Jeff & Will are joined by author Onley James to talk about her Necessary Evils series, including the latest book Maniac. Onley discusses how she went from writing as a hobby to deciding to publish her stories, and what fascinates her about psychopaths and why she writes happily ever afters for them. She also chats about her Patreon community, and what readers can expect from her later this year.
Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, April 10.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Low Angst Library Podcast
- Episode 406 – Small Towns and Christmas Dares with Lee Blair on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Onley James Interview
- Onley James website | LinkTree | Patreon
- Maniac (Necessary Evils Book 7) by Onley James
- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website
- K.M. Neuhold on Amazon
- Lynn Van Dorn on Amazon
- The Vampire Diaries on HBO Max
- Teen Wolf on Paramount+
- The Originals on Netflix
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer on Hulu
- Where the Devil Don’t Go by Only James on Radish | Hardback on Onley’s website
- The Umbrella Academy on Netflix
- Dexter on Paramount+
- Intoxicating (Elite Protection Services Book 1) by Onley James
- Criminal Minds on Paramount+
- Unhinged (Necessary Evils Book 1) by Onley James
- Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- The Watch by Onley James on Onley James website
- Malum Discordiae by Ashlyn Drewek
- Wrath by Ellis James
- Young Royals on Netflix
- KinnPorsche on IQIYI
- BL & KPOP Fandom Life Facebook Group
- Bad Buddy on IMDB
- Paladin (Jericho’s Boys Book 1) by Onley James (pre-order until April 30, 2023)
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, author Onley James joins us to talk about “Necessary Evils.”
Jeff: Welcome to episode 417, of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me as always, is my co-host and husband. It’s Will.
Will: Hello Rainbow Romance Reader. We are so glad that you could join us for yet another episode of the show.
Jeff: Now we want take just a moment to welcome the “Low Angst Library” to the podcast world. Back in episode 406, author Lee Blair talked to us about why she wanted to start the podcast, and we are thrilled that Lee overcame the technical hurdles. She had way too many technical hurdles, folks. It was just insane. But the podcast has launched earlier this month. Among the authors in the initial episodes are Ariella Zoelle, A.J. Truman, K.M. Neuhold, Charlie Novak, Jaclyn Quinn, and Isla Olsen. Is that like an amazing lineup to start with or what?
Will: So good.
Jeff: Now you could find the “Low Angst Library” anywhere you listen to podcasts or at LowAngstLibrary.com. We hope you’ll check out the show and welcome Lee to the queer romance podcast community.
Now let’s get into the conversation I had with Onley James. She’s got a great story about what caused her to shift from writing as a hobby into publishing, and what led her from paranormal young adult into queer romance. And we are so glad she’s here writing the books that she’s doing. Onley gives us all the details on the “Necessary Evils” series, including the latest “Maniac.” Plus, we find out about her very active Patreon community.
Onley James Interview
Jeff: Onley, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s exciting to have you here. We’ve wanted to have you as a guest for, I don’t even know how long anymore. So, I’m so glad it’s happened.
Onley: Well, I’ve wanted to be a guest for a while, so I’m so glad it happened, too. I was very excited.
Jeff: Before we get into the latest in your “Necessary Evils” series, I’d love to get some of your history, and starting with the very basic question, I guess, of what got you into writing.
Onley: I have been writing since I was a very little kid. I wanna say I probably wrote my first story when I was, like, six on, like, a legal pad in my mom’s office, waiting for her to finish up work. My parents used to tell me all the time, “You don’t have to worry about college, you’re gonna be a writer. You’re gonna be a writer. That’s what you love to do. You’re gonna be a writer.” And I was like, “Well, I do have to live in the meantime.” I was the practical one. I was like, “But I need a real job first.” But they were like, “No, you’re gonna be a writer.” And then I didn’t publish a book until I was 37, so, you know.
