In the mid 1960s, a young man in Arizona named Charles Schmid developed a sinister reputation as “The Pied Piper of Tucson.” Schmid stood out in the small town of Tucson. He was not handsome—he was short and stuffed his boots to make himself taller, and he had an eccentric appearance, with dyed black hair, makeup, and a fake mole on his upper lip—but he had a charisma and charm that made him attractive to young girls from the area. Schmid was the son of wealthy parents, and he used the trappings of wealth—a nice car, elaborate parties, gifts for his admirers—to enhance his alluring persona and lure teenagers into his realm. Unbeknownst to Tucson, Schmid was a serial killer, and three teenage girls became his victims. He buried them in the desert.
On March 4, 1966, Life magazine ran an article about Schmid, and Oates saw it. She sensed immediately that there was potential in the sordid story for a story of her own, and she stopped reading halfway through the article so that her imagination could take over and let the fiction develop independent of the facts. Nevertheless, many facts of the horrifying murders and Schmid are evoked in “Where Are You Going . . . ,” particularly in the figure of Arnold Friend. However, the story is not meant to be a fictionalized retelling of history or recounting of actual facts. Although parallels exist between the story and real life, the facts behind the fiction should be considered as simply the seeds of inspiration. The story itself stands alone.