...or when whatever they're writing next isn't ready to be written yet: They write other stuff, of course, stuff that bubbles up from unseen places and who knows what any of it means, if it means anything. It's a kind of tuning, perhaps, honing in on the frequency of the story they want to hear.
Here's one such bubbling that came up some time ago. I call it "Stand in the Middle."
...“Do you know what it’s like to stand in the middle, Karafu?”
...The great man looked out on the Savannah and drew his clothes around him; his black, black face at that moment seemed stone. Karafu peered out over the landscape. His eyes were sharp, but he could not discern where Matimbo was looking.
...“I’m sorry, sir,” said the boy, bowing slightly. “I’m afraid I do not.”
...Matimbo looked at the boy. He was barely thirteen, but already stood as tall as a man. Often he was mistaken for one, in fact, by people who did not look closely. “Well spoken, boy,” said Matimbo. “You do not know the middle places. I can tell by looking at you now.”
...“No sir,” agreed Karafu. “But sir,” he added, “if I may be so bold.”
...“How can I tell by looking?” interrupted Matimbo.
...“Yes, sir, how do you know?”
...Matimbo stretched a great hand out toward the space between the heavens and the Savannah. “The one who stands in the middle has seen his own face clearly. He knows the dance of it, the way the curve of it lays in the dust at night. He has seen his face, and he does not fear it. You are not like that one, Karafu, because you are still afraid.”
...Karafu bowed slightly again. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
...“You could be one to stand in the middle, Karufu. You could follow in the steps of the First. What do you think of that?”
...“I...I have thought on it, sir,” said Karafu.
...“And what did you think on it, boy?”
...Karafu glanced briefly toward the Savannah, briefly toward the sky, then fixed his eyes back on the ground. “I have thought it would be nice, sir.”
...“I have also thought I am too much a failure, sir,” added Karafu.
...The big robe swirled toward the sky so quickly that for an instant it seemed a great sheet had blocked out the sun. Then just as fast another light came, like that of the sun, but in a spiritual way. And Matimbo was gone, at least in the way of men. Karafu knelt and covered his head, not sure if the man would strike him for standing so close to holy ground. But when at last he looked up, there was only the sky, with the Savannah beneath. And in the space between the two a new wind arose, caressing Karafu’s young, young face.
...“It is not failure that keeps you from the middle space,” the wind whispered in his ears.
...“Then what, sir?” asked Karafu.
...“Boy,” said the wind, “look at your face, and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.”
...“Matimbo!” the boy cried. “I don’t understand!”
...“Take your stand, boy,” came the wind in a roar. “This is for you!” The force of the voice was so strong now it knocked Karafu flat to the ground. And there he lay a long, long time—long after the wind died down, long after the sun had set, and long after the tears on his face had finally dried.
...And there with his hand, finally the boy moved, just a little, just a hand. But it was enough to reach his cheek, and slowly with his fingers trace the curve of his face in the dust.
Okay. Back to the novel...