In the 90s, the Beatles' songs of my college days like “Yesterday” were far in the past, although you’d still hear them occasionally, and I sometimes played them in the college-town store where I made my living. Likewise Simon and Garfunkle. Any music much beyond that era hasn’t stuck in mind, although my employees in the store—several generations of college students—did expand my horizons somewhat with the music tapes they brought in. Or CDs? I can’t even remember whether we had CDs in the 90s. “Help! I Need Somebody!”
The memory of my real, current yesterday is all too vivid, when I realized that I had a fast-worsening case of poison ivy the likes of which I’d thought were left behind with my teens. The worst part is the swelling and itching around my eyes, very nasty on one side but fairly minor on the other. I went to a clinic open on weekends, and now have prednisone working, I hope, on my case. If it hasn’t improved at all by tomorrow, I’m supposed to go to my regular doctor. All of which is entirely off-topic, but may explain my lack of a proper (or even improper) focus today. I want to get this written before I take more antihistamine to ease the itching, though—don’t scratch! Don’t Scratch!—because it’ll make me drowsy (aka even more stupid,) so here goes.
What I remember best about the 90s is that I finally started writing and submitting my work. I’d been immersed in raising and supporting a family into the early 90s, and it didn’t entirely stop then, but when I reached my 50’s I knew I had to get moving, or give up on what I’d always planned to do.
My first venture was a very short story entered in a contest run by the 1995 Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) held in Glasgow that year. Good grief, was my last visit to the UK really that long ago? Sigh. My story “Virtual Empathy” placed second, which was nice, and it gave me the nerve to expand the piece and send it out to real publications. My first try, Asimov’s Science Fiction, netted me a very kind rejection with encouragement to send more, and my next try, to a very new, very small-press magazine, succeeded. I never tried Asimov’s again, since I didn’t think I had anything quite right for them, but I had a pretty good run with small presses and a few modestly major anthologies. I was able to join SFWA and feel at home, if on a lowly level, in the science fiction and fantasy community. It was great.
Then, amidst the gossip and shared market listings, I heard of a call for submissions from another genre. Best Lesbian Erotica 1999, the third (or maybe 4th) in the series. Maybe I could do that! Several, if not most, of my speculative fiction stories had an undercurrent of the erotic, and many of my characters were lesbians in my mind, even though not overtly so on the page.
It turned out that yes, I could, appealing to some editors precisely because I came from a different genre and wrote even non-specfic in a way that seemed original and fresh to them.
I chose a pseudonym for erotica, because I’d done some work for anthologies aimed toward kids, and figured I’d go on to do more. Nope. The erotic side of the force had got its talons (or assiduously trimmed short fingernails) firmly into me, and my pseudonym proceeded to get all the mileage for quite a few years. I’ve been getting back to specific a bit lately, usually combined with erotica, but enough of that. Back to the 90s!
Rats. My relatively new computer won’t let me open the old file of my first Best Lesbian Erotica story. I have it accessible on my older machine that has dire touchpad issues, and I could probably access it with some effort, but I’m too fried just now. I do have updated files of a couple of my fantasy stories from that era, supposedly due to be reprinted soon in an e-book mega-pack of Sword and Sorcery stories from Wildside Press. Hmm, maybe I can find an excerpt worth sharing here, since my mind isn’t doing well at original thoughts today. Don’t Scratch!
This is kind of embarrassing. It’s pretty clear why the old style of Sword and Sorcery stories has gone out of fashion, but here goes, from “Steelwing,” by my alter-ego Connie Wilkins, first published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. This comes near the beginning:
Arka had gone from my command into the personal service of the White Robes, and I had intended to look for her on this visit. My military side considered her too good a warrior to be wasted standing guard on a stronghold in no real danger of assault. Still, too many who came to me as raw, half-trained girls grew into seasoned companions, only to fall under the steel and spells of the enemy or the talons of their minions.
I was startled, but not by the suddenness of her appearance. I stared at her dark hair, oak-leaf red except where pale wing-shapes swept upward at the temples. My hand lifted to my own head, as if fingertips could feel the difference between the grey streaks and the black strands surrounding them.
"It's a badge some of us wear," Arka said. "A sign of having served under Steelwing." A slight flush tinged the brown skin. "Perhaps we should have asked you first."
