hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

March 28, 2013

From Haverhill to Hollywood

Nurse by trade, city native finds success in writing

By Bruce Amaro

---- — It’s a long-honored phrase among fiction authors: “Write what you know.”

That phrase worked for many of the great story-tellers, among them Ernest Hemingway. He was wounded during World War I, and later wrote a classic story featuring a wounded soldier and the nurse who cared for him.

That phrase has also been a guiding force for Haverhill native Karen (Lagasse) Struck. She left the city to marry a Californian and build a career in nursing. That work led to her becoming a writer for a TV medical drama now airing on TNT.

Struck’s TV writing career began when she sold her first script to the Hallmark Channel in 2007. Hallmark produced the movie “Charlie and Me” from her script in January 2008.

But the seeds of writing were planted for Struck decades earlier in a classroom at Haverhill High School. When Struck was a student there in the 1970s, she leaned towards literature.

“While the other kids had interests in history or social studies and some in math, I got my greatest enjoyment from words,” she said.

High school English teacher Lyn LeGendre gave the young girl’s interest some traction, introducing her to the way literature works.

“She was my greatest influence,” Struck said.

Years after being student and teacher, the women connected in 2008, after Struck’s Hallmark movie aired.

“Lyn had just found out she had cancer and was struggling with a thought that I imagine most teachers have, ‘Have I made a difference in my students’ lives?’’’ Struck said. “It was so amazing to speak with her again and to be able to say, ‘Wow, did you ever!’”

Struck remembered struggling with identifying a career path as high school wound down.

“I considered the writer’s life,” she said, “but knew that didn’t make sense, wasn’t a reality, and I went into nursing.” But she did not stop writing.

After high school, she entered the nursing program at Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing in Boston. Later, she entered the University of New Hampshire bachelor’s degree program and received her degree in nursing.

She met her future husband, a native Californian, while they were both skiing at a popular New England site. When they married and went to California to live, she took a master’s degree course in kinesiology, the scientific study of human movement, at UCLA. As the health care industry grew, Struck moved from intensive care unit nursing to consultant work in health care risk management.

She raised her daughter, who now works as an artist in Feliz, California.

Struck continued working in nursing — but she did not stop writing.

The combination clicked for her when, on her nursing job, she met a TV studio executive. He took a script written by Struck and began reviewing it. A short time later, he began working as a producer at the Hallmark Channel.

Hallmark made Struck’s script into the TV movie. With that to her credit, her work became popular and Hallmark picked up several more of her pieces.

Struck’s connection with TNT began in the mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she climbs several ranges each year. One day, when she was at 8,800 feet, her cell phone rang. An assistant to David E. Kelley asked if she could meet with him the next day at 10 a.m. in his Los Angeles office. He wanted to talk with her about working as a TV script writer.

“We took the tram down the mountain and I got on a plane to L.A. and made the 10 o’clock appointment,” Struck said.

Kelley’s name might sound familiar to those who follow TV dramas. He has made his career writing several well-known shows, among them “Boston Legal,’’ “The Practice,’’ “Ally McBeal’’ and “Boston Public.’’

When they met, Kelley remarked on Struck’s New England roots. Kelley is a native of Maine who moved west years ago, settling into drama production.

Struck took the job as a writer for Kelley’s drama series “Monday Mornings,’’ a medical drama based on a book by Sanjay Gupta, M.D., that first aired on TNT in February 2013. Gupta is the chief medical correspondent for CNN. The show is centered on a fictional hospital’s mortality conferences, in which surgeons grill each other with no outside witnesses and holding back no arguments.

Struck is still a nurse at heart, but her writing career allows her no time to work in the health field. But she still exercises her medical expertise when helping create a story for the next episode of “Monday Mornings.’’