For my latest batch of work on James, I’m reviewing and cataloging all the research I’ve done for this project over the past five years. While I’ve had the opportunity to do some work with primary sources — and expect to do much, much more — most of my research has involved sources that are at least one generation removed from any original, contemporary documentation of the facts.

When I put all my notes from these secondary sources side by side by side, I’m struck by the variations in the facts, by how differently they portray even seemingly simple, objective truths. My favorite example is the frequent reference to a machine that weighed 350 pounds, or maybe 500. Or perhaps it was 300. Could’ve been 650, though. Unless it was 315.

I could just take an average, I suppose, and claim that this piece of equipment weighed 423 pounds. But I figure that somewhere in some collection of old papers resides the truth (and maybe even an explanation for the many variations in how that truth has been presented). My job is to find that fact — and then, for the rest of the manuscript, repeat the process dozens of times over. Scores, even.

Maybe hundreds.