I actually published my first book in 2015. After NaNoWriMo, just to prove to myself that I could actually finish a book instead of just starting 80 million drafts, I literally just sat down and I wrote, like, a 50,000-word YA book, and then that turned into a 150,000-word YA book. And then I gave it to, like, five people I trusted, and I was like, “Is this garbage?” And they were like, “No, it’s not garbage.” And I was like, “Okay, well, that’s encouraging. It’s not garbage.” So, then I went back and I did all the edits and rewrote it three or four times. And finally, when I was happy with it, and I had done a year of research, I finally published it.
And it did really well for YA paranormal, but the problem was, as I’m sure you know, you’ve talked to a lot of YA authors, it’s a lot of, like, they want a book a month, you know. They want that quick series, rapid release. And I write huge world-building 150,000-, 160,000-word books that come out, like, once every, you know, six or eight months. And I just couldn’t keep up with the demand. And then people started pirating my books. Like, by the time I got to Book 4, people weren’t buying it but they were raving about it. And I was like, “How are you reading my book if you’re not buying it?” And so it was a little disheartening. I kinda lost my luster for a little bit.
And then I was reading a lot of male/male romance at the time, and I had become friends with, like, K.M. Neuhold, and I was friends with Lynn Van Dorn, and they were like, “No, you need to write male/male romance. You need to write it.” And so I was really lucky because I wrote my first book, they alpha read every chapter as I wrote it, and then once it released, so many people were kind of promoting it that I really had a step above everybody else in that respect, because people with really big names were, you know, supporting me. So, I kind of jumped straight into intermediate level right from the beginning, which is very helpful and not a lot of people have that. So, I am grateful that they helped me when they did. But that’s how I made the transition from, like, YA to male/male romance. And I’ve always been a writer. I’ve just always had stories in my head forever and ever.
Jeff: What sparked you at age 37 to jump from essentially just writing as a hobby sort of thing to, “I’m going to publish a book now?”
Onley: Well, two things. One of my sisters has been writing fan fiction. She’s in her 60s. She has been writing fan fiction for 20 years. She has millions of followers on the fan fiction side, but she refuses to write any of her own stuff and she refuses to get paid for her stuff. And she’s an amazing writer. And I was like… I understand, you know, just having a love for, like, fan fiction because I’m a huge fan of it. I firmly believe fan fiction is a great tool to figure out what readers really want. And so I was like, “Don’t you wanna make money off your own stories?” And she was just like, “No, I don’t.” And I was like, “Okay, well, I do.” And that was like when I really drove me home that I was like, “Wait a minute. No, I really do want to write.” And my mom had passed away in 2013, and I was just like, “I just don’t wanna be, you know, gone and never have accomplished that.” I wanted to have, you know, to say, “I wrote a book. I finished a book. I can do that.” And then, once I wrote one book, I was like, “If I can write one, I can write two,” you know? And it just kind of went from there.
Jeff: Why did you start in YA as opposed to M/M romance or some other genre?
Onley: I’m obsessed with paranormal, and especially teen stories. I think my emotional growth was stunted in my teens because I love me some “Vampire Diaries,” some “Teen Wolf,” give me like, “The Originals.” I just love soapy paranormal dramas. And so that’s what I wanted to write. I really wanted to just create my own world of, like, you know, a lot of Celtic lore, and eventually, it spread into, like, Thai lore and Japanese, and stuff like that. But I just wanted to have, like, this world where, you know, it wasn’t weird that, like, vampires and werewolves and everything existed. Like, I’ve just always been into… “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is like one of my favorite shows of all times, and it definitely shaped my sarcasm growing up.
Jeff: That’s a good training ground for sarcasm.
Onley: It really is. Like, learning how to be a really quick response, you know, how to write that snappy dialogue. So, I was always, like, paying attention and tuned in, because you can write really dark things if you also make it funny. And that’s what I learned. Like, that’s the key is that you have to hit that balance of dark but also funny. That’s why I started with YA paranormal. But then, by the time I got to male/male romance, I was honestly so burnt out and just kind of disillusioned that I wanted to go completely contemporary.
Jeff: Is there paranormal lurking somewhere maybe in the future? Or are you all in contemporary?
