I’ve had a few comments and messages from readers asking for the substance of my content warning for Thunder, since the author’s note is at the back of the book and they can’t get to it from the Amazon sample. I buried the note for a good reason, but it doesn’t work as a content warning if people can’t get to it.
So I’m sharing that author’s note, in its entirety, here. Which means this whole post is a massive spoiler.
Here’s a picture of a cute kitten. If you want to read Thunder without a warning, don’t scroll past it.
Here’s the author’s note at the end of Thunder.
At around five a.m. on Saturday, 18 July 2009, my husband woke me and told me there were two Contra Costa County detectives in our living room in Placer County. They hadn’t told him why they needed to talk to him, only that it was important, and if he had someone home to be with him, he should get them. He came for me, and we went down together.
I don’t really remember what I was thinking in that moment, roused from sleep before dawn. I think I was worried there had been an accident. I remember the worry. I remember that I went down in a flimsy beater and a pair of Jim’s boxers. Jim was in a t-shirt and basketball shorts. I remember that, that we took the news bleary-eyed and dressed for bed.
I know for a certainty we did not expect to get the news we got.
Jim’s son, my stepson, Adam, had been murdered. His biological mother had, the evening before, at a lookout point on Mt. Diablo, killed him and then herself. From behind, she shot him in the heart and then the head. Then she put the gun in her mouth.
Adam was sixteen years old.
I won’t go into more of that story here. You can read a news report of it, if you’d like. Or you can read about how Adam was remembered by his friends. Or you can simply know that, if you’ve read Thunder, you know the most important part of the story.
I met Adam right before his third birthday. I became his stepmother right before his fourth. From then, he was my son, in every way that matters.
Since that terrible morning in 2009, I have sought a way to write about losing Adam, and losing him the way we did. Writing is how I process my feelings, find my center, reclaim my balance. At first, in the thick of the deepest grief, I wrote Facebook notes. They were full of fury and despair, of violent rage and black hate, so intense that I lost friendships and even family over them. Though the people who truly loved us understood and stood fast under the strain of my anger.
After some time had passed and the cloud of rage began to dissipate, I thought I would write a memoir. I had not yet discovered my talent for and love of writing fiction, but as an academic writer, I thought I could manage a memoir.
I could not. In my own voice, telling my own story, the rage kicks back to life, and all I can do is spew it onto the page. Several attempts over the first few years failed in the same way, after a few thousand furious words.
Then I discovered fiction writing, and I thought I could tell Adam’s story, from his perspective, in the form of a Young Adult novel. I didn’t make it through the first chapter. Oh, how it hurt to put myself in his shoes.
I set aside the idea for another couple years, but the need continued to smolder inside me, like a banked fire. As the tenth anniversary of his death approached, the need flared hot again.
At the same time, I was planning a new romance series set in the Sacramento area, our home, and it occurred to me that I could tell the story in the way I tell stories best: through romance.
Because I’d finally realized what story I needed to tell.
Not my own, which is the least important.
Not Adam’s, which I have no right to tell.
But his father’s.
The love of my life. The man I sat beside as he learned that his firstborn son had been killed so cruelly by someone who should have protected him. That his child had been stolen from a bright future. Had been wrested from the arms of people who love him.
I sat with my husband as he curled into himself under the weight of his grief. I stood with him as he struggled to stand back up. I did the things he could not do, and I held his hand as he did the things he could. I marveled at his great strength as he held me up, too. We grieved together, and we healed together.
The story I needed to tell is a love story.
Thor, David, and Nina’s story is their own. Most of the details and situations are wildly different from the story of Jim, Adam, and Susan. A few differences that seem important to note explicitly: My husband was significantly younger than Adam’s biological mother, but he was not a child when they met. They were married, and Adam was planned. Jim is not an MMA fighter, nor does he have any criminal record.
Where our truth and this fiction truly converge is, first, in the relationships, particularly between father and son. Several of the deep conversations between Thor and David are representations of conversations between Adam and his father. Certainly the deep bond and easy affection they achieve is the same. Thor is the kind of father my husband is.
The animosity between Thor and Denizia reflects our reality. And the growing tension between David and Denizia is authentic to the troubles Adam had with his biological mother as he grew older—to the extent that I can extrapolate from what Adam told us, what she wrote and said to us, and what was entered into court documents (including entries of her journals).
And, of course, what she did because of it. She killed her own son so his father couldn’t have him. The specific details of the way David dies are closely aligned with the details of Adam’s death.
In this story, Thor wonders something about David’s last moments that has haunted me for a decade: What were Adam’s last thoughts, between the first shot that sent him to his knees and the second that killed him? Did he know his own mother was killing him?
It’s a question that will never get an answer, and so will never fade.
I endeavored to dam up my still vivid rage and hatred and write a story that was true, even where she was concerned. I’m sure Adam’s murderer would have characterized her parenting and personality differently than I have represented it in this fiction, but she gave up her voice in the most violent and vile way she could. Denizia represents the woman I, and my husband, knew.
The grief and fury, and the guilt, is the same, in our reality and in this fiction. In that way, our story heavily influences the chapters immediately following David’s death.
I took on this wrenching story because I have needed to tell it for a very long time, and I finally found a way to do it. I hope, however, that the fiction I told it through stands on its own. Thor, Nina, and David are fully realized and entirely independent people to me. I wasn’t telling my story as I wrote Thunder. They were telling theirs.
But I have lived one like it.
My story of Adam is a love story.
And so is this one.
17 July 2019