Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Companion books celebrate grandparents

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For better or worse, grandparents have unique influence over their grandchildren.

In her recently published companion books, ‘‘All My Good Habits I Learned from Grandma” and ‘‘All My Bad Habits I Learned from Grandpa,” writer Laurel Seiler Brunvoll celebrates the good and bad practices that grandmothers and grandfathers, respectively, help to instill.

Despite the latter’s title, Brunvoll assures that ‘‘It’s all poking fun. Nothing is meant to be mean.”

The Gaithersburg-based writer came up with the idea for a book on grandfathers when her sons were younger, after noticing the ‘‘crazy stuff” the boys, now 12 and 14, would do after spending time with her father.

‘‘We joked that all the bad stuff came from him,” Brunvoll says.

Her father, for example, taught her sons how to blow the paper wrapper off a straw in a restaurant. Brunvoll recalls an incident when her dad blew the wrapper clear across to another table and right into someone else’s food.

When she mentioned the topic to her agent a couple of years ago, ‘‘he said it would make a great book.”

A publisher liked the idea, too, and expanded it to include a companion book on grandmothers. Both books feature a collection of stories written from the perspectives of grandparents, grandchildren and parents, with subjects that range from funny to sweet to poignant.

Brunvoll wrote stories for the books, including one about her own mother, who died shortly after Brunvoll told her she was pregnant with her second child.

‘‘She’s still an important part of their life, even if she’s not around any more,” Brunvoll says, adding that stories, photos and videos are a good way to help keep grandparents alive in children’s memory.

Her own grandfather inspired a story in the book on grandpas.

‘‘He was such a jokester,” says Brunvoll, who also wrote a story about her grandfather-in-law and his experience in a nursing home. ‘‘He lived to be 97 and he kept a positive outlook all the time.”

Because her own grandfather died almost 20 years ago, Brunvoll asked her dad and sister for help in remembering some of the details for her story.

Originally, she had planned to write all the stories for the book about grandfathers. But after her agent submitted the book proposal, the publisher envisioned the book as a collection by contributing writers.

‘‘It made it better because you have a variety of perspectives and different periods,” she explains.

Brunvoll, 39, had been writing nonfiction as a freelance writer since finishing college, but this was her first project that required finding contributing writers. She held a panel presentation at a writers conference and put out the word about the book. The message spread when the attendees went home and told their local writers groups. Brunvoll appealed to other writers groups across the country and called for contributions on the Internet.

‘‘I got submissions from as far away as Alaska and the Netherlands,” she says.

Because the publisher had a very specific format in mind, Brunvoll was able to assign word counts and give exact instructions to would-be contributors.

‘‘I selected the stories myself,” Brunvoll says, adding that her editor approved them, too. ‘‘It was more difficult than I thought. You always feel badly when you can’t pick everybody.”

Designed in an easy-to-read format, the book includes humorous photos along with quotes and quips on grandmotherly or grandfatherly advice, humor and folk wisdom interspersed with the stories.

‘‘These are definitely meant to be gifts,” says Brunvoll, who recently signed the books at a gift show in Atlanta. She heard gift shop owners’ plans to promote the book as gifts to new grandparents and for Mother’s and Father’s Day.

Brunvoll’s first book, ‘‘Life on Hold,” published in 2001, was more of a niche publication, she admits, geared specifically to people living with a serious illness. She co-wrote it with her father after both her parents developed cancer.

‘‘I cried a lot through the writing,” Brunvoll says. ‘‘It was difficult, but at the same time, it was very therapeutic.”

The book serves as a comprehensive tool for coping with illness, including advice on practical, emotional, spiritual and interpersonal issues.

‘‘I really wanted to help other people,” Brunvoll says, adding the book was the type of resource she would have liked to see in one place while she and her family were coping with her mother’s illness.

More than a decade after her mother’s death, Brunvoll works with hospice groups and conducts workshops locally and nationally on helping families cope with illness.

‘‘It’s been fun doing these two books,” Brunvoll says about the grandparent companion books. ‘‘Family is very important to me.

‘‘Laughing is a very important part of life.”

‘‘All My Bad Habits I Learned from Grandpa” and ‘‘All My Good Habits I Learned from Grandma” (Thomas Nelson, Inc., $12.99 each) are available at Borders Books in Gaithersburg and online at