Categotry Archives: Writers/Editors


Harriet Klausner

No comments yet

Categories: Writers/Editors

Death has closed the book on the controversial life of Harriet Klausner.

The prolific book reviewer had a unique talent that brought her online fame: She could speed-read through up to six books a day. Harnessing this skill, Klausner became a cultural phenomenon.

For much of the ‘oughts, she was the #1 ranked reviewer on As her influence in the book industry grew, publishers began sending her review copies of upcoming novels, sometimes as many as 50 a week. In 2006, Time Magazine even named Klausner a person who had significant impact on the information age.

That impact was lessened, somewhat, when Amazon instituted a new ranking system. Although Klausner’s “top reviewer” rating dropped to #2,410, the site continued to honor her contributions by naming her the #1 Hall of Fame Reviewer — a recognition she earned in 11 different years.

“During the 2000s, Klausner was a well-known name in online book circles, and it was rare to see any popular title on Amazon without a Klausner customer review at the top of the list. She was an important part of the history of Amazon, and deserves to be remembered as such,” TeleRead editor Chris Meadows said.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Klausner was always surrounded by literature. Her father worked at the McGraw-Hill publishing house, which meant her childhood home was filled to the brim with books. As an adult, she earned a master’s degree in library science, did a stint as an advance reader for the Doubleday Book Club, labored at several book stores and worked as an acquisition librarian.

Klausner’s desire to become a critiquing machine was sparked while writing a monthly review column of recommended reads. Once her son Eric was born, she launched a freelance writing career and began building her brand as a popular reviewer of genre fiction.

“I enjoy a heated romance, especially written by the Sandras — Chastain and Brown. I love science fiction and fantasy when the realm feels real. Horror is entertaining to me when the vampires seem as if they are another living (dead?) species. [Dean] Koontz remains my king. However, I particularly take pleasure from almost all the sub-genres of mystery to include comic books starring Batman and Ms. Tree,” Klausner once said.

Yet there were books that simply didn’t hold the Georgia resident’s interest.

“I do not enjoy nonfiction,” she said, “especially biographies (boring) or most westerns.”

Illness and insomnia helped to turn Klausner into a homebound, book-reading, review-writing machine. Over the course of 15 years, she posted 31,014 reviews on Amazon, including a positive critique of John Benedict’s medical thriller “Adrenaline,” and a rave review for “Onward, Drake!” by Larry Correia, both of which appeared just days before her death.

Thousands of readers revered her efforts, buying novels based on her generally glowing reviews. Authors also considered the act of getting “Klausnered” a rite of passage since her reviews often helped to boost the average ranking of new tomes. One author, John Birmingham, even named a character in his novel “Designated Targets” after her, though Klausner failed to disclose this fact when she reviewed the book.

Romance novelist Elizabeth Delisi, whose books received blurbable accolades from Klausner, praised her critiques.

Harriet was a wonderful reviewer, whose support of new authors gave many of them the hope to keep on writing. She will be sorely missed,” Delisi said in an online condolence book.

Sara Nelson, the editorial director of and a contributor to the blog Omnivoracious, described Klausner as the “best kind of reader.”

“It’s no surprise that she had major credibility with Amazon readers and book lovers; her reviews garnered more than 119,000 ‘helpful’ votes over the years,” Nelson noted. “In other words, people counted on her thoughts.”

Klausner also had countless vocal detractors. Many people posted complaints on her reviews claiming she was a fraud; they simply didn’t believe she could possibly read so many books. Others accused her of being a collective of reviewers all writing under the same moniker in order to achieve fame and receive free copies of books.

Some readers disliked the style of her reviews, which frequently just summarized the story with a bit of positive opinion at the end. Some took issue with the fact that she gave so many four- or five-star ratings. And then there were those who groused that Klausner didn’t disclose the fact that she received thousands of books, including not-for-sale advanced review copies, from publishers.

In profiles and interviews, Klausner addressed a few of these issues. On Books ‘N’ Bytes, she scoffed at the fraud claims, describing herself as a “hyper-speed-reader.” She told The New York Times that she was able to get through so many novels because many weren’t very long.

“You ever read a Harlequin romance?” she asked. “You can finish it in one hour.”

Klausner also defended her decision to avoid writing negative reviews by declaring herself a member of the “if you don’t have anything nice to write, don’t write anything at all” school of literary criticism. If, after 50 pages, a book didn’t capture her interest, she’d just cast it aside and move on to another.

