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Great-Grandma Writes First Book

Long a storyteller, Laura Lipari has started a writing career at age 92 with the publication of a children's book that tells the Adam and Eve story in question-and-answer style.

The 66-page book, "Gramma Shares Her Faith," is the size of a CD and is really Lipari's story, reprising her role as a schoolteacher and a mother telling stories to her five children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"I'm not an author," Lipari said in an interview at the home she shares in this wealthy Cleveland suburb with her sister, Virginia Curro, 88. "I'm someone who writes from the heart."

The book, the first of a planned series retelling biblical stories, is a modest venture, published by Oak Manor Publishing Inc. of Manchester, N.H., a one-man publishing house that has a stable of five or six authors with about 12 books in print.

Lipari's book debuted in June and has sold several hundred copies, mostly to her children for reselling. Oak Manor's John Greene says that a few hundred copies are in print — he would not be specific — and he's trying to get the book listed on Internet sales sites such as Barnes and Noble. He hopes it will be stocked by religious bookstores.

Lipari, dressed in a black and white pants suit with pearl earnings and necklace, sat with one leg crossed over the other in front a spacious marble fireplace, detailing her journey of faith from a Catholic upbringing, a survey of other religious traditions and a return to her childhood faith with a determination to study the Bible at the urging of a fundamentalist Christian friend.

"God accepts all religions if it comes from the heart," said Lipari, who sidestepped the debate of whether the Bible is literally true or a story meant to teach moral values.

"Call it what you will," she said. "Do I believe some of the (evolution) things that Darwin taught? Yes."

Evolution or not, Lipari said the goal of her book, and years of storytelling, is teaching the role of God in the world. "I tried to tell them how God created the world," she said. "We have a living God who understands us better than we do."

Lipari's Gramma character opens the book by agreeing to granddaughter Desy's demand for a story. The book includes a discussion of the Bible writers ("the people who wrote the Bible were inspired by God"), the definition of a soul ("God's gift when he gives us life") and going to church ("God doesn't force us to go. He hopes we want to go").

Lipari puts a new spin on the snake, suggesting it was beautiful and perhaps walked upright. The snake has traditionally been portrayed in art as a slit-eyed serpent wrapped around a tree limb tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

Gramma also defuses a debate among the children whether Adam or Eve was more responsible for eating the forbidden fruit ("I think we can all agree that both are guilty of committing the sin of disobedience").

Auxiliary Bishop Martin J. Amos, Lipari's former pastor, encouraged her to publish her handwritten manuscripts and said her first book reflects her faith, young-at-heart outlook and love of children. "I can imagine her telling that story to her grandchildren," he said.

Amos wasn't asked for a book jacket blurb but offered this endorsement in a telephone interview with The Associated Press: "An ancient story told in a charming fashion that would delight any young listener."

The active Lipari sometimes wishes for boring quiet time. She is involved with church activities, stays in touch with relatives and drives 125 miles to Chautauqua, N.Y., for summer visits catching up with friends and attending lectures on politics, history and religion.

Late-blooming authors occasionally hit it big, including Frank McCourt, whose first book, "Angela's Ashes," published in 1999 when he was 65 became a best seller. Harriet Doerr's first novel, "Stones for Ibarra," published in 1983 when she was 73, won the 1984 American Book Award for first work of fiction.

Most new books and novice authors don't make the big time, and religious-theme books aimed at children have a smaller niche.

The Book Industry Study Group trade association estimates the religious books segment of the $35 billion publishing industry at $2.3 billion in sales in 2005, up 8 percent. Still, beyond the powerhouse publishers, the 63,000 small- and mid-sized publishers have increasingly thrived by working outside traditional bookstore channels, the group said.

Lipari, with the deft touch of a grandmother settling down an unruly child, dismisses any discussion of whether her book will be a financial success.

"My book is not going to appeal to a general audience," she said. "Money is not important."

Her definition of publishing success? "If I get the children to read it and like it."

Greene is still working on promotional ideas, but Lipari can't stomach the idea of calling around to beg for bookstore shelf space. "I don't know why, maybe it's pride," she said.

That issue may be raised in her next project: the story of Cain and Abel.
By Thomas J. Sheehran

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