Two weeks ago was spring break for two of my northern families.
My cousin, Toan, lives in Minnesota with his wife, Sharon, and their three kids, Ethan, Ally, and Emma. Toan is the family electronics guru. He speaks technology like most of us speak Starbucks. He’s a genius. We all love Toan. Everyone who meets him, loves Toan. You get the picture. Toan is The Man.
Where Toan is Mr. Mellow, the same cannot be said of his sister, Hien.
Hien (pronounced “Hen”) lives on the outskirts of DC with her husband, John, and their three sons, John-Tyler (my godson), Justin, and Jag. She works from home. By “works from home,” I mean she is the mother of three boys. She’s a busy mom who flits about the suburbs in her Toyota mini-van that she has labeled “The Condo.”
Anyway, Hien texted me and said she was booking them for a week in Marco Island. She wanted to know if I’d ever been and if I wanted to join them. I said I’d check my schedule.
Trying to sweeten the deal, Hien said we could spend the time discussing my upcoming book tour. She had graciously planned a book party for my first novel, Reset.
Actually, she had just joined a book club. Hien. The lady who hadn’t read a book in twenty years, joined a book club. She then had an epiphany. Her cousin, Shane, yes, that’s me, had written a book! Oh my goodness. She would have her book club read my book.
I warned her that my first novel was book one of a trilogy. A science-fiction, action/ adventure, dystopian novel written specifically for the young-adults of this great world.
She wasn’t swayed in the least. Hien was going to get her entire book club to read my novel. Then she was going to throw a book party. She knew The Author. Hien would get said author to make an appearance in her home. Then, everyone could meet The Author.
Dear God. That lady is a force of nature that no one can withstand.
This came about because I had just booked my first appearance. The prodigal daughter was going to return to her hometown—a little town tucked into the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, Chilhowie. I’d posted on my social media sites about my upcoming appearance.
After the appearance at Chilhowie Middle School, my daughter, Erica, and I were going to head on up to DC to rendezvous with my husband, Carl. Carl was going to be there, at a neurology conference, for a week.
So here we are again, back to that fateful spring break week. Having scored a few nights on points, kissed my husband farewell, and hugged my mother, Erica and I loaded up my Honda Pilot, that I’ve labeled “The Tardis,” and headed to Marco Island.
Meanwhile, Hien had formulated a plan. That plan contained me as her unwilling victim…accomplice? Nah, I can’t help but think victim is the appropriate word.
Hien had asked me to bring a few of my books along. I complied. I brought ten copies of Reset.
Upon our arrival at the Hilton in Marco Island, Erica and I were starving. We’d just driven four hours from Orlando, so we went directly to the poolside café and ordered up some food. Feeling I deserved it after our drive, I also ordered a margarita.
Erica texted The Families that we’d arrived. Like a swarm of sand-crusted seagulls, they descended upon our table at the café.
Spring break had officially begun. After our late lunch, we went to our room and changed into our bathing suits, then met The Families back on the beach.
So Hien asked me if I’d brought my baked goodies. I told her I was going to bake and bring some tasty treats. I lied. Well, I made Rice Krispy treats. Who doesn’t love those? And I baked brownies—from a box mix.
Not disappointed in the least, Hien says, “That’s a lot! Thanks, Shanie.” She calls me Shanie. I allow it, because it’s Hien. I call her Hennie. Not to be confused with Hiney. (That’s a sheriff in my book).
Hien has learned the art of full and complete control of her boys. She says jump, they are already jumping before they can even dare ask “how high.”
So, Hien sent her middle son, Justin to their room to retrieve snacks, and I asked him to stop by my room to get the “baked goods.”
“Shanie, did you bring the books?” Hien asked before Justin had departed on his mission.
“Yep, they’re up in my room.” I replied, relishing the warm gulf breeze.
“Justin, get the books from Auntie Shane’s room.”
When Justin returned, The Families made short work of my treats. Passing them around like I’d just won the Iron Chef episode for crispy marshmallow confections and box brownies.
Then the real fun began.
While we adults were waiting for our drinks to arrive from our beach side server, Gabby, Hien pulled out my books and passed them around. She then ordered one of the kids to take a picture of all us adults lounging on the beach with our favorite reading material, yep, Reset.
“What about the boys?” I asked. "Ethan and John-Tyler are both seventeen. They are the perfect age for my novel."
“Yeah, get a picture of them. J.T! Ethan! Hold Auntie Shane’s book like you’re reading it. We need to take a picture.” Hien commanded.
They complied. We’ve all learned throughout the years that we shall all comply with her wishes. It’s a survival technique.
When Gabby returned with our adult beverages, Hien asked her to hold my book so she could take a picture.
But, you see, Hien doesn’t just ask. She tells a story. For the next three days, the story sounded a lot like this:
“Hey, can you do me a favor?” She'd ask as she batted her freakishly long eyelashes at her next victim.
“Um, okay.” They all would say, not able to deny the little Vietnamese lady with the gorgeously luscious eyelashes.
“Great. I need you to hold this book, pretend like you’re reading it. Act like you love it. That’s the author, over there. The one hiding her face in sheer embarrassment. She’s famous, you know. We don’t want everyone to know she’s here. Shhh. It’s a secret.”
Then she would snap the picture, smile her brilliant smile that sparks glee from her eyes. “Thanks! You’re awesome. Hey, you’re really good at that. Have you done modeling before? I bet you have. You’re a natural.” She'd chirp.
Dear God in Heaven. For three days and nights, everywhere we went. I had no idea that Hien was packing all weekend. Packing Reset.
When I thought the opportunity had passed, she’d whip out her copy of Reset and repeat her little routine.
Sharon and I had to make a pyramid for her so she could stand on our legs to take an overhead shot of towels she’d placed on the beach chairs. The towels spelled Reset.
Hien enlisted nearly every waiter we had to take a picture with my book.
She got the guys manning the valet desk of the Hilton to take a picture.
Both of our beach side servers...
Hien made her husband, John, hold the book up so the man with the three-foot long pepper shaker could peruse my novel while adding black pepper to John’s meal.
Hien even got our jet-ski tour guide, Captain Ron to hold my book.
By the end of the week, she’d had her family try to spell out Reset with their bodies in a silhouette picture on the beach.
I’ve never laughed so hard.
There’s a special magic that permeates the air when Hien is around. She has that optimistic spark that is infectious. Always the first to giggle, Hien brightens the world around her. I told her that her talents as a marketing genius were sorely wasted in the suburbs of DC.
She could make anyone a star. For three days, she made me feel like one.
But the funniest part? She hadn’t even read my book yet! I spoke with her the other day, planning her book party later this month, and she confessed that she’d just started reading it on their way home from spring break.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked. I always ask that with a level of trepidation. I mean, it is my work. My first novel. I know it’s not Hemingway, but it’s still my baby.
“You know what?” She says, “I was surprised. It’s actually better than I thought it would be. It’s not bad, Shanie.”
Well, I guess I’m okay with that. After all, it is the first novel she’s read in twenty years!