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The Synesthete’s Guide to the Characters in Dark Things I Adore

The Synesthete’s Guide to the Characters in Dark Things I Adore

In my debut thriller Dark Things I Adore, gifted painting student Audra Colfax lures predatory professor Max Durant to her home in the remote woods of Maine. Though Max believes he’s there to consummate the long-simmering sexual tension he senses between them, Audra has much darker, much more devious plans in mind for their weekend away. Because Audra knows a terrible secret Max has kept long buried, and through her visceral and haunting paintings, she intends to show him the sins of his past. And to make him pay for them.

I am often asked what inspired me to set Dark Things I Adore in the art world. The book is, indeed, populated with painters, art instructors, charcoal pencils, canvases, and all manner of evocative colors. I’ve thought a lot about this, and though there are a few reasons (admiration for visual artists, the challenge of transfiguring the visual into language), I think the most important of them is that I have always experienced the world with a bit of synesthesia.

Now, you most likely know what synesthesia is, but in case you don’t, synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which a person experiences a crossing of the senses. For example, a person may naturally “see” certain letters and numbers in certain colors or hear sounds that also evoke taste.

The example I always give people when I describe my experience of synesthesia is that the voice of singer Phil Collins sounds lemony to me. You might be thinking: super modern reference, bro. But I think hearing 1980s-era Phil Collins as a kid was my first conscious experience of the phenomenon, and so it’s always stuck. Phil Collins sounds like lemon. In college, there was a professor whose voice evoked smoked salami. The feeling of bitingly cold wind on my face brings to me an image of sharp triangles jostling against each other on my skin.

In other words, in some cases, I am naturally experiencing one sense as a web of connected sensory experiences. This, happily, can translate beautifully to creative writing! It’s one more lens through which to experience and articulate the world. I think this is why I naturally gravitated toward writing art in Dark Things I Adore; visual art seemed to beg for this kind of creative, interwoven description which is already part and parcel of my brain.

So with this in mind, I thought I’d give you my synesthetic perspective on the main characters in Dark Things I Adore:



  • graduate painting student
  • late 20s
  • auburn hair and freckles


  • an alabaster swoop, or a smooth, sharp hair pin made of bone
  • her laugh is like round, wooden orbs tossed in the air
  • vibe is magenta or dark violet, evoking the reds and pinks of love, but two ticks off center



  • professor and painter
  • late 40s
  • black, foppish hair with salt and pepper speckles


  • a fine onyx tire iron, disassembling and expensive
  • his voice is the purr of a woolen sweater just beginning to fray
  • vibe is the stirring chop of the ocean, Prussian or Oxford blue



  • cabin cleaner at an arts camp
  • late teens
  • blond hair and slight build


  • a fragile stalk of wheat grass, halved on itself
  • her whispers and smiles are fog trapped in ice
  • vibe is goldenrod yellow, the micro-firework of a wall socket throwing sparks



  • instructor at an arts camp
  • late twenties
  • curly hair and ripped jeans


  • a dense and glass-smooth egg, somehow akin to a lockbox
  • her warnings the anxious jangling of keys
  • vibe is peacock and viridian green, the piney taste of gin

I wonder what you will feel, hear, taste, smell, and see in and about these characters when you get your hands on Dark Things I Adore, out September 14, 2021!

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