Onley: Well, I did write “Where the Devil Don’t Go,” and that was paranormal. That was the serial that ran in my newsletter. I can tell you that it was not very well-received once I finished the serial and I packaged it. And I say that it definitely got bad reviews on Goodreads. They really did not… They weren’t subtle about it at all. They were a little kinder on Amazon, but I was like, “You know what? It doesn’t really fit with what, like, my whole vibe is, so I’m just gonna take it down.” And I put it up on Radish, which is a serial, you know, release. And it definitely does better over there because they’re used to the serial format.
And even though I told them a million times, like, “Look, it was a serial that I just compiled together when it was over,” they just were like, “Oh, it was just disjointed to it. It was discombobulated.” Like, it wasn’t typical only. It’s like it was a lot of sex. You know, there was a lot of complaints. So, I was just like, “Fine.” So, I took it down. It’s still available on my website. It’s still available, you know, for… People love the hardcover because it’s, like, really beautiful underneath the dust jacket. So, it still sells really well in my own personal merch store. But I just didn’t want it kind of packaged on Amazon with everything else because it does stand alone as like the one paranormal book I have in a sea of contemporary, and it gets very confusing.
Jeff: I think we’ve got some insight into aspects of your tagline, which is snark, angst, kink. I think we know where the snark comes from, courtesy of “Buffy.” Where did angst and kink come from, and kinda what draws you to those elements in your writing?
Onley: Well, again, I will say that it kind of goes back to fan fiction in that I realized really quickly that, like, in all traditional schools where you’re learning to write, they tell you to cut out the fluff. They’re like, “No, you just wanna get to what’s important and move on.” But that’s not the same in romance. People wanna watch people sit around and eat breakfast, like, in an interesting way. But also, they want the kind of, like, hold your breath, like, “Ah,” like, “Will they, won’t they?” kind of thing. But the truth is, I write angst but it’s never relationship angst because I personally cannot handle relationship angst. Even though I know every book has an HEA, I don’t like the inner turmoil because I feel like, a lot of times, it’s like a… How do I say it? It’s formulaic, you know what I mean? It’s like the 11th episode breakup kind of thing, where you kind of almost go, “Wait a minute, that’s not how the person acted.” Like, they didn’t act that way the entire book, and now, all of a sudden, randomly, they’re breaking up with that person or whatever.
So, I kind of wanted to, like, subvert that kind of angst and go more for, like, the inner turmoil that people have, like, with themselves. Because I was a psych nurse and I saw that people’s worst enemy is almost always themselves. It really is. Like, it’s not being able to get past your own junk to see that somebody can love you kind of thing. So, I like to kinda focus more on that and people’s, like, mental health, you know, like, just what makes people versus, like, you know, a relationship angst kind of thing, where they break up and then, you know, somebody does something stupid that most people probably wouldn’t do in real life, or they don’t have a conversation that anybody would’ve had in real life. Like, you know, I kind of tried to just go that other direction.
And the kink, I feel like is fairly obvious ’cause I like kink, you know? And I feel like kink and mental health issues actually go really hand in hand in a lot of cases. It’s a lot of people trying to work through their own trauma and dynamic through, like, safe, sane, and consensual, you know, like, kind of kinks. And so, to me, I like exploring the real BDSM stuff versus kind of some of the stuff we see that really has no basis in the actual BDSM community, if that makes sense.
Jeff: I love your approach to angst because I like low-angst romance. You can have all the external angst that you want.
Jeff: But I’m right there with you. I want the couple to have a lovely trajectory to their HEA, and they could be screwed around by all this other stuff on the outside.
Onley: Yeah. But you have to have them as your, like, ride or die. It’s like, yes, all this bad stuff is happening, but it’s happened to us, not just you, like that kinda thing. That’s what I like. That’s my…
Jeff: Or even if the external’s more focused on one person, that the other person’s there to support it and…
Jeff: …help rather than going, “I don’t want your baggage. I’m gonna leave for a little bit.”
Onley: Exactly. Which sadly is probably more the case. Like, “Oh, you’re a serial killer? Whoo. That’s a lot. I gotta go. Sorry.”
Jeff: You’ve mentioned fandom and fanfic a couple times. Did you write fanfic in those times before publishing the YA and then the romance?
