Three years ago, Blaze Kelly Coyle and some friends were in Rockefeller Center to take in the enormous tree and surrounding bustle when she wondered aloud – what would happen if, when they chopped down the tree to bring it here, an animal got stuck in it?
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One of the friends noted, “That’s an idea for a children’s book.”
And so now it is one.
Coyle and co-author Andrew Romano created the story of “The Most Well-Traveled Squirrel in the Whole Wide World.” Shown in colorful and lively illustrations by Sanja Nenic, Tommy the squirrel gets ripped from his peaceful forest home, only to wake up amidst lights and noise and skyscrapers.
That is so very Coyle. A creative thought or spark brought to fruition, whether it’s through this book or other projects via her production company, Silver Phoenix Entertainment. Singing, acting and playing the piano since she was a little girl, she told me in our recent interview that she always wanted to make people smile. She’s taken that to an exhilarating level now, overseeing and shepherding projects that jazz her.
“When a door opens, I walk through it,” Coyle says. “I know good ideas when I hear them. That’s why I’m a producer.”
At age 39, she is also about inspiring children to pursue their dreams. That’s why Tommy the squirrel eventually leaves the confines of Rockefeller Center and makes his way to a nicely lit church, better known as St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He runs into Santa and his reindeer there and they have an illuminating chat where Tommy reveals he’s a bit homesick despite his wonderful new surroundings.
“I know how you feel,” Santa says. “The mix of emotions can be very surreal. You’re excited and awake yet worried and tired. These past few weeks were much more than you desired.”
How perfectly it captures the very real feelings that sweep over us, young and old, when we embark on a new adventure.
“I had an encounter with a squirrel when I was a kid,” says Coyle, who was born in Philadelphia and raised in Minotola, N.J. “I was in sixth grade. He got in the house and couldn’t get out. He panicked. I panicked. I locked myself in a room.”
She laughs at the memory. After that, it seemed natural that when the story in her head came to life, the animal would be a squirrel. The idea is to make it a series and perhaps see it come to life in animation. Adventure after adventure for Tommy. Live, baby, live.
Coyle walks her talk on this, pouring her energy and financial resources into her passions. Unlike so many who feel they must choose between the “money” job and the “creative” job, she has found a way to let one feed the other. A freelancer who is currently working as a broadcast technician at Ernst and Young and loving the stability of that work, when she isn’t there she’s acting as CEO of Silver Phoenix, reading her book to children in schools around New Jersey or promoting her off-Broadway musical (O Night Divine) or her company’s feature film (Echelon 8) or, well, you name it.
“I was an actress for really long time,” Coyle says. “In TV and movies. I did some modeling. I lived in California for a little while. Then I was getting roles I didn’t want to get. It was about integrity for me. I felt powerless as an actress.”
She flipped it to powerful. After all, at age 23 she had already stared down the threat of losing her voice for speaking and singing when she had tumors on her vocal chords.
“I learned a little about myself,” she says. “I thought, what do I do if I have no singing or speaking voice?”
Nicknamed Blaze since childhood because of her red hair, what an interesting turn for a Catholic girl when she learns the saint of the same-sounding name, St. Blaise, is known for blessing throats. She watched a lot of The Little Mermaid (red-headed and mute), used sign language to communicate and made sure not to cry, per doctor’s orders.
“Six months later, my first word was hello,” Coyle says. “I had been a soprano one. My voice felt much lower. I was a bluesy alto now.”
She wound up going into radio and meeting Leo Kirschner, her partner on O Night Divine and the forthcoming Anonymous Anonymous. Coyle is delighted to have used a song she wrote in third grade on the former and is pulling from things she wrote in high school for the latter. She attributes this to her mother being a “pack rat” and therefore saving all of her writings and such.
In between the creative, there is the practical. A few years ago, when she lost a broadcast technician gig at ESPN, she was collecting unemployment but taking advantage of the courses offered there. She is all about making her way, making art and making good on her quest to use her gifts.
“It’s important that when I put my head on the pillow, I say, ‘that was a good day,’” Coyle says.
So when Tommy the squirrel goes from marveling at the beauty of the tree to simultaneously being afraid to wander far from its familiar reach to finally venturing out, we cheer him. Coyle asks children at speaking engagements where they might want Tommy to visit and she gets answers like France, Disneyland, and Philadelphia. The series is writing itself.
As Coyle and Romano write, “Tommy thought hard about what Santa had taught him: That sometimes it is okay to be out on a limb. For if he always stayed so close to his childhood tree, he would never become all the squirrel he could be.”
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.