in the same rhythm. I watched her from afar and, like a bird building a nest, borrowed parts
of her spirit to add to mine.
When she got cancer, she didn’t stop fighting. Nothing ever broke her. She had a personal motto:
Ain’t afraid. She wasn’t.
While volunteering at Southern Girls Rock Camp, I had the privilege of observing the particular sort
of magic created when young women make things together. There is nothing like it. I wanted to
capture that in a book. So I wrote a story about two young women who create together. Who pour
their hearts into what they built. As I say toward the end of the book, There’s something about witnessing
something holy with someone you love, because you take that sacred thing and weave it, like a golden thread, into the
fabric of your togetherness. Making something with someone you love is the same way.
Jessi Zazu embodied that magic. I feel lucky to have witnessed it. I never got to tell her that she was
one of my heroes. I wish I had. I thought it many times.
She died in September 2017. She was twenty-eight. Twenty-eight.