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Literary Stars in the Spotlight at CALM’s Annual Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon

Dozens of writers were on hand to greet fans, sign books and support the work of the Santa Barbara nonprofit to prevent child abuse

A stellar lineup of literary stars showcased their latest novels at Child Abuse Listening Mediation’s 26th Annual Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon held March 10 at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort and presented by the CALM Auxiliary.

By midmorning, a throng of more than 600 enthusiastic supporters lined the corridor and reception rooms inside the hotel for a book signing and purchasing segment at this year’s luncheon headlined by thought-provoking and influential authors, such as Meredith Baxter, Jenna McCarthy and Simon Tolkien.

Additional guest authors showcased at the event included locals Bill Poett, Michel Nellis and Karen Lee Stevens, with a dozen more writers on hand to greet fans and sign books.

“This is primarily a fundraising event put on by CALM Auxiliary,which is a group of 50 women, many who have been supporting CALM for 30 years, who work diligently throughout the year to raise funds for prevention and treatment programs that work with abused children and work toward preventing abuse,” CALM executive director Cecilia Rodriguez said.

Since 1986, CALM Auxiliary women board members have collectively raised more than $1 million to help children and families across Santa Barbara County recover from the impact of the emotional and physical devastation caused by abuse.

Proceeds from the tickets and a percentage of book sales will benefit CALM, the only nonprofit organization in Santa Barbara County focused solely on preventing, assessing and treating child abuse and family violence.

Baxter, a celebrity author and actress, smiled and chatted with fans while signing copies of her autobiography, Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame and Floundering (Crown Archetype, $25). And although Baxter was revered as the all-American mom Elyse Keaton on the popular 1970s sitcom Family Ties, her fictional life was far from her private life.

Baxter’s new tell-all book reveals the pitfalls from three abusive marriages that ended in divorce and shares her struggles with alcoholism, a painful and successful fight against breast cancer, and problems with low self-esteem harbored by an abusive relationship with her mother.

“I thought I was unloved and unlovable as a child,” Baxter said.

The 64-year-old Baxter, who discovered she was a lesbian in 2002 and came out publicly just last year, has been in recovery for 21 years and was inspired to write the book based on lessons she had learned from the 12-step program of sobriety.

“Being in the program I realized that I could talk about the drug and alcohol activities, domestic abuse, breast cancer, the whole coming out about being gay, and take a look at what I’d thought was taking me down and change my attitude about that, and write about what that path was for me,” she said. “I’d developed the faculty of looking at myself and taking responsibility for myself and my actions. I can only hope that people will look at the book and recognize aspects of their own lives, their own selves, and say, ‘Yes, OK, I can do this, too.’”

Although the book is filled with painful experiences from her life, Baxter said she hopes readers will remember all the funny parts as well.

“What has saved me is my sense of humor,” she said. “I don’t know what other people experience in the book. No one tells me it’s a laugh riot because it’s not, but the whole idea is not to take yourself too seriously. I would hope that people understand aspects of that, and I want them to see themselves because I think we are so much alike.”

McCarthy, international writer and author of If It Was Easy They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and Loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married (Berkley Books, 2011), sat a table across the room from Baxter, laughing along with fans who soaked in her positive energy and playful, quirky persona.

“There is no other event that I’ve ever been part of that makes me feel more a part of Santa Barbara,” McCarthy said. “I’m not originally from here, but when I am at this event I feel like I’m at home.”

McCarthy proclaimed that she initially wrote the book, which highlights the humorous as well as trying side effects of marriage, after a fight with her husband.

“I woke up the next day and started making a list of all the things that couples fight about: sex, TV, traveling and kids, and I thought, I have to write about this,” she said.

McCarthy admits she wrote the novel primarily for a female audience but was surprised to learn that she attracted male readers as well.

“I’m shocked and amazed,” she said. “Men loved this book. One guy emailed me just the other day and said, ‘I’m buying this book for all of my friends for Christmas.’”

McCarthy, who has two young daughters, said she was happy to support an agency that brings attention and raises awareness about child abuse through preventive campaigns.

