The trials and errors of writing a novel

Every writer who dreams big dreams imagines writing a best-selling novel.
And the rest of us, who dream lesser dreams, hope one day to write a lesser novel. When that hope had almost flickered out, I met Don Ranney at a writer’s event. Don had nurtured a big dream for about 25 years. He had spent half a decade in India with a missionary organization as an orthopaedic surgeon, repairing the damaged hands of leprosy victims. He wanted to relive those years in the pages of a novel. I had a similar dream growing out of five years in South Africa as a missionary and technician assigned to a radio studio.
We quickly discovered that our times overseas overlapped, in fact, almost coincided. We had each gone to our separate fields with wives and kids in tow, and with the idealistic spirit required of everyone undertaking such a task. Then the whole truth came out. Both of us had faced conditions and people so contrary to our expectations that it tore us and our families apart emotionally, threatened to destroy our faith, and sent us home early.
"Years ago, I began writing a novel based on my experiences. I call it Satan’s Double Agent," said Don.
"Why don’t we combine our stories and write it together?" I suggested.
Soon we began doing just that. We started our narrative by having our main characters meet at the Toronto School of Linguistics, become friends, and then stay in touch after going overseas. The story then flowed back and forth between India and Africa. We each wrote segments, then edited each other’s material. Don took the finished pieces to an editing circle for suggestions. I sent some to friends in The Word Guild for the same purpose. We worked away for a year or two before we felt ready to approach a publisher or an editor.
Then we dived into the really hard part of producing a novel: finding an agent or a publisher. A formidable task when you know that only a tiny percentage of novels ever find a home with a publisher. Would a Christian publishing house want our opus? Or would it fit better with a mainstream publisher? We decided to leave in the raw parts, knowing we could rewrite if a Christian publisher accepted it but objected to the three swearwords and a sex scene.
Soon we began collecting rejection letters. Three different agents offered to take us on, then unceremoniously dropped us. The years slipped by along with more rejection letters. Then one of the agents expressed renewed interest and began showing it to Christian publishing houses. He rejected our title, Satan’s Double Agent, so we changed it to When Cobras Laugh. A number of publishers asked to see it, but all said no. Some reacted strongly to the rough parts, but didn’t ask for a rewrite. Within a year, the agent gave up. 
We began seriously considering self-publishing and hiring a publicist, but decided to try a new publishing house in Waterford, Virginia. We sent it off to Capstone Fiction and waited another four months for a reply. Imagine our surprise and joy when they accepted it. They did add a condition: "Because we are a Christian house and it would offend some of our readers, please remove the swear words. Leave in the sex scene because it is a key part of the story, but cool it a bit."
The book, When Cobras Laugh, will appear next month. Watch for it. And don’t give up if you have a novel inside trying to get out.

Ray Wiseman