“I have one basic criterion: A book should entertain me and take me away from the rest of the world,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

To the rest of her detractors, Klausner’s response was simple and pointed: “Get a life. Read a book.”

Klausner died on Oct. 15. Cause of death was not released. She was 63. When describing how she’d like to be remembered, Klausner said her husband Stan had already devised the perfect epitaph: “Give me literature or give me death.”


Vincent Bugliosi

1 comment

Categories: Law, Writers/Editors

Vincent Bugliosi, the former Los Angeles attorney who prosecuted cult leader Charles Manson before becoming a bestselling true crime author, died on June 6 of cancer. He was 80.

The Minnesota native earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami and a law degree from UCLA. In the 1960s, the ambitious young lawyer joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, where he built a reputation as a top-notch prosecutor, securing convictions in 105 of 106 felony jury trials, including 21 murder cases.

Out of all his cases, Bugliosi was best known for prosecuting Charles Manson and four other defendants in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, a trial he later wrote about in the book “Helter Skelter.”

Actress Sharon Tate was married to director Roman Polanski and eight months pregnant on Aug. 9, 1969 when she and four others — coffee heiress Abigail Folger, director Voytek Frykowski, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring and Stephen Parent — were killed inside a house she sublet from producer/songwriter Terry Melcher. Polanski was out of the country at the time of the slayings. The following night, the mutilated bodies of grocers Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were discovered bearing the same grisly crime signature.

With the help of a jailhouse tip, police linked the murders to Manson and his “family” of followers. They were arrested two months later and put on trial in 1970. The high-profile case, which involved dozens of witnesses, lasted more than nine months and cost the county a then-record $1 million. In the end, however, Bugliosi convinced the juries that Manson was a murderous cult leader who had masterminded the slayings. Manson’s followers Susan Atkins, Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were convicted of perpetrating the crimes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody to be as hard a worker as Vince,” Stephen R. Kay, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who worked with Bugliosi on the Manson trial, told The Los Angeles TImes. “He would go home after the trial every day, take a nap for an hour, get up and work until 3 or 4 a.m., sleep for a couple more hours and go back to work. And he always appeared fresh, never tired.”

Manson and his followers were originally sentenced to death for the murders, but those sentences were commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972, the Los Angeles Times reported. Atkins died in prison in 2009 while the others remain behind bars to this day.

“The execution of a condemned man is a terrible thing, but murder is an even more terrible thing,” Bugliosi told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “They deserved to die, these people, and I asked for the death penalty and I would do so again…I’m disappointed, of course, particularly with respect to Manson.”

Although Bugliosi would spend the 1970s in private practice, writing books became his second career. “Helter Skelter,” which he co-wrote with Curt Gentry, was the first of his many bestsellers all of which he penned longhand on yellow legal pads. “Helter Skelter” spawned two TV movies, Variety reported, as did the books “And the Sea Will Tell” and “Till Death Us Do Part.” “Reclaiming History,” Bugliosi’s 1,600-page take on the Kennedy assassination and the book he considered his magnum opus, served as the basis for the 2013 film “Parkland.”

More recently, Bugliosi caused a stir with the 2008 book “The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder,” not just because of its controversial content, but because most print and TV media outlets refused to discuss it, The New York Times reported. The book, which laid out a legal case for holding President Bush “criminally responsible” for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, hit the bestseller list despite the blackout.

His son, Vincent Bugliosi Jr., told The Associated Press that his father simply had “an unflagging dedication to justice.”

Bugliosi is survived by Gail, his wife of 59 years, his son Vincent and his daughter Wendy.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


Edwin Kagin

No comments yet

Categories: Law, Writers/Editors

Edwin KaginThe story of an atheist “finding God” while at the end of life is not new. Fear of death — and what may lie beyond — can prompt anyone to turn to religiosity. But not Edwin Frederick Kagin. He remained a staunch non-believer to the very end.

Born in Greenville, S.C., Kagin was the son of a Presbyterian pastor. He grew up in that faith, and spent many years reading the Bible and attending church services, but he eventually turned away from all forms of religion.

“I was born an atheist, just like you were, and every other human being who lives,” Kagin said. “The appropriate question is, ‘When did the god-talk get poured into your innocent little ear?”

Kagin served as a medic in the U.S. Air Force, then attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, Park College in Missouri and the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He earned his juris doctor from the School of Law of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and became a self-described “lawyer poet” and secular activist.

