I'm not good with puzzles. I won't touch a Rubic's Cube or a crossword. To heck with Sudoku. But I do love the puzzling aspects of researching a nonfiction picture book biography. After digging through libraries, online archives, museum research departments, it's exciting to finally discover that perfect bit of visual research needed to reconstruct a character or scene. But with my current project, I keep running into dead ends.
I'm looking for visual reference of Effa Manley, co-owner of the Negro League's Newark Eagles. I've found a few images online (nothing like the many, many, many images I found of Duke Ellington for another book I'm illustrating). And I contacted a few sources, experts in their knowledge of the Negro league baseball, however they only lead me to images I already found on Google (Read: com' on, no, duh.).
This morning, through WorldCat, I was excited to discover that Effa kept a scrapbook. I contacted the Hall of Fame wanting them to send me copies. I figured Effa's scrapbook would be like my wifes — full of candid moments of the Newark Eagles, adorned with cute little buttons and momentos. Wrong! I'm told the book is on microfilm and full with newspaper clippings. Few photos beyond what I can find on the internet. No buttons or stickers or coordinating papers. Okay.
No worries, though. This could be a good thing. Leaves much room for me to take some creative license. I know that she was tall, fair skinned (some articles actually say she was a white woman). And that she dressed like my mother-in-law — to the hilt! Hats, heels, flowing flower print dresses, minks. It will be a matter more of researching the time period, Negro leagues, and upper-income black folk.
I'm curious if my publisher would subsidize a research trip to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in New York, or the Negro leagues museum in Kansas City. But I wouldn't want to ask unless I knew my results would produce something I could use. So I'm going to ask a lot of questions first. So, I'm back to the puzzle of research.