Onley: I never wrote fanfic because I didn’t think that I was good enough to write fanfic, because I felt like I would never know their characters as well as they do. So, I always had this sort of inner angst, like I was gonna write something and it was gonna be terrible and everybody would be like, “You don’t even like the show.” Like, “You’re not a real fan. Can you even name a song that band made?” Like, I always had that kind of anxiety in my head. So, like, I never wrote fan fiction but I mainlined it. I read everything.
Jeff: That’s amazing. Of everybody we’ve ever talked to about fanfic, I have never heard a variation of that answer. And I get it because it’s like writing in somebody else’s canon would seem like tense to me as well. Like, those are your characters and I’m not sure I can do them justice even in the way that I view those characters.
Onley: Yeah, it’s wild. And people write fanfic about, like, my “Necessary Evils” characters, and I love it. I love that people care enough to do it. Like, I find it fascinating that anybody loves my characters enough to, like, get tattoos of them, or write fan fiction, or make fan art. Like, it’s amazing to me. But for me, personally, it was just too much anxiety. Like, I never wanted, like, an author to think like, “Oh, like, she really thinks that she knows.” Not like any author ever saw anybody’s fanfic. You know what I mean? Like, I didn’t want to insult anybody.
Jeff: Now, just a few weeks ago, before this episode comes out, you released the seventh book in the “Necessary Evils” series. For those who may not be familiar with that series, tell us a little bit about it.
Onley: Okay. I like to say it’s the “Umbrella Academy” meets “Dexter,” but really gay.
Jeff: That’s a great tagline.
Onley: So, basically, it’s about this very eccentric billionaire who, after a tragedy that happens in his own life, decides that he is going to find children that have been abused, that share psychopathic tendencies, and raise them to be vigilantes who use their sort of lack of empathy to commit crimes for good instead of evil. And then this series just follows those boys as they kind of have their HEA and get their happily ever after and what love looks like to somebody who can’t actually fall in love.
Jeff: That’s just, to me, fascinating how you take those kind of characters and still find them a way to get to an HEA. Because everything says that they can’t get there, and yet, obviously, they have to by the end of the book.
Jeff: What was your inspiration for this?
Onley: Honestly, so when I wrote my “Elite” series, I’ve been fascinated with psychopaths. This is probably gonna make people kind of side-eye me a little bit. But from the time I was about 10 or 11, I was pulling books off the shelves about true crime, reading stuff like by John Douglas, who created “Mindhunter.” He has, like, a whole series of books on psychobiology and behavioral profiling. And as a kid, I was fascinated with it. I wanted to be a behavioral profiler way before “Criminal Minds” was ever a thing. And my father’s like, “Ah, there’s no money in psychology. That’s a waste of your life.” Like, “You’re never gonna get in the FBI.” It’s that kind of thing. So, I never went that way.
But from the time I was young, and now that I know that I’m autistic and I have an actual diagnosis, and autistic people tend to mask a lot, I honestly think as a kid, I was trying to understand, like, how to act like a human, kind of like other neurodivergent people do, because we get made fun of a lot for our tics, and we get made fun of a lot for the way we stim and the way we do things. Even the way we think is so different often from other people that they… you know, we always stand out, so we learn to just look and act like other people to, you know, make them more comfortable. And so I always had this sort of curiosity about what makes people.
And then I wrote a sociopath into my “Elite” series and everybody was fascinated with him. And when I asked them, like, “What do you want me to write next?” they were like, “No, we want more sociopaths. We want more psychopaths.” And so I was like, “Fine, I’ll give you seven of them.” Like, you know, “I’ll give it all to you.” And then I really was like… I kind of just shot myself in the foot because I’m like, “How do you make seven books about seven completely different people, all with the same psychopathy, and still make it different and interesting every time?” So I was tap dancing as fast as I could with that.
