The Science of the Undead: Part Two

On my recent blog tour, I had the opportunity to write on a number of different topics and in a myriad of different styles. The following is the second part of my interview with my publisher all about the science of the Undead. Enjoy!

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SCP: On the topic of necrotic flesh… In older movies where the gore factor wasn’t so highly valued, the dusty, dirty, dried out zombie was as acceptable as a mummy, but not anymore. Describe in full detail (and don’t be shy about it) how a Zombie’s dead flesh and sinew would change with time, and what the slough time factor should be in actuality? How long does it take for the flesh falls from the bones?

JS: That isn’t something that can be completely quantified as there are different factors that can come into play. The first aspects that need to be understood are the five general stages of decomposition.

Fresh: The fresh stage commences immediately after the heart stops beating. Rigor mortis (the rigidity of muscular tissues that sets in three to six hours after death and starts to dissipate anywhere from forty-eight to sixty hours after death); Livor mortis (the pooling or settling of the blood in the lower portions of the body dependent on position); and Algor mortis (the cooling of the body after death) all occur within this stage of decomposition. Once the heart stops beating, chemical changes occur within the body which also results in a change in the overall pH level. The resulting change in pH causes cells to lose their structural integrity which in turn results in a process known as autolysis; the release of cellular enzymes which break down the surrounding cells and tissue. Any oxygen left in the body is quickly depleted by the aerobic organisms creating the perfect playground for anaerobic organisms. It’s the anaerobic organisms from the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory systems that begin to transform the carbohydrates, fats and proteins in dead tissues. As they break down into organic acids such as lactic and propionic acids along with gases like methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, it’s the spread of these microbes within the body that is more commonly referred to as putrefaction.

Bloat: As the accumulation of the gases mentioned above collect, it causes the distention of the abdomen, giving the corpse an all over bloated appearance. These gases mix with any naturally occurring liquids and any liquefying tissues, making them frothy. As the pressure inside the body increases, these fluids are forced to escape from any orifice or wound they can exploit, akin to a release valve. The purging of fluids and gases is what results in the strong and distinctive odors of decay. In addition, the pressure may also cause the skin to rupture if an easier means of escape is not available. A corpse gets its marbled appearance as the anaerobic intestinal bacteria transform hemoglobin into sulfhemoglobin and other solutions with varying pigments. It’s the presence of decomposition gases that aid in the transportation of sulfhemoglobin along with the other pigment carrying solutions throughout the body via the lymphatic and circulatory systems.

Active Decay: This is the stage characterized by the greatest loss of body mass. This loss is mostly in part from the feeding of maggots and the purging of decomposition fluids to the surrounding environment. In this stage, the liquefaction of tissues and disintegration of the body becomes apparent. Strong odors of decomposition will persist throughout this stage.

Advanced Decay: A body in advanced decay usually doesn’t go through a huge amount of decomposition as the tissues that would normally decompose are no longer available in large amounts. The corpse, having already lost a great deal of its mass in active decay, will continue to break down until only dry remains are left.

Dry Remains: All that really remains at this stage is dry skin, cartilage, and bones. Pieces of soft tissue may remain in some cases but they are dried to the point that they will not continue to decompose.

So now that you understand how a body is mostly likely to decompose, let’s discuss the factors that will either speed up or inhibit decomposition. The actual speed can vary greatly, so it’s best to keep that in mind.

Temperature and Climate: Colder temperatures and climates will decrease the rate of decomposition and conversely warmer temperatures and climates will increase the rate. Humid conditions with help to increase the rate while dry and windy conditions can actually dehydrate a corpse to the point where bacterial growth will cease as there are no nutrients for them to feed on.

Access to the Corpse: This refers to the access that insects and carrion have to the corpse. In conditions where there is restricted access, either by clothing present on the body or by the locale of the body (for example in water or underground), the rate of decomposition is reduced. If insects and other carrion have easy access to the body, either by the fact that it is out in the open or not wrapped or dressed in tight-fitting garments, the rate of decomposition is increased.