CALM was established in 1969 by local nurse-turned-abuse advocate Claire Miles, who decided to take action against child abuse when she learned that an overworked and distressed father had shaken his infant son to death. Miles formed a parent help line in her home and placed ads in the local newspaper to reach out to strained parents in an effort to stop impending child abuse and protect at-risk children in the community.

Today, with the support of volunteers, board members, professional staff and Auxiliary members, including new members and event co-chairwomen Becky Cohn and Carolyn Gillio, CALM has evolved into a full-fledged clinical service center.

CALM now provides a multiplicity of bilingual English and Spanish programs offered on a sliding fee scale; no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.

The agency’s diverse community based programs include the Child Abuse Assessment and Treatment Program that provides individual, family and group therapy to victims affected by abuse, as well Family Violence Counseling services that are offered to youths who have witnessed domestic violence. Another service is the school-based prevention program that offers a series of child abuse prevention presentations to children within the Santa Barbara County school system teaching methods to be safe from abduction, negative effects from cyber-bullying and Internet safety.

More than 1,500 children receive services yearly, and another 6,000 receive education and outreach prevention services in Santa Barbara County.

“CALM is unique because they address all forms of abuse, bullying in the schools, sexual abuse, domestic abuse and the ways people are emotionally abused,” said singer Linda Newlin, who will perform songs from her latest CD, titled Love Your Self, at the Lobero Theatre on April 9 to benefit CALM.

“They literally help to heal the community.”

After the book signing, attendees strode to the luxurious Santa Ynez Ballroom for lunch and the highly anticipated celebrity author interviews presentation hosted by Master of Ceremonies Andrew Firestone, with special guests Debby Davison and Tom Weitzel, who interviewed Baxter, McCarthy and Tolkien, and actor Joseph Mascolo, who plays Stefano DiMera on the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives.

A delicious menu from Fess Parker’s accompanied the presentations highlighted by roasted chicken breast stuffed with apple sage dressing, beurre blanc sauce, and white and green asparagus and creamy risotto. A farmers market vegetable strudel was also available, topped off by chocolate ganache and caramel tart with raspberry garnish.

During his interview, Tolkien, author of The King’s Diamond (Random House, 2011) and grandson of J.R. R. Tolkien, author of the The Lord of the Rings, explained that he began writing late in life after a career as a barrister in London, where he served as a trial lawyer. An abiding interest in modern European history inspired him to write suspense novels.

But Tolkien confessed that he wanted to create something of his own uninhibited from his famous grandfather.

“I started writing late in life, at 40, because I wanted to have something to show for myself at the time when The Lord of the Rings movies were being made,” Tolkien said. “But I think that I’d been preparing to write for a long time. So I started to write about what I knew, which was courtroom drama and thrillers. Now I’ve broadened out to historical mysteries, but it’s still the same principle — to keep people excited.”

Tolkien is currently working on his next novel, titled Orders From Berlin, with an expected June release.

“It’s about a plot to assassinate Winston Churchill and has the same detective featured in The King of Diamonds who by mistake stumbles onto a plot to kill Churchill that’s orchestrated from Nazi Germany,” he said. “So it’s set in 1940, and it has a different angle because I have actually included historical figures in the book, like Hitler and Churchill.”

After the interviews, long-standing CALM board and Auxiliary members Cindy and Steve Lyons were presented with the Claire Miles Award for continued dedication to the agency.

“Kids can’t vote or take care of themselves so they need other adults to help them break the cycle of child abuse,” Steve Lyons said. “Children who are abused need to understand it’s not their fault, and it doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s not the norm.

“These parents aren’t bad, they just don’t know how else to parent and have often been abused themselves.”

Cindy Lyons said the key to stopping abuse is educating parents and children on how to ask and get help to learn about prevention.

“Child abuse isn’t a sexy thing, and so it’s a very difficult concept for a lot of people to wrap around and support as opposed to the arts,” she said. “But the kind of people that CALM attracts are really caring human beings that want to affect change.”

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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