Invisible Traffic: Stories About When Life Hits You Like A Truck

Oct 24, 2014

Playwright and author Deborah Ann Percy

In Deborah Ann Percy’s short story “The Woman Who Loved Paul Simon.” The main character has just about had it with her dinner date at a nice restaurant on Lake Michigan. Here's an excerpt:

Allison smiles and speaks slowly because she knows she’s no longer on safe ground with him, "Paul Simon’s songs have words about being alone, about giving up trying to find someone to trust." "That wouldn’t be much good for dinner." Allison stirs her coffee. She wants to tell him how wrong he is, about how the music is good for everything because it’s true. But then the evening will end shortly after dinner. She smiles as she does for Rob’s clients, "How’s the red fish? Everyone says it’s good here."

The story is from Percy's new book of short stories called Invisible Traffic. Percy will read from the book at Michigan News Agency Wednesday at 6 p.m. 

Invisible Traffic and Good Mothers

Percy says the stories in Invisible Traffic all take place near Lake Michigan and they're predominantly about women - especially women who are good mothers.

"There are some wonderful women writers who write stories from a woman's point of view, but too often I think a woman has to be a bad mother to be the subject of a literary story. I don't think that's true," says Percy. "I think being a good mother, making the decisions you have to make to be a good mother and make your children safe and healthy, is just as hard."

There's a lot of variety in Percy's stories: a husband who drops his wife off at a store and then disappears, a child who swims dangerously far, one night stands, domineering friends. 

But if there's one uniting theme, Percy says it's in the book's name, Invisible Traffic. Percy describes "invisible traffic" as the accidents or big life changes that happen when you're at a difficult point in your life. 

"The theme between all the stories is we're all doing the best we can. We're not aren't always successful, but there's a lot of invisible traffic out there waiting to get us," says Percy.

Plays vs Short Stories

Percy is probably best known as a Kalamazoo playwright. Percy has won numerous awards for her plays as well as the ones she writes with her husband, local playwright Arnie Johnston. Percy says she doesn't really decide what story is going to be a play and which one is going to be short fiction - the story chooses for itself as she's writing it.

"Things that you can do on the stage that you can't do in a short story. And there are obviously things in a short story because you can talk about what people are thinking, how they feel about other people," Percy explains. "All that has to come out in action which is dialogue and physical action on the stage."

Percy says she doesn't prefer plays over short fiction, but she sometimes finds plays easier to write. 

Cliff-Hangers

In a lot of the stories in Invisible Traffic, Percy isn't as clear about how the story ends. She leaves a few endings to interpretation.

"Sometimes I think in life we don't know where things are going," Percy says.