But as I did my research, I learned so much interesting information about psychopathy and, you know, just in general, like, what we know about it. Because being a psychopath isn’t an actual diagnosis, it’s a spectrum, just like autism is a spectrum. It’s a sort of neurodivergence. And so I learned so much information. And the more I learned, the more I built it into the storyline as almost like, you know, Thomas learning that maybe his original thought process was skewed and wrong. And him having to deal with the thought, like, “Maybe I just created seven killers myself when they never would’ve been killers if they hadn’t met me” kind of thing.
Jeff: That’s interesting. Well, I like how you present that aspect of neurodivergence and show the spectrum, because I think all too often, people want everything to fit into a box, that everything is the same. But neurodivergence, like everything else, how it manifests for one person is different than another, than another. And to spread that out against seven psychopaths can make for some very interesting stories. And I can only imagine how interesting their research must have been.
Onley: It’s fascinating. And also, like I said, I was a psych nurse in a children’s psychiatric hospital and inpatient hospital, so I used to treat kids who were as young as five all the way up to 17. And you learn really quickly that the worst thing that happens to most kids is their parents, and there’s a lot of abuse and stuff that goes into that. So, like, to me, one, it was my own therapy because I write about a lot of real children, like their real-life things. Like, Noah’s story happened to a real person. And it’s like my way of kind of dealing with my own trauma from having worked in that situation. And at least in my head, they get there happily ever after. But I like showing that you can have trauma in your past but it’s not your entire personality.
Like, a lot of times, I think it’s like we try to make it out like, “Oh, because one bad thing happens to somebody, or even repeated bad things happen to somebody, that if you look at them, you’re gonna know that person definitely has trauma,” when in reality, most of us just ball it all up, we stuff it way down, and we just act like, you know, everything’s fine, even if inside we’re kind of dying a little bit. And I just really like to, like, show that there’s so many different ways to just process things and be aware, like, you know, no matter how bad the trauma is, you don’t know how somebody is going to react to it, how they’re going to process their trauma, or their grief, or whatever. So, I just really like to kinda show all different types of people and how they find their way through that kind of stuff.
Jeff: I imagine your past as a psych nurse also helps you understand how to research this type of thing, too.
Onley: I was a clinical research coordinator when I first became a nurse, so actually, my job was research. So, I would run studies, clinical trials. And then I did a few different types of nursing and then fell into psychology for a few years before I moved on to oncology and some other specialties. I was a nurse for 17 years. So, I had a lot of different, you know, things that I got to experience in a lot of different ways that really made this series. Like, I got to go really in-depth with it.
And I think some people were like, “It’s a romance novel,” like “Why are you bothering to go so overboard with the psychology of it?” And it’s just like, one, because I find it fascinating. Like, I love knowing what makes people… I’m the person who watches those, like, inside serial killer documentaries, and, you know, it’s like straight from the serial killer’s mouth. I’m like, “Yes, tell me more,” like, “What made you what you are?” like, “How did it happen?” Because I just really like to know why people are the way they are. And then I try to take that information and I try to let other people know why people are the way they are.
Jeff: Seven books in “Necessary Evils.” It’s your longest series so far…
Onley: It is.
Jeff: …from what I see.
Jeff: Why seven? Because you said from the beginning, “Okay, I’m gonna give you seven.” And then, well, how did that affect the stories that you were telling in them? Like, did you have threads that pulled through all seven, or are they just, kind of, in the same universe books?
Onley: No, they’re definitely all very much interconnected. Actually, all of my series are interconnected. You will find Easter eggs from every series that I’ve done.
Jeff: I love that. The Onley James multiverse.
Onley: Yeah. Pretty much, yeah. And that’s kinda like what I’ve always wanted. Because when I was a kid, and I was reading, like, Harlequin romances and, like, the “Silhouette Desires” back in the day, whenever a couple from a previous book would show up in the current book, I would get so excited, like weirdly excited about it. And so I was like, “I want that feeling.” I’m a big fan of, like, found family and, like, making your own family and, like, you know, blood doesn’t necessarily make you more or less, you know, family than anything else.
