Fact vs. Fiction
Dan P. Lee of Philadelphia Magazine has published a long article on the death of John Fiocco, Jr. Selected details from initial reports on the tragedy were the starting point for a JCO story, “Landfill,” which publication in the New Yorker caused a brief local storm of indignation when its source material was identified.
What Oates couldn’t — or didn’t — realize was that in the absence of any formal conclusion by the authorities, the scenario posited in her fiction had transmogrified into a sort of perceived fact. In the wake of the rampant, frequently erroneous speculation offered first by Nancy Grace and her ilk, it became impossible for anyone to approach Oates’s story as anything less than an explanation.
An interesting argument, but at most I would say it is “possible” (certainly not “impossible”) that some people looked at JCO’s story as an explanation.
Journalists make a living writing stories about such tragedies, and fiction writers do the same. What many people didn’t — or wouldn’t — realize then was that the journalists’ versions of events, though ostensibly “true,” are usually of interest only locally, and for a limited time; whereas the artists’ versions, though fictionalized, may well elevate random “facts” into truths of universal and timeless interest. JCO’s early story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, also inspired by part of a journalistic account (of a minor serial killer), has become a short story classic. The original journalism, however, has been forgotten, as have the original crimes (excepting of course by those few directly involved, and selected true-crime aficionados).
JCO’s forthcoming novel, My Sister, My Love, is inspired by the Jon Benet Ramsey case. “Landfill” was eventually inclulded in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007, and called “a small masterpiece” by a Booklist reviewer.
Speaking of My Sister, My Love …
The Wall Street Journal has published an excerpt from JCO’s forthcoming novel.