Folks, please welcome Barbara Venkataraman to the blog today. I have enjoyed her Jamie Quinn mysteries quite a bit. Check out my reviews of Death by Didgeridoo and The Case of the Killer Divorce. Today, Barbara is going to share a little about herself and then has a fun guest post, Catching the Muse, for us all. But then she has gone beyond that and given us Bittersweet, a short fiction piece, for us to enjoy.
Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney and mediator specializing in family law and debt collection.
She is the author of The Fight for Magicallus, a children’s fantasy; a humorous short story entitled, If You’d Just Listened to Me in the First Place; and two books of humorous essays: I’m Not Talking about You, Of Course and A Trip to the Hardware Store & Other Calamities, which are part of the “Quirky Essays for Quirky People” series. Both books of humorous essays won the prestigious “Indie Book of the Day” award.
Her latest works are Death by Didgeridoo, first in the Jamie Quinn series, The Case of the Killer Divorce, the second Jamie Quinn mystery, and, just out, Peril in the Park, the latest in the popular Jamie Quinn series. Coming soon, Engaged in Danger–the next Jamie Quinn mystery!
I wish I could tell you how to capture that vixen, the muse, the mythical creature who bestows inspiration–but it’s simply not possible. She (mine is a she) is a shape-shifter who delights in dancing just out of reach, teasing me with fantastic tales sung in perfect pitch and enviable prose. When she does appear (and I never know when that will be), I must pretend that I can’t see her for fear she’ll leave me.
After countless attempts to conjure her, I’ve discovered that she finds water soothing and will whisper ideas in my ear when I’m swimming, or soaking in a fragrant bath. More importantly, I’ve learned what her favorite drink is. Sometimes, after a strong brew of energizing (and sleep-depriving) coffee, she will magically appear. Then, with a wink and a laugh, she will sit next to me, an ephemeral creature, her gossamer robes tickling my arm, and pluck ideas from my mind as if plucking a lute. Although the music isn’t always beautiful, or even original, it is mine and it flows like the water my muse loves so much.
Who would have thought this could happen to us? An economic superpower in our day and we never saw it coming. Okay, that last part isn’t true. They did try to warn us: the botanists and economists, the climatologists and even those pretentious foodies, damn them! But we refused to believe it. So spoiled and gluttonous were we that we couldn’t imagine such a vacuum in our lives, couldn’t imagine that one of our greatest pleasures, second only to, well you know, could disappear so suddenly, leaving us in a glassy-eyed stupor.
At first, there seemed to be no cause for alarm. Sure, a few high-end distributors declared bankruptcy and most of the artisanal boutiques quietly closed down, but that didn’t affect the rest of us. Even as the price started creeping up, we took it in stride, still happily gorging ourselves on a regular basis. Every holiday was an excuse to buy new varieties created in whimsical shapes or mixed with exotic flavors like hot chili peppers, spicy ginger, aromatic curry powders or edible flowers.
People even ate it on insects! Now, why would I make that up? Others drank it in liquid form; some preferred it melted or frozen. Touted for centuries as an energy-booster, an antioxidant, and an aphrodisiac, it was all that and much more. In fact, some of the wealthiest ladies went to luxury spas so they could bathe in it! Isn’t that decadent? The flavors were so rich and complex that no scientist ever managed to synthesize it in the lab. Believe me, they tried. If I told you its name meant “food of the gods,” maybe you could start to understand the depth of our loss…
In our defense, we had a lot of other problems to worry about. There were no world population councils back then so people could have as many children as they wanted. My own grandparents had twelve kids! The population climbed to 9 billion before we did anything about it. On top of that, the climate was changing and real estate which had been “underwater” due to the housing bubble was now literally underwater. Coastal areas were disappearing, Louisiana was sinking and the popular area known as South Beach was cut off from the mainland forever. At the same time, countries were locked in a massive power struggle over the dwindling supply of fossil fuels.
Is it any wonder we paid no attention to those whining foodies? I mean, they were always complaining about something. If it wasn’t the shortage of truffle pigs, then it was the ban on pâté de foie gras or the counterfeit caviar flooding the market. Their concerns were so alien to the rest of us plebeians that we tuned them out when we really should have listened to them. Only the Doomsday freaks took them seriously and, naturally, they started hoarding the “food of the gods” because, well, hoarding was what they did best. Always preparing for the world to end, they saw no sense in going hungry while they waited. It was the hoarding that jacked the price up enough for the world to finally notice.
Outside of our purview, the fragile crops that supplied the delicious elixir were dying from insect infestation, disease, and climate change, and demand was quickly overtaking supply. Speculators entered the mix and real panic set in. It became the hottest commodity in the world, even overtaking gold. Financial markets were so volatile that in West African countries, where the crop was cultivated, ripe pods became the new currency, just like in ancient times. Black markets sprang up everywhere and nobody could talk about anything else. Elected officials were besieged by rabid voters demanding immediate action. Riots broke out and the processing factories were looted for raw materials. Even natural disasters couldn’t distract people for very long…
I’m sorry, where was I? You’ll have to forgive me but ever since I reached my 115th sun cycle, my mind has started to wander. Oh, yes, the governments became involved but, of course, they only made things worse. Truthfully, I don’t know if there was anything they could have done anyway. Our best agri-scientists worked around the clock but, in the end, all they could do was bank seeds in all of the master seed banks and watch it play out. In only ten years, all of the crops were utterly decimated, never to return. Even the hoarders and black marketeers eventually reached their last precious morsels. And, because they had no choice, the people of the world adjusted, but there was a sadness that permeated everything, a yearning that would never pass, a taste that could not be forgotten…
I know you’re wondering why I told you this long story, especially today, when we should be celebrating your 21st sun-cycle and eating a feast of the best synth food in town, but you’re my only great-great-granddaughter and I wanted to give you something really special. Yesterday, I went to my Cryo-storage unit to get your gift so that it would thaw out in time. Here, please take this and remember to savor every bite: it’s like nothing you’ve ever eaten before and nothing you will ever eat again. Yes, it is a curious shape, it’s meant to resemble an animal that’s now extinct; it was called a rabbit. I hope you don’t mind if I watch you take a bite, it would give me great pleasure. Oh no, please don’t cry! Like life, chocolate isn’t meant to last. Only the joy of experiencing it lingers on.
Places to Find Barbara Venkataraman