But I’m a pantser. I know it doesn’t seem like it because I research like crazy, but when it comes to actually plotting out the stories, I had nothing. I didn’t know anything about August until he showed up on the page in “Unhinged,” and, like, he kind of just came to me as I was writing. And the same thing with all the other brothers. Even like Felix, Jericho’s brother. Like, when I introduced him, I had no idea he was gonna end up with Avi until the first time I saw them interact on page. And I was like, “Oh, okay.”
And it’s like somebody said, like, “I just run around chasing my characters and I write up the incident report.” Like, that’s kind of how I feel because, like, when I’m in that zone, like, I’m not really thinking about it. I’m kinda just, like, watching it play out in my head. And so, like, I’m just kinda like writing it all down. And I don’t… God, I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I don’t really edit my stuff. Like, I write a chapter, I will give it to my alpha reader, she’ll read it over, she’ll tell me what she thinks, I’ll make some minor changes, and then it goes to my Patreon, and then it goes to my editor. And then I don’t touch it again, unless my editor says, “Oh, no, this is a big red flag,” or, like, you know, “Yeah, you can’t do this. You already killed that guy” kind of thing. It’s like usually… And I have killed the same guy more than once.
Jeff: He just really needed to die extra deaths.
Onley: Well, he’s an actual person from my past, so sometimes I forget that I’ve already killed him. And I just like to kind of do it again just to remind myself. But yeah. So, like, there’s some times when it’s really kind of bit me in the ass that I didn’t plot, but that’s just not how my brain works. I’m not a person who can… Because once I know how the story ends, I don’t care about it anymore. Like, to me, it’s always a puzzle that I’m trying to solve. And once I solve the puzzle, it’s no longer interesting to me. So, everybody’s always like, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming.” I’m like, “Yeah, me either.” Because I didn’t know until I wrote it. So, it definitely keeps things interesting, but it does get scary because I’m always like, “What if I paint myself into a corner? What if it doesn’t go the way I think it’s gonna go?”
But honestly, so far I’ve been really lucky. I chose seven because it’s just a really lucky number for me, and I was just, like, you know… And then, of course, my cover designer was like, “Ooh, we’ll go with the seven deadly sins.” And I was like, “Okay, but I don’t want it to be really, like, prevalent because I don’t want it to affect how I see the characters.” You know what I mean? I’d rather write the characters and then try to figure out what their sin is versus, you know, the other way around, because I’m trying not to write like, you know, just a cardboard cutout of, like, whatever I think that sin is. But the minute she showed me the cover, I was just, like, blown away.
And everybody, even Lucy Lennox said to me, she says, “That cover shouldn’t work.” She’s like, “It’s not even remotely M/M.” She’s like, “It shouldn’t work, but it just did.” And I showed it to Nevey, who was my co-author for “Wages of Sin” and she just looked at it, and she was like, “This is gonna be your breakout series.” She’s like, “Hands down.” I’m like, “I haven’t even written it yet.” She’s like, “I’m telling you,” she’s like, “This is it. This is gonna be the one.” And I was like, “All right, God willing. I fucking hope so.”
Jeff: And here we are, so many books later.
Onley: And here. So, I guess she was right. Maybe she’s a psychic.
Jeff: Would you do a series this long again?
Onley: I’m going to.
Jeff: Oh, nice. Okay.
Onley: The next two spinoff series will probably be at least seven books.
Jeff: Okay. No fear.
Onley: That’s gonna take me the next couple years.
Jeff: For “Maniac,” what can you tell us about Thomas and Aiden?
Onley: It’s probably the angstiest book I’ve written in a series. This one, because of their past and the fact that their non-romance has spanned 20 years, and it’s been Thomas kind of pushing Aiden away for his own internal turmoil about what happened to him in his childhood, Aiden is pissed. Aiden is angry. Aiden feels like their whole life has been wasted with just something that he doesn’t even know what happened. So, he’s really mad, he’s kind of finally, like, put his foot down and just been like, “No, I’m not playing this game with you. Stop calling me when you’re drunk in the middle of the night. Stop dragging me back every time I walk away” kinda thing. And then, of course, something horrible happens and somebody’s blackmailing Thomas, and now he needs Aiden because Aiden’s always the person he calls when things go bad.
