Karen Schaler loves Christmas. Like, really loves Christmas. Like, owns Hallmark and Lifetime holiday movies on DVD, and all her friends call her “Christmas Karen” kind of love.
“Christmas is in my blood,” the author and screenwriter tells EW. “It’s like I bleed Christmas, so I don’t even know how not to celebrate.”
Schaler, who says her Dec. 19 birthday has always made her a lover of the holiday season, has put her obsession to good use, penning the Netflix breakout A Christmas Prince on spec and following up with Christmas Camp (a movie and novel) and Every Day Is Christmas, a Lifetime movie starring Toni Braxton.
In less than a year, Schaler went from a career as a travel reporter to a screenwriter behind a veritable cultural phenomenon, with a multi-book publishing deal and more Christmas screenplays in the works. How did she do it? By combining her lifelong love of holiday films with the research skills and tenacity she learned as an investigative journalist.
Schaler says she had always loved Hallmark Christmas movies and found a special comfort in them when she was reporting on front lines. “I called them my Hallmark therapy,” she says. “I came out of very difficult stories — war zones and what have you — and I really counted on them.… They were my way to let go of the stress and to have faith and hope and love again, and restore what I needed to go back out there.”
When a health issue took her off her feet for three weeks a few years ago, she used the time to study her beloved genre and take a stab at writing a holiday tale herself — from this came The Christmas Prince. “I knew 18 minutes in is the first act break, they can’t kiss before 10 minutes in,” Schaler says. “I studied it like I was in Afghanistan studying a war-zone situation.”
She took the same approach when it came to shopping the script, researching the top producers of Hallmark and Lifetime movies and submitting to them without an agent or manager. Surprisingly, she circumvented the screening process at many production companies and sold her script to Motion Picture Corporation of America, which made A Christmas Prince. The story was inspired by Schaler’s own background as a journalist and her time doing travel reporting in Wales, specifically from the angle of walking in Prince William and Kate Middleton’s footsteps.
Since then, her life has been a whirlwind. After the success of A Christmas Prince, she went to work on another screenplay, which became Christmas Camp, a holiday movie that has been produced but has yet to be announced by a network. The movie follows the grinchy Haley Hanson, who is shipped off to a Christmas camp at Holly Peak Inn to find her inner Christmas spirit and ends up finding love, while also fighting to save the failing inn.
After the movie went into production, Schaler couldn’t let the story go. “It’s really not your story anymore when you’re a screenwriter,” she explains. “It’s your baby and you give it to them, and now it [belongs to] the director and the executive producer and the network and the actor.… This story impacted me so [much] that as soon as I gave it away, I wanted to do more.”
Schaler knew she had more story to tell, so within a week of Christmas Camp going into production, she started writing a novel version. It was tricky because she was using the screenplay as an outline, not knowing what might change during production of the film that might cause the book to diverge. But, she says, it was also a comfort because she knew no matter how much things changed on screen, she could still tell the story the way she envisioned it on the page.
In January, Schaler reconnected with a literary agent who had sold one of her travel books 10 years prior; the agent informed her that it was already too late to sell a book to release in time for this Christmas. But they took a shot, and within a week the book went to auction. Soon Schaler had sold Christmas Camp (available now), the sequel Christmas Camp Wedding, and a still-untitled third book to Harper Collins. In the midst of this, Lifetime also reached out to her to write some pages for consideration to be named the screenwriter on an in-development Toni Braxton project. Spoiler alert: She got the job. (Schaler wasn’t involved with the recent Christmas Prince sequel due to her long list of commitments, she says.)
“It was a 10-month overnight success that took 10 years,” Schaler jokes of the speed with which she found success after plugging away at writing and various pursuits over the years.
As with A Christmas Prince, Schaler’s past reporting experiences — visiting Swiss chalets in Zurich and the Quartermain House in New Brunswick — informed Christmas Camp. So did personal ones: She introduced some of her favorite Christmas traditions into the story, most notably her family’s beloved Christmas cookie recipe, which is included in the back of certain editions of the book.
For the truly holiday-obsessed, Schaler has even created a real Christmas camp at the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., from Dec. 7 to 15, where guests can learn how to wrap presents, create floral arrangements, and make Schaler’s beloved Christmas cookies.
Whether readers attend her camp, make her cookies at home, or simply enjoy her books and films, Schaler says her main goal is to give them the same peace and joy these stories have offered her over the years. “At the holidays, we all need healing, and that’s what these Christmas books and movies can do,” she says. “These movies and these books comforted me, gave me joy and happiness. I wanted to give back. If someone can even have one moment of peace of mind, then I’ve done my job. That’s all I want.”