Bookmark and Share
Karen Struck '81
David Zaitz

Karen Lagasse Struck '81 writes about two kinds of hearts: the kind that feels love and the kind that needs bypass surgery.

Struck's love of writing began in high school, but she chose a more practical career path, earning her degree in nursing at UNH while working in the Lawrence General Hospital ICU. Marriage took her to the Los Angeles area, where she transitioned into medical risk management, but when her company began sending her to San Diego to meet with clients, she decided to use her train commute to start writing again. She bought a bunch of how-to books on different genres, and when she read one on screenwriting, thought, "That's me!"

Struck wrote her first screenplay, "Charlie & Me," on the train. The story involves a 12-year-old girl whose grandfather has a heart attack and eventually dies. Two key scenes take place on a train, and all the medical details are precise. It took Struck two years, 25 revisions, and a white knight—long-time television executive Tom Wertheimer—before she finally sold the script to the Hallmark Channel. Ironically, just before the cast and crew flew to Toronto to film, Wertheimer had emergency bypass surgery. Recovering at home, he invited Struck to visit him and watch the daily "rushes," or raw footage.

"A lot of writers say they're not included, and this was the opposite of that," she says. "It was an ideal experience. They knew it was my first film and a new second career, and they never forgot how amazing that was."

"Charlie & Me" aired in 2008 and was nominated for a Humanitas Award. Struck sold two other projects to Hallmark, and then Wertheimer helped her take the next big step—into television—by passing along her "spec script" for a TV medical drama to Emmy Award-winning writer-producer David E. Kelley. Kelley offered her a staff writing job on "Monday Mornings," a 2013 TNT series based on Dr. Sanjay Gupta's novel about the peer review meetings among surgeons at a major hospital.

Drawing on her years of medical experience, Struck crafted scenarios that would trigger legal dilemmas, conflicts, and ethical choices for the characters—including an episode in which a pair of surgeons question whether a man believed to have attempted suicide deserves an organ transplant. That episode netted Struck and Kelley another Humanitas nomination, but the series was not renewed. Still, she calls the show "the experience of a lifetime."

Struck has several pilots and new scripts in the pipeline, including a movie about a 10-year-old girl, a K-9 officer, and his bloodhound that UP TV will film this year, and a TV series that has nothing to do with medicine. She says the key to a successful career is unwavering commitment, not only to improving your writing, but to promoting your work to agents, producers, and studio executives.

"You have to love it that much, because there's somebody else who will do all those things. And you get punched down a lot."

Return to UNH Goes to Hollywood

blog comments powered by Disqus