And nobody’s really known that up until, like, now. They’ve only known from previous stories that, like, there’s definitely something between them, but nobody really knows quite what happened, why they won’t, like, just admit that they have feelings for each other, that kind of thing. So, the first seven chapters were just absolutely so emotionally exhausting. I was, like, putting on my most depressing playlist, like, mascara running down my face, just, like, drinking, you know. It was bad. I felt like I was going through a breakup. So, it was a lot of getting through those hurt feelings to have one of them finally just say enough’s enough and break down and, like, kind of just figure it out, you know? So, this is definitely the angstiest of all of them. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of storyline, it’s a lot of history. It’s gonna answer a lot of questions for people. But it’s definitely the angstiest out of all of them.
Jeff: How did it feel for you to get that angsty? I mean, knowing you were making yourself, you know, emotionally that entangled in it?
Onley: It sucks because, like, it’s almost like you have to get it. It’s almost like character acting in a way. Like, you really have to, like, put yourself in the head of that person and feel like their anger and their rage and, like… And, you know, it’s not all, like, moping and crying. Like, there’s a lot of anger that comes from, like… and frustration, you know. Like, on Aiden’s part especially because he just doesn’t understand, like, what the big deal is. So, like, it’s a lot. It’s exhausting, emotionally exhausting, but it just needed to be done in order for the story to be told right.
And luckily, I get to see my Patreon’s reaction as I write every chapter. So, it’s nice because I get that instant feedback, so it really helps me kind of navigate, like, “Okay, everybody’s having the reaction that I expect them to based on what I wrote.” And sometimes they throw really good questions at me that I’m like, “Okay, I definitely need to explain that further, like, down the road or whatever.” But yeah. So, I’ve been using my Patreons a lot to kind of, like, emotionally navigate the rest of the series to make sure that I don’t leave any loose ends or leave anybody feeling like, “Oh, I really thought I was gonna get more out of this,” you know?
Jeff: You mentioned you don’t end up and edit too much, but that kind of feedback from the Patreon community, does that factor into as you’re continuing to write forward, or do you go backwards sometimes?
Onley: Yeah. Sometimes I will go back. It’s not that I never go back. I have access, obviously, to the same file my editor does. But if I go back, I will just highlight the portion that I fix, and I’ll let my editor know, and she’ll kind of just go in there and do it. For the most part, if somebody calls me out on something as far as when I write, like if somebody… Like, sometimes people get real mad at me about stuff. Like, there’s been some huge fights in my Patreon, and I have to kind of think to myself, like, “Okay, they’re getting mad because what I’m doing is working.” You know, like, they’re having the right reaction even if they’re mad about it.
Or sometimes they’ll say, you know, “Well, I really hope you address this because this is how I feel about this.” So, if I feel like it’s valid, then I definitely will. But if one person out of 5,000 or, you know, 500 think, like it’s the only person who brings it up, then I kind of have to weigh it. Like, is that just their personal feeling or is that something that my whole audience is gonna, you know, have a problem with?
Jeff: What’s a favorite scene from “Maniac?” If you can give us one without getting too spoilery with it.
Onley: I will tell you that everybody finally gets to see Calliope in person. And when that happens, it’s not just the whole family there, it’s everybody there. Jericho’s kids are there. I can tell you that my narrator is going to shoot me in the face when he realizes that he has, like, 38 voices in one room that he’s gonna have to try to pull off. But always the family group scenes are usually my favorite because I love the way they all play off each other. Because I come from a very large sarcastic family, so, like, a lot of the interactions you see between the brothers are very much interactions that, like, my family members have with each other.
So, those are always my favorite because I love, like, snappy dialogue and I like when people are just, you know… Because you don’t talk shit to other people the way you talk shit to your siblings. Like, “You can’t beat them up but I can” kind of thing, you know what I mean? Like, you just get real nasty with your own siblings sometimes versus, like, you would never let anybody else say to them what you say to them, kind of thing.
Jeff: I’ll send good vibe to your narrator now as they navigate…
Onley: Poor Liam
Jeff: … all these voices.