In his professional life, Kagin championed the separation of state and church and was an outspoken advocate for atheists. Kagin won a federal court ruling in 1999 that required judges in Kentucky to let parents receive counseling from a non-sectarian agency, rather than exclusively from Catholic social services. In 2010, he convinced a federal appeals court to rule that the placement of 12-foot high crosses along Utah highways to honor fallen state troopers violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government endorsement of religion. The Utah Highway Patrol Association had claimed the crosses were not a religious symbol.

However, his efforts in the court were not always successful. In 2008, Kagin tried and failed to block the ex-wife of his client, an atheist, from enrolling their son at a religious school. He was also unable to persuade a federal appeals court in New York to reverse a ruling allowing the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum to display a cross of two steel beams found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kagin called the inclusion of cross a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state; the judge said it was a historic relic.

Kagin will be remembered as a “legal strategist extraordinaire for the American atheist movement,” said David Silberman, president of American Atheists. “The country is a better place for him.”

Outside of the courtroom, Kagin practiced what he preached. He was the first state director for Kentucky for the American Atheists — an organization founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose lawsuit (Murray v. Curlett) prompted the Supreme Court to end daily prayer in public schools — and later served as the group’s national legal director. He was also one of the notable signers of the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Manifesto, which defined Humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

“Atheism means without a belief in a god. That’s it. Within that shell are many many different points of view,” Kagin wrote.

Kagin and his wife Dr. Helen Good co-founded Camp Quest, a summer camp for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist and other freethinking families, in 1996. Camp Quest was created to counter the exclusion of nontheists from the Boy Scouts, and catered to young nonbelievers, ages 8 to 17, many of whom had been bullied for their lack of faith. Along with traditional camp activities like archery, kayaking, crafts and hiking, Camp Quest teaches campers about astronomy, biology, ethics and philosophy. Each session also includes an “invisible unicorn challenge” in which campers are encouraged to prove the existence of two fictional invisible unicorns and win a cash prize. Since the challenge began 18 years ago, the prize has yet to be claimed. The exercise is meant to teach the campers to think rationally and critically.

“He was gruff, and generous, and brilliant, and cantankerous all at once. Edwin will have the only kind of immortality that we get — his legacy will long out last him. Edwin’s legacy is thousands of happy campers who have a place to learn, laugh, and belong because of Camp Quest. We will miss him so much,” said Camp Quest executive director Amanda Metskas.

As “the candidate without a prayer,” Kagin unsuccessfully campaigned for the Kentucky Supreme Court in 1998 and the Kentucky State Senate in 2000. Kagin was also a founder and board member of Recover Resources Center, which provides an alternative addiction recovery program to the religiously-oriented Alcoholics Anonymous. In 2005, he and Helen were named “Atheists of the Year” by American Atheists. He received the honor again in 2008.

Kagin was a frequent speaker and debater, and appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs. He spoke out against fundamentalist religious education, creationism and granting preferential treatment to religious groups in tax filings.

Described by friends and fans as kind, judgmental, irreverent, intelligent, funny, passionate and thought-provoking, Kagin developed a reputation for putting on (sometimes offensive) stunts to get his message across. He often donned priest or monk costumes and began lectures by referring to his audience as “sinners.” He would describe Mary Magdalene as a deranged hooker, call the Holy Eucharist “Swallow the Leader” and have female atheists perform the song “Back In Their Burkas Again” while wearing the full-body covering. Kagin even held mock communion services and gleefully laughed as he used a blow-dryer labeled “Reason and Truth” to de-baptize people.

A prolific writer, Kagin was a contributing author of the 2003 book “The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America.” Two years later, he published a collection of essays and poems titled “Baubles of Blasphemy.” When Helen, Kagin’s wife of 25 years, died in 2010, he penned a tribute in her honor on his online journal, Blasphemous Blogging.

Kagin was previously married to Sandra Graves who gave him four children, and was a step-father to one daughter. One of his progeny, Steven, became a pastor at a Disciples of Christ church in Kansas, but Kagin maintained they had an excellent relationship. “We just understand there are certain things we really can’t, at this point, talk about,” he said.

“In a movement noted for its large personalities, Edwin Kagin was one of the largest of all,” Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, stated.

Kagin died on March 28 after suffering for several years from heart disease. He was 73. His family plans to celebrate his life with a “fun-eral.”


