Pretty Is As Pretty Does
by Debra Hyde
With a name like Pretty Things Press , it's not surprising that frilly lace and the color pink would figure prominently on the cover of its books. They fairly reek of femininity -- assuming, of course, that femininity can actually reek. At first glance, some of the titles go well with this flash of femme. The two books called His and Hers come across as neatly as folded towels and Bondage on a Budget sounds like thrifty domestic bliss. A bit twisted, perhaps, but domestic and blissful nonetheless. But Naughty Stories from A to Z ? And Bad Girl ? How do they square with all things pretty?
It makes sense, though, when author/editor and now publisher Alison Tyler explains it: "To understand the philosophy of Pretty Things Press, you really need to know where the name comes from. Yes, "Pretty Things" does sound sweet and feminine -- and our goal at Pretty Things Press is to make dirty erotic fantasies both accessible and acceptable. But the name comes from my favorite David Bowie song, and the lyric is: 'Oh, you pretty things, don't you know you're driving your mamas and papas insane.' Which, I feel, gives a better picture of Pretty Things Press as a whole."
Oh yum, yes!
That sure explains Bad Girl then. A collection of Tyler's own works, it not only parades girls gone bad, but it retrospectively reflects the last ten years of Tyler's erotic fiction. Even more daring, the collection more than hints at autobiography with everyone and everything serving as inspiration, from Tyler's first boyfriend to her last foursome. And lots of guys from the produce aisle. Lots of them.
By contrast, one could argue that Bondage on a Budget is a pinnacle work. First released by Masquerade Books in 1997 and co-authored by Alison Tyler and Dante Davidson, it featured 69 erotic stories from A to Z. Each tale focused on one common household item -- aftershave, candles, chains, frozen peas, mirrors, shoelaces, the list goes on -- to get its kinky point across, and its first edition was hailed as a delightfully creative way to suggest delightfully playful sex.
The book was broadly pansexual, so much so that it still codes each tale in the table of contents as either het, lesbian, gay, solo, or orgy, just so you can cut to the chase. And each tale still ends with a "note" to the readers that imparts some additional quick tidbit. The frozen peas tale, "The Ties That Bind," concluded by explaining the concept and use of safewords, for example. (And who knew frozen peas might require a safeword?) The format remains enduring and the endnotes have held up remarkably well over time, with the exception of cameras category. It's still stuck in the polaroid age long after we've gone digital.
I wish more books were like Bondage on a Budget. I can count on one hand the number of "scenario-based" books I've come across. Really, with all the instructional sex books out there, we could use a few that instruct through fiction. Granted, I always preferred poring over dirty fiction with a lover anyway; I've always felt it reached the clit far faster and far less clinically than a nonfiction how-to book.
Turns out, Tyler agrees. "When I used to write short stories for Playgirl back in the early 90s, two of my more "repressed" friends would take their dates to buy copies of the magazines and then share the stories as a way to become more intimate," she says. "I thought that was a great use for erotica. I know that when I first read The Pearl ,Story of O , the Beauty Books, de Sade, and Anais Nin's short works, I was relieved to find that other people had penned various versions of my own most private fantasies already."
Given Bondage's enduring shelf life, it's no surprise that Naughty Stories from A to Z has just expanded to a second volume. Steamy smut penned by a host of celebrated anthology authors has often been the path to a sure-fire hit. You might be surprised, however, to learn that it also taps into Tyler's love for book series. A prolific reader, she claims to have read over the course of one summer every book in the Ed McBain 87th Precinct series (estimated total: all "fifty of them"), and readily admit that "readers who enjoy the first book in a series will be happy to continue the journey with the authors and (in this case) editor." Makes sense. Sequels can have a certain "brand name recognition" that people respond to. The Venus Book Club must've noticed the brand name potential as well because they recently bundled it with Susie Bright's Best American Erotica 2003. To which, Tyler gushes, "Being offered alongside Susie Bright's Best American was thrilling -- like having a first-time director's movie shown along with The Godfather. I'm a huge fan of Ms. Bright and was extremely honored to be in the same brochure with her." Thrilling, yes, but likely well-deserved.
Could be that anthologies are just the ticket for Pretty Things Press and Tyler says she's hard at work, bringing new compilations to print. "Thomas Roche and I are brewing up a few more projects right now that I'll reveal as soon as possible," she teases but adds, "Also, a book of 69 short-shorts called Down and Dirty will be going to press this spring. It features Sage Vivant, Thomas S. Roche, Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel K. Bussel, and many more great writers. And I have a new multi-author collection called Juicy Erotica that's almost complete."
Until then, content yourself with current PTP titles and the new second volume of Naughty Stories from A to Z , available from Amazon and Good Vibrations. And those His and Hers books? I'm saving those for a separate interview here at Yesportal. His and Her style, of course.