CALM Author’s Lunch Serves Up Food for Thought

Greg Behrendt (He’s Just Not That Into You), Joyce Dudley (Santa Barbara County Senior Prosecutor and author of (Justice Served), Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club), Harley Jane Kozak ((Dating is Murder), Helie Lee ((The Absence of Sun) and Robert K. Tanenbaum ((Hoax) will join the ranks of the more than 70 authors who have informed, amused and moved Santa Barbara audiences for the past 18 years at the annual CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon.

About 800 people are expected to attend this year’s event, which will be held on March 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

Co-chairwoman Sharon Bifano said she was originally inspired almost 20 years ago, by Erma Bombeck’s Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon, to benefit the Kidney Association in Scottsdale, Arizona. When she moved to Santa Barbara and found out that CALM was looking for a new fundraiser, Bifano and co-chairwoman Stephanie Ortale stepped up to create CALM’s first Annual Authors’ Luncheon in 1987.

Unlike many philanthropic events, which pass the chairman’s responsibility on every year, Bifano and Ortale have managed to stick with the author’s lunch, as a team, since the very beginning.

While Bifano said, with a twinkle in her eye, that, “it hasn’t gotten easier,” the income and prestige have grown each year, along with the receipts. “We had 198 people at the first one,” she said. “I think we made about $200.”

Today, at $100 per ticket, the event routinely sells out.

“The success is really a compliment to Sharon and Stephanie,” said Marty Silverman, the CALM Auxiliary’s Second Vice President.

“It’s been a real learning experience,” said Bifano, who credits the late Paul Lazarus with the idea to use a lively interview format with the authors, rather than simply have them make speeches, as many events do.

KEYT anchor Debby Davison and Borders Books’ Kate Schwab will keep the proceedings dynamic, asking the authors questions about the writing process, their inspirations and even their personal lives.

Over the years some of the authors interviewed have included: Sue Grafton, Jane Russell, Barnaby Conrad, Michael Crichton, Julia Child, Ray Bradbury, Fanny Flagg, Maria Shriver and Jonathan Winters.

While big names help fill seats and raise money for the child abuse, sexual abuse and incest services and programs at CALM, Bifano cautions that the “best known celebrity is not always the best interview.” She cites “the two boys who own Three Dog Bakery” (Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff, authors of All-Natural Paw-Lickin Treats for Your Dog and the Three Dog Bakery Cookbook) as among the most entertaining interviews in past years. Another favorite was Iris Chang (The Rape of Nanking). “After the interview all of her books were sold.”

While helping a good cause motivates the authors, as does the chance to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara, Bifano said, “Most people come because we sell a lot of books.”

In addition to purchasing books by the interviewed authors (with a portion of the proceeds going to CALM), the following authors will also be available for book signing: Susan Branch, Jack Canfield (who will also serve as master of ceremonies), Deanna Moreau Cohen, Alan Glasser, Erin Graffy, Valerie Hobbs, Karen Langley, Ann Marie Parisi, Donal Sweeney, M.D. and Flavia Weedn.

Tickets are $100 and are available by calling 682.3925. For more information about CALM, visit

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on February 24, 2005.