Cause of Death: Corpses with open wounds will decompose faster. The increased surface area open to insects and carrion is obvious as well as the ability for the body to vent the by-products of anaerobic decomposition. Aerobic bacteria can also act on the body from the outside inward, aiding in the speed of complete decomposition.

Percentage of Body Fat: Fat has high water content which aids in decomposition as well as retaining heat longer after death. The higher the percentage of body fat, the faster the rate of decomposition as a rule.

Body Farm Photo – a body farm is a research facility where human decomposition can be studied in a variety of settings.

There are more factors that affect decomposition as the list is nearly endless. The Undead will inevitably follow some of the observed trends so I’ll sum up the Zombie that is likely to decompose the fastest and the one the will likely decompose the slowest.

If the Zombies in your area are larger than most, wearing little or no clothing or with clothing that is loose-fitting, in a humid and hot environment with numerous gaping wounds, it’s likely they will decompose faster than most. If however you live in a cooler, drier climate where the Zombies are less corpulent and dressed in tighter fitting fashions with little to no gaping wounds, they’re going to decompose at a slower rate.

None of this takes into account the mobility factor either. The body mass reduction of insects in the stage of advanced decay is dependent on the fact that maggots have to be able to feed on the body. If said body is in motion, those maggots are going to have a hard time gaining a significant purchase on the surface resulting in a longer period of advanced decay. It’s also wise to note that whatever turned the bodies of the dead into the Undead may actually slow down or counteract the natural processes of decomposition.

I guess the easy answer would have been “it’s hard to say” but how is that going to help you understand the Undead?

SCP: Describe for us the most horrific Zombie of your nightmares in full detail? Dare we say “spare no parts?”

JS: The most horrific Zombies of my nightmares are not the most gruesome one by any stretch of the imagination. It’s the Zombie that has just turned. The Zombie that has no readily discernible Zombie features. The Zombie that doesn’t have the insatiable hunger in its eyes yet. Those are the ones that scare me the most as they are the ones that will get too close before you realize what they truly are. Oh, and Zombie children scare me. They are so small and tend to escape your notice until it’s too late. There’s also something inherently sad, creepy and terrifying about lost innocence. Avoid Zombie children; they will break your heart and likely turn you before you have to bash their brains in.

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Thanks for reading!

The Science of the Undead: Part One

On my recent blog tour, I had the opportunity to write on a number of different topics and in a myriad of different styles. The following is the first part of my interview with my publisher all about the science of the Undead. Enjoy!

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SCP: Julianne, what draws you to Zombies in particular? Not why do you like Zombie stories, but what is it about the slow scuffle of Undead feet that makes you want to tell your story about them?

JS: I have always been drawn to Zombie literature. I’ve also been drawn to more psychologically thoughtful horror stories. If I hadn’t studied forensics, it would have been psychology. In the end, I found that the stories I had the opportunity to read the genre were lacking that psychological edge that I had come to crave. Admittedly, it’s a hard thing to work into the gruesome, gore filled story that a Zombie work needs to be, but it can be done. As I wrote Days with the Undead in my mind, it came from a deeper place within me. Sure, there are Zombies but it really is a story of human survival. It’s what I was trying to do in reality as I faced a life-threatening illness and a great deal of the psychological aspects derive from that experience. It wasn’t easy to impart some of my deepest inner struggles for survival into the book but I think that is part of what makes it different. When I read it, I feel my own struggle (minus the Zombies, of course) and when others read it, I hope they feel the psychological torment that can exist in a situation like that as well without having to experience it for themselves.

SCP: A decaying corpse has a distinct odor, yet in all the entertainment we see, out heroes or heroines blast/chop/cleave or beat the head off the Zombie, which is of course how you dispatch it. Why is it that no one ever focuses on the horrendous and wretched smell this creates? Are we supposed to believe that Zombies that have been (un)dead for good this time and those which are lying, truly dead in massive heaps in the sun don’t let off a foul stench? Your main character has a background in forensics, are the masses at large just not up to the challenge of dealing with this ugly reality?

