S.G. Browne

I is for Investigation

“Up until about three weeks after death, the internal organs of a corpse can still be identified.  After that, the internal organs turn to chicken soup.”

The previous culinary analogy was something I gleaned from a wonderful book titled STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.  From STIFF, I also learned about cadaver impact testing, that unembalmed dead people basically dissolve, and that when maggots feast on the subcutaneous fat of a corpse, it sounds like Rice Krispies.

Snap, crackle, pop.

Throw in the fact that marshmallow is made from gelatin, which is derived from the collagen inside the skin and bones of pigs and cows, and suddenly those Rice Krispie treats don’t sound so appetizing.

In addition to the helpful tidbits of information I found in STIFF, I read an enlightening on-line article by Dr. Trisha Macnair about human decomposition that explained how, in the tropics, a corpse can become a moving mass of maggots within twenty-four hours.

Both of these sources helped me to add a visceral reality to Andy’s world that I couldn’t have made up.

I think it’s impossible to write a work of fiction without doing some research.  I don’t know about other writers, but I’m not a bottomless source of information, so I need some help when my imagination fails me. And adding some facts to the fiction makes the story more believable.

When I write, the story typically unfolds as I’m writing it, so I don’t always know what research I’ll need to do until it becomes apparent that the scene or chapter I’m writing needs some help.  Like the scene where Andy discusses the different types of wine he’s consuming (I’m a Boddington’s man).  Or the chapter where Andy’s mother helps him apply make-up.

In addition to researching what happens to human bodies post mortem, I read the TV Guide to make sure I knew what programs were on and when, visited an on-line wine store to improve Andy’s beverage selection in his parents wine cellar, hung out in the Soquel Cemetery for a couple of hours with a notepad, and studied up on the different shades and brands of Rita’s lipstick.  I also read up on how to preserve game meat, who’s involved in a television production crew, what people have as their first memory, and how to apply concealer, foundation, and contouring powder.

I’m sure I’ve made some errors in my research.  Although I am a man, occasionally I do make mistakes.  But I had a lot of fun blending fact and fiction to create the world in which Breathers exists and try to make it believable.

(Next entry:  J is for Jerry)

Filed under: Breathers,The Writing Life — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 8:48 am

D is for Decomposition

(Author’s Note:  Since Andy tends to have a bit more “hands-on” experience with this subject, I’ll turn things over to him for this entry.)

The smell is the hardest thing to get used to.

You’d think it would be the bloating or the liquifecation of tissues or the fluid from the lungs oozing out of the mouth and nostrils.  The brain can go pretty fast, too.  Bacteria in the mouth chew right through the palate and before you can say “Night of the Living Dead,” your brain is pouring out your ears and bubbling out your mouth.

Fun stuff.

Of course, most of these problems apply to those who reanimated prior to being pumped full of formaldehyde.  (Future post alert.  Guess what F is for?)

In addition to the challenges mentioned above, if you’re unembalmed, you also have sloughage to look forward to.  That’s when the liquid leaking from the body’s ravaged cells gets between the layers of skin and loosens them, causing the skin of fingertips and toes to come off.  Sometimes, entire sheets of skin will peel away from an unembalmed zombie.  I’ve known a few melters who suffered this indignity.

But no matter what class of zombie – embalmed, freshie, or melter – the smell of undeath is almost impossible to mask.  Hydrogen sulphide leaking from various orifices, internal organs fermenting in a formaldehyde stew, the constant odor of gradually rotting meat…it’s a challenge to maintain your dignity when the stench of your rotting flesh wakes you up in the middle of the night.

You try to get it out of your hair or your clothes but no amount of Tide or Pine-Sol or bleach can get rid of the smell.  Someone should make a decent deodorant for zombies, or anything hygiene related, really.  They would make a killing.

(Next entry:  E is for Editor)

Filed under: Breathers,The Writing Life — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 2:21 pm