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How a CSUF alumna turned TV journalist found success writing Christmas movies – Orange County Register


By Kim Mohr, contributing writer

If three-time Emmy winner Karen Schaler sees a door close, she instead “jumps through a window.”

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Lately, the window has been adorned with wreaths and mistletoe. The mantra has led the Cal State Fullerton alumna (class of ’87), a TV news war correspondent turned novelist and screenwriter, to unimaginable success. In just three years, Schaler has written five Christmas novels and five Christmas movies, a feat that has earned her the nickname “Christmas Karen.”

It’s a moniker she carries proudly, after her 2017 “A Christmas Prince” became the first-ever original Christmas movie for Netflix and is counted among its most-watched films.

This season, the charismatic Schaler has released another holiday feel-good offering: her new novel, “A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale.”

Schaler’s road to Yuletide bliss was no accident, though the path she took to get there was filled with brave leaps and bold moves.

“I’ve been preparing since I was 10. So, when the door opened for me, I was ready,” Schaler said.

While in elementary school, Schaler set her sights on Cal State Fullerton’s communications program. Being from out of state, she knew tuition would be hefty, so she focused her efforts on gymnastics and was poised for a scholarship. Then, an injury stopped Schaler in her tracks. Determined not to give up on her dream, at 17 she came to California to live with a family acquaintance in order to establish residency and attend school the following year.

It wouldn’t be the last time Schaler uprooted to pursue her dreams.

At Cal State Fullerton, Schaler earned a double major, highlighting the screenwriting class of Ronald Dyas as formative in her education. “It was a dream,” she says fondly.

But Schaler was on to a serious career as a journalist. She credits CSUF for giving her practical experiences that prepared her for that career. She remembers listening to legendary broadcaster Peter Jennings speak about journalists’ role as a watchdog for society.

“Underdog stories are my favorite,” Schaler said. It’s a theme she’s carried as her career has developed.

Karen Schaler, center, hosts “Christmas Camps” for her fans, to share recipes and traditions for the holiday. (Photo courtesy of Karen Schaler)

Upon graduation, off she went to tell those stories. She worked as a broadcast journalist in several markets and even worked for CNN. For one assignment, she was embedded in Afghanistan for a month to work on a documentary that would tell the stories of the soldiers she accompanied. In one life-changing incident, she was present with troops taking shelter during a bombing. During those moments, the soldiers spoke about what they would do if they made it out. Many spoke of finally taking that trip of a lifetime with a loved one.

When she returned home, Schaler intended to go back for another tour in Afghanistan. But the station she was working for said they would be unable to send her back. Schaler once again uprooted, moving to New York to pursue a new dream: She wrote a travel book, and then made videos promoting the book.

“I was working four different jobs seven days a week to get my travel show going,” she recalled. The result was “Travel Therapy,” for which she’s traveled to 68 countries to tell the most inspirational stories she could find.

After an injury forced a two-week hiatus from the show, she took to the Hallmark channel and started studying the mechanics of the Christmas movies she loved.

“I knew there was a formula,” she said. She would sit with her notebook, taking notes that would help guide her to a winning effort. There was just one problem: It was summer. Thinking she couldn’t sell a Christmas movie in July, she first wrote a romantic comedy. Using her reporter skills, she found the personal email address of a producer. He was interested. But his needs were elsewhere: Did Karen have a script about Christmas, possibly focusing on royal characters?

“As a good journalist looking for a break, I said, ‘Of course I do.’” Of course, she did not.

Schaler got to work, and “A Christmas Prince” was born. Two sequels followed. And her “Christmas Camp” is the trifecta: A book, movie and real-life or virtual experience that gives Schaler a chance to interact with her fans to highlight traditions, swap recipes, watch movies and more. (Learn how you can participate in the accompanying story.)

This Christmas, like so many that have come before, you won’t find Schaler snuggled up by a fire with a good Christmas book or hosting one of her virtual Christmas Camps. She has always volunteered on Christmas, lending a hand to the underserved on the day when they just might need to borrow some of Schaler’s infectious spirit.

“It just brings me so much joy,” she says.

Today, the former journalist is now the subject of news stories. She’s been featured in Forbes and on the “Today” show, among many others. What advice does she have for CSUF students who find themselves where she once sat?

“Bet on yourself. That’s what I try to do every day.”

On practical matters, Schaler says, “Write a story you can sit with for the next several years. It needs to be something you’re passionate about. Don’t chase fads.

“And take a business class!”

Pack your stockings for Christmas Camp

Karen Schaler has many of the same Christmas traditions as the rest of us: Recounting stories of how each ornament came to adorn the holiday tree, handwriting Christmas cards and, of course, watching a great Christmas movie.

But these days, she has a new holiday tradition that’s helping her reach more fans than ever. Inspired by her novel and Hallmark Channel movie of the same name, Schaler’s Christmas Camp has brought audiences large and small to virtual gatherings to celebrate the season.

During the free sessions, groups customize their Christmas content. Whether it’s reading Christmas stories, dressing up in pajamas to bake cookies (Schaler includes one of her grandmother’s recipes in each book) or mixing up the perfect Christmas cocktail, fans are flocking to the festive virtual mixers.

The gatherings can happen any time of year; but now, Schaler is setting her sights on a return to safe, in-person events, with “pop-up” Christmas Camps in California potentially on the horizon.

Those whose hectic holiday schedules don’t allow for an official Christmas Camp can host their own thanks to Schaler’s downloadable DIY Christmas Camp. Visit karenschaler.com/books/current-giveaway/ to have Christmas cheer delivered to your inbox.

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