Grand Rapids Magazine writer Ann Byle has written a book entitled “Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens.” The book was recently published by Broadleaf Books. We sat down to talk to her about, well, chickens.
GR Mag: How did you come to own chickens in the first place?
AB: My son, who is now 22, attended Goodwillie Environmental School for fifth and sixth grades, with the sixth graders raising 100 chickens. When the year ended, the chickens needed a new home so we bought four of them. We’ve had them ever since, though not the same ones. We’ve raised a few batches of chicks over the years, too, which is always fun.
GR Mag: What is it about chickens that sparked your creativity to write this book?
AB: One day I was working on my laptop at a table on my deck. Up popped a chicken, who stared at me over my laptop and seemed to ask, “What are you doing, Ann? Can I help? Got any snacks?” I started putting pictures of them on Instagram and people liked it. Pretty soon I was discovering how creative chickens really are, and how we would all do well to mirror that creativity in our lives. It was an interesting and funny juxtaposition—chickens and creativity—but it worked. I had originally planned to do the book just for writers, but my publisher asked to expand its audience to all creatives. A creative and brilliant idea.
GR Mag: Tell us a little about your writing journey.
AB: I started out writing book jacket and catalog copy at a book publisher in Chicago, then worked for eight years as a copyeditor and book review editor at The Grand Rapids Press. I then wrote marketing materials for a couple of years before becoming a freelance writer 26 years ago. I’ve written for a number of publications, including this one, and written or co-written a number of books. The most recent is When Angels Fight with Leslie F. King, a local advocate for trafficked individuals and founder of Sacred Beginnings. I’ve talked to so many interesting and creative people over the years, from poets to novelists, from entrepreneurs to nonprofit founders, from famous people such as John Grisham to everyday people making a difference in the world.
GR Mag: What are some of the characteristics of a creative person?
AB: Creative people have a number of characteristics that they all seem to share in one form or another. Creatives are curious about the world around them and, particularly, about the field they work or play in. Knitters are curious about new yarns and patterns. Architects are curious about new design tools or materials. Gardeners are curious about new types of flowers or vegetables. Creatives are also courageous explorers, willing to step outside boundaries to find new ways to work and live. With that comes the ability to say no to negative self-talk and to ignore what others say about their art, plans, dreams, and goals. Another thing creatives do is nurture their creativity through things like reading widely, exploring outdoor places, visiting museums, going on retreats, unplugging tech, trying new things or going new places. Creative people are always looking at new ways to do things, asking new questions, trying new things.
GR Mag: What do you mean when you say that all people are creative in some way?
AB: I’m convinced that everyone is creative in their own way. I have a friend who makes the most glorious purses, totes and wallets with leftover fabric and a sewing machine. Another is an entrepreneur who can see the big picture and moves forward to change our community for the better. Whether we are bankers or elder care workers, therapists or builders, each of us has a level of creativity that we can nurture and explore in our jobs or our personal lives. Whether we choose to develop that creativity is another story. So many people think they aren’t creative, but we all are if we can find our creative niche and get over our fear to move forward.
GR Mag: What did you learn about yourself as you wrote this book?
AB: I learned that my inherent nosiness about life and people is about being curious, and that my role as a journalist and writer is part of that. It’s OK to be a little nosy—despite what my kids used to say about not talking to any of their friends. Also, that creativity is fun. I loved learning how to play the ukulele, decorate a cake, knit, and draw chickens as part of writing this book. Being creative is about living life in the fun lane—and that’s where I want to be.
GR Mag: What did you learn about chickens?
AB: Chickens are smart animals! They can learn and remember things, communicate, and express their opinions. Also, who knew that the color of the egg is most often determined by the color of a chicken’s ear lobes? Our hens have red/brown ear lobes and lay brown eggs. White earlobes? White eggs.
GR Mag: Tell us about your chickens.
AB: We have three chickens at this point. We had four, but one died over the winter. We’ve had as many as five at a time, which is enough for our yard. They roost in a coop my husband built that includes a back door into a small, fenced yard, and a ramp up into a space in our garage that used to be storage cupboards. Their space has a heat lamp and heated water dispenser for the winter when they stay in the coop. They don’t go out in the snow. Most days in spring, summer, and fall, they roam our large, fenced back yard or peck at our deck door and look pointedly at the dog food until we give them some.
GR Mag: What do you hope readers take away from “Chicken Scratch?”
AB: I wanted readers to take away that each one of us is creative in our own unique way. And that nurturing, that creativity is not only good for our souls, but also the souls of the people we love because we become better people. That creativity is also good for the community and the world as we find our niche and contribute what only we can give.
GR Mag: What other projects are you working on now?
AB: Freelance writers are always working on one piece or another. But I also started a book coaching business, AB Book Coaching, to help people get their books from idea to publication. And I’m thinking about a book similar to Chicken Scratch, but this time about our husky/hound, blue/brown-eyed hellion of a dog, with a title something like Dog Patch: Lessons on Living Holistically from a Naughty Hound.
A Book Launch Party with a talk, Q&A and giveaways will take place on Tuesday, May 23 at Baker Book House, 2768 East Paris Ave SE, at 7 p.m.
On June 15, Byle will present a talk and a reading, followed by Q&A at Schuler Books, 2660 28th St. SE. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, visit Ann Byle’s website at annbylewriter.com, her instagram, @annbyle or reach out on Facebook to Ann Byle.