What Killed Corbin Sweeney?
It’s true that some parts of writing are effortless. Sometimes, a scene almost writes itself, and the little creative muses are working their magic overtime. Other times, the muses are nowhere to be seen, or worse, they’re laughing and giving you the bird.
For those who haven’t read Watermark yet, spoiler alerts ahead! For those who have, Corbin Sweeney, the myopic river pirate who is interrogated by Malcolm early in the book, was actually killed by Malcolm in the first draft. And yet, no matter how many times I rewrote the scene, there was no way I could pull off Corbin’s execution without Malcolm coming across as, er, well, a little bananas. Sure, he had excellent justification for executing him—he’d been sanctioned by the townspeople of Cassville to do so, and the story takes place in a time where lawmen were few and far between in that area of the country--but none of those rationalizations translated onto the page. The scene simply came across as too gruesome; as a result, my lovely hero came across as a tad homicidal. Yikes.
Thus began a research quest for deaths related to near-drownings, and hooray! The creative muses sat up and cheered. There’s a rare complication with secondary drownings which involves water entering the lungs and causing a condition called pulmonary edema. Secondary drownings mainly affect children, though, and can take up to 24 hours to fully manifest, but further research revealed that pulmonary edema can result from other conditions besides secondary drowning—pneumonia, heart failure, and as a major complication of trauma victims, to name a few.
According to emedicinehealth, “Non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema is less common and occurs because of damage to the lung tissue and subsequent inflammation of lung tissue. This can cause the tissue that lines the structures of the lung to swell and leak fluid into the alveoli and the surrounding lung tissue. Again, this increases the distance necessary for oxygen to travel to reach the bloodstream.” Symptoms are excessive sweating, shortness of breath, wheezing, and pink, foamy sputum.
Sound familiar? And so the details of Corbin Sweeney’s death fell into place. Although our main characters were never privy to the particulars, Corbin ultimately perished from a massive pulmonary edema triggered by a blunt-force chest injury that occurred during the fight on the keelboat. Mission accomplished! My rewrite allowed my hero to avoid appearing a tad homicidal, and I had fun looking up various morbid conditions that can lead to a speedy death. Win-win! Ah, the joys of writing…
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