In Memoriam: A Look Back At The People We Lost in 2013

No comments yet

Categories: Actors, Extraordinary People, Government, Hollywood, Media, Politicians, Politics, Writers/Editors

hourglass.jpgSome people view obituaries as morbid stories, but in truth only one line of an obit deals with death. The rest of the story focuses on the amazing lives people lead. In 2013, these 13 obituaries were the stories that most resonated with me:

* Helen Thomas, reporter, columnist and dean of the White House Press Corps

* Abigail Van Buren, advice columnist

* Roger Ebert, movie critic

* Elmore Leonard, author

* Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the first black president of South Africa

* Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain

* Ed Koch, former New York City mayor

* Gary David Goldberg, TV producer

* Ray Harryhausen, special effects pioneer

* Tom Clancy, author

* Peter O’Toole, actor

* James Gandolfini, actor

* Jean Stapleton, actress


Helen Thomas

1 comment

Categories: Media, Writers/Editors

Helen Thomas Helen Amelia Thomas was born with an inquisitive nature. Even as a child, she was fascinated with the world around her. And it was this insatiable curiosity about life that took her all the way to the White House.

Born in Winchester, Ky., and raised in Detroit, Thomas was the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Her father George came to the U.S. in 1892 from Syria; at Ellis Island the immigration officer Anglicized his surname Antonious to Thomas. Although he couldn’t read or write and was blind in one eye, he married her mother Mary, fathered nine children (Helen was the seventh) and operated a small grocery store. In the midst of such a large family, the short-statured and painfully shy Helen developed a loud voice and a quick wit that would help her later in life.

Thomas was 12 years old when she decided to become a newspaper reporter, and her fate was sealed in the 10th grade after she saw her first byline in the school paper. At Wayne University (now Wayne State University), she majored in English because the college didn’t offer journalism courses, and worked on the college newspaper. With the firm belief that she had “printer’s ink” in her veins, Thomas moved to Washington D.C. after graduating in 1942.

The country was at war in Europe and the Pacific, and many industries that were dominated by men began opening their doors to female applicants. Yet it still took Thomas a full year of knocking on doors at the city’s four newspapers to land a job as a “copyboy” on the now-defunct Washington Daily News. There she ran errands, fetched wire stories and made coffee — all for $17.50/week. But Thomas didn’t care. “I guess I would have swept the floors if they told me to. As far as I was concerned, I was working in journalism,” she wrote in her book, “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times.”

After a few months, Thomas was promoted to cub reporter and assigned to cover local news. One of her duties involved writing obituaries, which required her to call up the families of soldiers who appeared on the casualty rolls. “The horror of it all was that sometimes we called the families before the War Department (there was no Pentagon then) had even notified them. We’d hear the screams over the phone. This was a very sobering thing,” she wrote.

Within a year, the young and energetic reporter went to work for United Press (later United Press International), where she remained for nearly 60 years. Thomas covered the Justice Department, the Supreme Court, the Post Office, the Federal Communications Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. For years she toiled, writing hundreds of stories, and it was her hard-driving, competitive nature and utter devotion to the job that brought her to the White House press room.

In 1960, United Press already had two reporters covering the president of the United States: Merriman “Smitty” Smith and Al Spivak. But after Thomas began showing up to help out with various stories — and to cover First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy — they generously allowed her to join their previously all-male ranks.

Thomas believed that the White House belonged to the American people and she felt that in many ways it was hallowed ground. So she always counted herself “immensely privileged, even lucky” to go there every day and keep a watchful eye on the country’s leaders. “People hunger for information,” she wrote. “One of the great things about being in journalism is that you’re helping to educate people, that you are really giving them information that they need to preserve a democracy.”

Over the course of covering 10 administrations — from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama — Thomas took it upon herself to ask the hard questions. She soon became known as the White House watchdog, or as The New York Times described her, an equal-opportunity pit bull, one who refused to allow the people in power to work unchecked. In this way, Thomas was the epitome of everything the fourth estate stood for: to act as the people’s voice and to make sure those in power wielded it responsibly. “It’s been said that the questions I ask of presidents are the kind that are on the mind of a ‘housewife from Des Moines,’ and I hope that is true,” Thomas wrote. “To me, she personifies what the nation wants to know, and too many times these presidents have forgotten they are responsible and accountable to her and the country.”

The tradition of giving the wire services the first question and a front row seat in the press room provided Thomas with the opportunity to set the tone for presidential briefings, and made her the bane of both presidents and press secretaries alike. Her dogged pursuit of the truth was viewed by some to be overly combative, but others appreciated her penchant for asking hard-hitting questions.

