“So I included them in modern day by creating a culture in which they’re allowed to exist but have less rights than animals,” Browne said in an interview. “They’re sentient, non-humans in a society ruled by the living. At the time I began writing Breathers in 2003, I hadn’t seen this done before, so it seemed like I was making a bit of a break from the traditional zombie tale. But I think that’s what made it fun for me to write.”
The book could be described as a classic story of suffering and redemption, like The Color Purple or the New Testament—with cannibalism. “But more to the point, it’s a story about a zombie and his friends trying to find their purpose in a society in which they have no purpose,” Browne said.
The protagonist of the novel, Andy, is just your average, reanimated corpse trying to cope with the death of his wife and the smell of his own decomposing flesh. “That and he’s the quintessential shambling, moaning zombie perpetuated by Hollywood, but only because of the injuries he sustained in the car accident,” Browne said.
Breathers was inspired by a short story Browne wrote several years ago. “In 2001, I wrote a two-thousand word short story called ‘A Zombie’s Lament,’ a first-person narrative about a zombie who didn’t reanimate with a hunger for flesh or brains but just wanted his life back, which was impossible because he didn’t have any rights,” Browne said. “At the end, he resorts to cannibalism because he’s left with no choice. It was darkly comedic, but my three novels and most of my short stories before that had all been straight supernatural horror. A year later, I read Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, which is a dark comedy with a supernatural edge. After reading this I thought, ‘Hey, he pulls this off for an entire novel. I wonder if I can.’ A year after that, in October 2003, I wrote the opening scene to Breathers.”
Browne said he wanted to make sure he addressed human decomposition in a realistic manner. “So I searched the Internet and found a great online article by Dr. Trisha McNair, [and] I also used STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which provided me with lots of fun details about what happens to the dead when they’re donated for medical research,” Browne said. “In addition, I hung out in a couple of cemeteries, researched the formaldehyde content in cosmetic products, and used an online wine store to help me pick the wine Andy consumes.”
The biggest challenge in writing the book was the research, but that was more fun than a challenge. “Who doesn’t enjoy reading about cadaver impact testing or that when maggots feast on the subcutaneous fat of a rotting corpse it sounds like Rice Krispies?” Browne said.
If you’d like to know what it’s like to be a zombie, you can ask Andy at www.undeadanonymous.com.