JS: To be perfectly honest, the smell would only get to you for so long. How do people who live in certain “smellier” parts of cities deal with the stench, or the people who happen to live next to smelting plants or landfill sites. At some point, your olfactory senses will make you immune to the smell. As your exposure is prolonged, you will find that you can rely on it less and less. The only thing that you’ll be able to smell after a while will be the new and different scents, until you get used to those as well. Another factor to explore is this; even though the corpses of the dead Undead are lying around in the streets, rotting away, the chances that you will smell them is reduced. As long as the bodies are not confined to in an enclosed space, the odor will dissipate. Is it going to be hard for people not used to smelling decay? Most definitely. We live in a world that promotes sanitization from odors at every turn. Perhaps learning to live with the nasty smells that can happen around us (in our homes, on the streets) will ultimately help us to survive a Zombie Apocalypse.

There is another factor to take into account with respects to the smell given off during the decomposition process. A clinically dead body will begin to smell during the bloat stage. This occurs when the body purges the build-up of organic gases and fluids that result from the reactions of anaerobic bacteria already present in the body and their metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It’s the process more commonly known as putrefaction. The strong and distinctive odor of decomposition remains throughout the stages of bloat, active decay and even into the stages of advanced decay. As a zombie’s body breaks down further and further, there will come a point in time where it will likely stop giving off that distinctive odor. Keep in mind that the odor may still remain on any clothing that has been stained with the fluids of decomposition.

SCP: Guts, and not the bravery kind! As long as the head is attached, the body still moves. Gut or intestinal dragging is a big wow factor in modern-day Zombie lore. Do you think it’s necessary to go to that level to get the reader to fully feel the impact of the terror the characters are feeling when watching half a Zombie crawl towards them? What makes ‘half’ a Zombie so much more visceral than a whole one?

JS: I suppose there would be some that would say that seeing a piecemeal Zombie clawing its way toward you would be more terrifying but that comes from the perspective that half-beings are not supposed to move. Dead things aren’t supposed to move but if a whole Zombie was coming at you, you may be able to process the event faster and react in time. Considering that the half-Zombies have to crawl and claw in order to be mobile, that puts them out of your direct field of vision. Watch your ankles!

SCP: We know what makes your story different and love the journalistic approach you’ve taken with it, but what sets your Zombies apart in your mind? Not what you’ve written per se, but in your mind’s eye when you are writing, why are your Zombies worthy of the Julianne method?

JS: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think my Zombies are any different from those that can be seen in most movies or read about it any number of books. I think what sets my book apart is the fact that I’ve explored the psychological turmoil of survival to a greater degree. Are there moments of Undead action? Of course, and some of them are quite gory, but it’s also a real chronology of flight and survival.

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Come back tomorrow for the second part!

Found: Interview with Julie!

I’ve been watching the news like everyone else these days and I have to say that I’m completely riveted. I probably shouldn’t be; I’m only fourteen and I live in one of the worst neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. I should be watching for any sign that gang violence is about to erupt, and continuing to avoid the guys on the street corner trying to sell me drugs. Instead, I’m glued to my laptop screen watching the images coming out of some place called Toronto. It’s in Canada, I looked it up.

A riot or something is happening up there. The weird thing is that people aren’t dying when they’re shot. I’ve been reading stuff on the ‘net too. Some are saying the rioters are dead, but that can’t be possible; they’re still walking around. I asked my dad the other night while he was still sober what he thought was going on. He just told me to stop being so nosey. I don’t see it as being nosey, frankly. I view it as taking an interest in current affairs. I want to be a journalist when I grow up, so I need to take a keen interest in what is going on in the world around me. I even have the best name for journalism; Gloria Gonzales. It has a nice cadence, doesn’t it?

Today I start my career as a serious journalist. I might not be the best yet, but I only plan on getting better. I have a feeling that something is going on up in Canada and while I can’t get there, I can take a look from here and see if I can’t help figure some of the confusing bits out for everyone. Not only have I scored an exclusive Skype interview with someone fleeing this riot, she actually has an idea about what is really going on! Without further ado, I give you my interview with Julie Odette, a resident of Toronto and witness to the situation that’s unfolding there.

GG: Welcome Julie! Thank you for agreeing to talk to me today.

JO: Gloria, thank you for giving me this unprecedented opportunity.

