Everette DeGolyer and the Tampico Oil Boom captured my imagination while on a field trip to the rudistid reefs in the rugged Sierra Madre Orientals of eastern Mexico. I was with a group of geologist who were studying the Golden Lane, a trend of giant oil fields discovered in 1910. Sitting at an outdoor bar in the beautiful town of Valles, I learned that Everette DeGolyer had unlocked the geologic key to that fabulous string of oil fields during the Mexican Revolution just as the world became dependent on foreign crude. Revolution, dependency on foreign crude, a geologic puzzle...hmmm, it had the sound of a good story. Little did I realize how good.
Fast forward five years and I am in Dallas with a free afternoon. Someone had mentioned the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University. I drove to SMU and was directed to the Fondren Library which held the Everette DeGolyer Collection. Hesitantly approaching the front desk, I asked if the collection was available for research. "Certainly," the young lady replied. "Leave your briefcase and fountain pen in the locker," she said, pointing to a row of lockers. "Take this pencil, a pair of these cotton gloves, look through this index, and write down what document you would like to see."
I was astounded by the index: reports, letters, maps, photos, geologic cross-sections. A wall of glass separated the desk from the collection. Through the glass wall stood long diagonal rows of tables. I wrote down the number of a file and handed it to the young lady. She took the paper, pressed the electric doorlock, and directed my entry into the inner sanctum. It was like stepping into Aladdin's Cave.
Over the next few years I would occasionally drop by the Collection and dig into their files, particularly those which covered Everette DeGolyer's early career in Tampico. Slowly, sometimes following unproductive paths and false clues, the story of the Tampico Oil Boom came to light. It was a story worthy of Indiana Jones. More than about geology, it was a tale of revolution, violence, and foreign intrigue. And it was also a poignant love story. How to tell the story accurately became a compulsion.
Historical fiction has often been derided by historians as inaccurate. Yet narrative history by its nature omits the very substance of human intercourse. Without dialogue, inner thoughts, emotions, personalities, and motives, can history reveal the true story? My choice was to tell the story in the genre of historical fiction as a way to bring life to history.
The Golden Lane is an attempt at capturing as accurately as possible 'the true story' of the Tampico Oil Boom from 1909 - 1914. Research at the primary sources, which also included the William F. Buckley Sr. Collection at the University of Texas, brought to light a profusion of characters and a maze of events, a story of how pioneer petroleum geologists working in the jungles of eastern Mexico unlocked the geologic puzzles that the oil industry still relies upon today, a story of when and why the world become dependent on foreign crude, a story of how foreign opportunists flocked to Tampico to drill for oil in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, a story of the native Indians who occupied the land millenia before the first Europeans arrived on their shores, a story of a young couple very much in love. Actual reports, letters, photos, and poems are included so that the reader can assess the accuracy of the plot.
In writing historical fiction, after the research is done the author is left with a quandary: how to portray the characters and events? I chose a straight-forward method: the plot follows actual events, and all the characters were real people.
The remaining challenge is how to bring life to the characters. Rather than the use of descriptive images, I use dialogue. Humor, confusion, yearning, awe, anger, curiosity -- all can be portrayed, as they are in real life, through the spoken word. Dialogue is the juncture where literary license and historical accuracy may separate. But through careful study of actual letters, reports, and poems the dialogue used by the protagonists I hope accurately reflects their personalities.It is hoped that readers will find The Golden Lane brings to life the pioneering efforts of early-day geologists, the challenges of oil exploration, the larger-than-life personalities of those who sought riches from the earth's subsurface treasures, the Mexican Revolution, the impact of an oil boom on local cultures, foreign policy during the Woodrow Wilson administration, and finally, a young couple's love and early years of marriage. Whether well-told or not, it is an extraordinary and true story.