Thomas’ reporting prowess lead to a promotion in 1974 to White House bureau chief, and once the briefings were televised, the public began to recognize her as the feisty woman up front who would demand the truth and end press briefings with the polite phrase “Thank you, Mr. President.” On a cab ride in 1988, the driver turned around and asked her, “Aren’t you the woman the presidents love to hate?”

Thomas was at the hospital when John F. Kennedy Jr. was born. She danced with Lyndon B. Johnson at an inauguration party, but later earned his ire when he found out that his daughter Luci was getting engaged from one of her stories. She was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon to China during his historic trip in 1972, and was the only reporter to land an exclusive interview with Martha Mitchell (the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell), which helped expose some aspects of the Watergate scandal. Thomas described Gerald Ford as friendly and down-to-earth and found Jimmy Carter to be very religious and amiable. Although she thought Ronald Reagan lacked credibility, she listened to him describe the terrible pain he felt after being shot and accompanied him to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

While she described President George H.W. Bush as personable, Thomas viewed his son, George W. Bush, as the “worst president in American history.” When those comments were published in a California newspaper, the second Bush White House retaliated by not calling on her during a press conference (it was the first time in four decades that she was not granted the first question). Thomas later apologized to the president, and Bush accepted it, but her view of his decisions did not change. In her book, “Watchdogs of Democracy: The Waning Washington Press Corps And How It Failed The Public,” Thomas also took the White House and Pentagon reporters to task for blithely accepting the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war: “I honestly believe that if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush administration’s war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.”

The feisty journalist described Bill Clinton as brilliant, secretive and quick to anger, but noted that he took the time to attend a surprise party for her birthday and even tried to interview her. As for Obama, she liked him well enough; however, she strongly disapproved of the way his administration tried to control the press.

When Thomas wasn’t reporting the news, she penned “Backstairs at the White House,” a popular syndicated column that offered an insider’s view of each administration. “I can say that after all these years of president-watching, I’m still in awe of the presidency and what it means to Americans, but not necessarily in awe of the man who was sitting there at any given time,” she wrote.

As the longest-serving White House journalist, Thomas earned numerous nicknames, including “First Lady of the Press” and the “Dean of the White House Press Corps.” Her groundbreaking career helped clear the path for countless women in journalism; she not only led by example, she shattered the glass ceiling in the press room and then encouraged others to follow in her stead.

Thomas served as president of the Women’s National Press Club from 1959 to 1960, and financial secretary of the National Press Club (once women were allowed to join). She was elected the first woman president of the White House Correspondents Association, and was inducted as the first woman member of the Gridiron Club.

Thomas was the first woman and the first wire service reporter to ever receive the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award (other recipients include Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid). She also received more than 30 honorary degrees and numerous other awards, including the William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit and the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. In 1998, the White House Correspondents’ Association honored her by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.

On May 17, 2000, the day after United Press International was acquired by News World Communications Inc., an international media conglomerate controlled by Unification Church leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Thomas resigned in protest. She joined Hearst Newspapers as an opinion columnist two months later, but the move cost her the right to ask the first question in press briefings.

Despite such an illustrious career, Thomas retired in 2010 following the broadcast of controversial, off-hand statements she made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A rabbi who was visiting the White House pulled out a video camera and asked Thomas for comments about Israel. She replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she said they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” Thomas later apologized for the remarks, but they cost her a great deal of respect in the industry. The Society of Professional Journalists voted to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement, and her alma mater discontinued the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.

Outside of work, Thomas lived a fairly quiet life. She woke each day at dawn, and by 6 a.m. was reading the newspapers and wires as she drank her coffee. Her home office was filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and six of the books on those shelves bore her name.

At 51, she wed Douglas Cornell, an Associated Press reporter who she described as her “competition for 10 years and her husband for 11.” Since he was also a journalist, Cornell understood Thomas’ devotion to the job, so in that way, they were well-matched. Unfortunately, after only four years of marriage, Cornell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1982 at the age of 75. “He left a big hole in my life. He was a wonderful husband, wise and good and a great friend,” Thomas said. When asked if she liked being married, Thomas replied, “It was probably the most unexpected and wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Thomas died on July 20. Cause of death was not released. She was 92.

Photo by Michael Foley. Used with permission.

1 2 3 4 5 66 67