GG: Can you tell me what exactly is going on in Toronto?

JO: At the moment, I don’t know much about what is currently going on but I think it’s safe to assume the city is lost. However, I can tell you what happened eight days ago, if you like.

GG: Yes, please do. The public has been trying to get a grip on why the riot started in the first place but with no information coming out of the city, it’s been very difficult.

JO: Eight days ago, a situation arose that I cannot fully explain. A man was brought into the Emergency Room of St. Michael’s Hospital with very weak vital signs. That man passed away and then came back to life. Only it wasn’t life that returned to him. Within minutes, the Emergency Room was in utter pandemonium and the infection was spreading.

GG: Infection? So it’s something communicable then?

JO: In a manner of speaking, yes. I’m not quite sure how to break the news to the rest of the world so I’m just going to say it. That man was dead and when he woke up, he was still clinically dead. Whatever infection he had been exposed to allowed his body to reanimate and caused him to wreak havoc throughout the Emergency Room, spreading the infection. This may be hard for you to hear but what we are dealing with is a full scale Zombie infestation.

GG: Zombies? Seriously?

JO: I’m completely serious Gloria. I examined some of them myself while they were under full restraint at the Centre for Forensic Sciences where I work – I meant where I worked. I know that it’s hard to believe but trust that what I’m telling you is true. My friends and I have been fleeing from them for the past eight days. Hell, we barely made it out of Canada alive.

GG: I don’t understand. Is this some sort of hoax?

JO: Gloria, listen to me carefully. This is not a hoax. I swear. The public needs to be made aware that Zombies are walking the earth at this very moment and there is no one out there in any position to stop them. They are going keep spreading, that’s their nature and as they catch more and more living people off guard, their ranks are just going to explode exponentially. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still time to focus and prepare yourselves.

GG: Prepare ourselves? How?

JO: The first thing you need to do is get out of the big city. High populations are just a higher food source for them and the last thing that you want to do is get stuck in the city with hordes of them roaming the streets. The most important thing is to head in the direction opposite to where they are. You’re close to Mexico; I suggest heading there first and then keep on going. Don’t stop once you think you’ve gotten far enough away. If no one stops them, they will find you eventually.

GG: If nowhere is truly safe, what is the point in running?

JO: There is always a point in trying to survive. The government has to respond at some point and there is always the possibility that they can stop whatever is happening. It’s a slim possibility, but –

As you can see from the video, we lost our Skype connection to Julie there. I don’t know why and I hope that it wasn’t something bad. Can you believe what she said about the Zombies? Can it possibly be true? Maybe she will be able to call back and continue to fill us in. In the meantime, I suggest that we all keep our eyes on the news in the hope that someone will be able to tell us what is going on.

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For those of you that have been wondering what I’ve been doing for the past five weeks, I’ve been promoting my novel Days with the Undead: Book One on a whirlwind blog tour that has me stopping at blogs all over the place! It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve written on quite a lot of different subjects from Zombies and other supernatural creatures to discussions on writing. I’ve also done a fair number of interviews. If you’re interested in checking out the other stops on the tour, you can find links here. Don’t forget to read this post first though!

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Days with the Undead: Book One is currently available for purchase at:

Print –

CreateSpace

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Digital –

Smashwords

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

Kobo

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Julianne Snow

It was watching George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead at the tender age of six that solidified Julianne’s respect of the Undead. Since that day, she has prepared herself for the (inevitable) Zombie Apocalypse. While classically trained in all of the ways to defend herself, she took up writing in order to process the desire she now covets; to bestow a second and final death upon the Undead. As the only girl growing up in a family with four children in the Canadian countryside, Julianne needed some form of escape. Her choice was the imaginations of others which only fostered the vibrancy of her own.

Days with the Undead: Book One is her first full-length book, the basis of which can be found in her popular web serial of the same name. You can find Julianne’s The Living Dead of Penderghast Manor in the anthology Women of the Living Dead and stories in upcoming anthologies called Childhood Nightmares: Under The Bed and Twisted Realities: Of Myth and Monstrosity from Sirens Call Publications.