"I suppose it does no harm." I was unsure how I felt about this. "As long as no one follows me into battle like that."
"No, we know the wings are your pennant, we have found you by them often enough through clouds of dust."
"Well." I remembered my summons. "I think no one will march behind this banner again, so it scarcely matters." I gripped her arm once more and passed on, conscious of observers.
The young Gray Robe who guided me within was new to me, but White Rena waited in the lighted chamber as so many times before. The course of war often required conference between leaders from the field and those who directed from Above. She was as skilled at strategy as at wielding Power, and I....
I fought back the intrusive thought. The Robe was not for me. I had no Power, would not seek it, would not accept it even if it found me.
"Steelwing, welcome." There was a hint of amusement in her voice. "I suppose you noticed Arka's hair?"
"My eyes are still strong, even if my knees are going." I took the cushion she offered and sank onto it with just the tiny delay that let her be seated first. "You think you've wrung all the foolishness out of them...."
"There's no need to wring out all the youth. War does that soon enough."
I nodded agreement and took a steaming cup from the tray before me. Such small talk was unusual from White Rena, but we had been through much together, and were as close to being friends as our different roles allowed. I didn't mind waiting for her to get to the point, enjoying the tranquil breath of herbs rising from the cup.
"You have a rare way with the young," she said at last. Her words seemed to stab at me, but some pain is better left unexplained. I had expected this, after all, an assignment to the training valley. I might have the skill and spirit of a warrior, but I no longer had the knees, though I could still outmarch those who had less experience of endurance and pain.
"I have managed to beat many a wild one into shape, sometimes quite literally." It was as well to leave command before they had reason to doubt that I still could.
"You have mothered many a lost child, too, I know."
Again that stab of pain, and a suspicion that she intended it.
"Those who need it most would spit on the word 'mother.'"
A narrow eyebrow lifted. "You sound like the foremost spitter, yet you were not left as a babe on the Maker's Stone, as are so many. You came to us of your own will, a woman grown."
"And the White Robes took me in, blotted out the pain that drove me there, and gave me life and purpose. I do not forget that." I stood, with a twinge, and faced her rigidly. "I am wholly yours to command. You need not lead me through mind games."
"Steelwing... Sarym..." She gripped my hands and urged me down again. Her compassion was beyond doubting; so too was the hidden purpose behind her use of the old name, my one memory of that other life. I questioned not the purpose but the method.
"Do the White Robes propose to remove the memory block?" I refrained from adding, "If my sword is no longer of value to you," but she heard it in my bluntness.
"If you truly believe that wall is still the one we made, you have answered my question." She was equally blunt now. "That wore off long ago, and would never have worked except by your own will. I only wished to discover how much you have allowed yourself to remember."
She saw my expression. "You think I shouldn't need to ask? Believe! It is not courtesy, or even friendship," and here she touched my hand again, "that stays me from the mind probe. White Rena cannot reach thoughts that Steelwing wishes to keep private, much less penetrate what she will not reveal even to herself. I do not say that it could not be done by one who specializes, but we will not treat our own like enemy spies!" From her grim tone I suspected that a certain faction in Above favored doing just that.
"Why is it so important that I remember?" Curiosity couldn't fill the cold hollow in my gut, but it could grant me superficial distraction.
"Better now than in the middle of a vital mission."
This was distraction worth having, and I leaned forward, only to be dashed back.
"As your Power grows it will break down its own barriers. You will remember." She waved off my denial. "We would give you time if we could. Your sword has been worth more to us than spells and wards, your leadership more than any White Robe's Power. And you have not entirely suppressed your other... skills, from what I've heard."
[No, my fellow gutter-minds, not those kinds of skills, although I kind of had them in the back of my mind. Steelwing turns out to be an Earth-Mage who can move literal mountains, or at least shake them, but suppresses her memories her power and a tragic past.]
Well, there you go. It’s just as well we’ve moved on past the 90s, but we couldn’t get here without having been there first. On some brighter notes, I’ve just won my third Golden Crown Literary Award as an editor of lesbian erotica (that makes three Goldies and two Lambdas) and I’m about to make my eighth Best Lesbian Erotica appearance, the first since 2009, which feels almost as long ago as the 90s.
I do, I guess, still believe in Yesterday. And I believe it’s time to take an antihistamine.