Onley: And then he is gonna start “The Watch,” and that’s like an entire school full of people. He’s gonna kill me. I’m gonna have to, like, pay him more. I don’t know.
Jeff: Or he’ll just enjoy the challenge.
Onley: He does. He’s a trooper. Because I have Thai characters in my next book and I’m just like, “I’m so sorry.” Because we just kept having to send the stuff back to him, like, “No, that pronunciation’s not quite right,” and sending it back. He was a trooper. He really does. I overwork him today.
Jeff: We’ve mentioned Patreon a couple of times, as we’ve talked. You have a really thriving community there. How did that come about for you?
Onley: Well, before “Necessary Evils” dropped, I had a very small Patreon community, probably about 32 people. And then once “Necessary Evils” started to get bigger, I saw things that people wanted that weren’t necessarily things that maybe a wider audience would be into. Like, once Asa and Avi had their partners, a lot of people were into, like, the idea of all four of them being a couple or, you know, a polycule essentially. But then a lot of people weren’t.
And so I kind of started writing scenes for them with huge caveats, like, “Listen, if this isn’t your thing, just scroll by. You’re never gonna see it in the book. So, just ignore it if you don’t like it.” But as soon as I would just write a 3,000-word little mini fic and put it up on Patreon and then tell people that, like, “Oh, Asa, Avi, Felix, and Zane have this little hot scene up,” I would get 200 new subscribers, like, in 24 hours. And it’s like, “Okay, so that’s what people wanna see.”
So, then I just started doing my best to give them what they want, like, you know, at a decent value. Like, I don’t charge anybody more than the $5 tier for any of the mini fic, for any of the early access to the serial. You know, really the higher tiers are the people who want the book boxes, the people who want the sort of upgraded merch that comes from those tiers, having access to, you know, signed paperbacks, and some, you know, stuff like that. So, I try to keep, like, the good stuff at just the smallest tier because I know, you know, not everybody has $10, $20 they can, you know, throw away every month, but some people have $5, you know, that they spend on a Starbucks coffee that they’re like, “Hey, you know what? I’d rather spend it on smut.” So, I give it to them.
Everybody who’s at Patreon gets an access to the arc before anybody else. So, all of those people will have, you know, had “Maniac” in their hands before it went live and they got to read along the way. So, there’s a lot of little perks that come from that. They get cover reveals early, they get blurb reveals early, access to fan art that other people don’t get to see, access to the NSFW fan art that people make me, access to things like stick figure drawings that I do when I’m trying to figure out how four people have sex at the same time. So, I never know what I’m gonna throw up on Patreon. If I’m just like, “They might like this,” I’ll just throw it up there and see what happens. But I try to give them as much value as I can for their money because they are, you know, taking their hard-earned money and giving it to me in addition to, like, buying my books. So, I try to always keep that in mind.
And it just keeps growing. It just keeps growing, and I’m so grateful it does. But a lot of authors don’t advertise their Patreon as much as I do. And I think that has a lot to do with it because they don’t wanna be pushy, you know. They don’t wanna be like, “Oh, always asking for money, always asking for money.” But a lot of people don’t know your Patreon exists because they’re all hidden if you write 18-plus content. So, even if people go to find you on Patreon, they can’t, because to search those people, you have to have the direct link.
So, I try to tell people, everybody who asks me about my Patreon that’s an author, I’m like, “Listen, you have to let people know you have it. You’re not being pushy. You just let them know it’s there.” At the bottom of every newsletter, it just says, “Hey, you like Patreon? I have one.” You know? And every newsletter, I pick up 20, 25 new subscribers, you know. And that ebbs and flows. Like, people will, you know, stop for a while and then come back, or, you know, people cancel and then new people show up. So, you know, it’s just a cool community and, like, it’s so interactive. And I like the real-time feedback that I get from them. It’s just really helpful to my writing process. It’s really cool.
Jeff: It’s a win-win for you and…
Onley: It really is.
Jeff: …for the fans, too, to get all that cool stuff.
Onley: I like to think so.
Jeff: We love to get book recommendations here. What have you read that listeners should maybe go check out?
Onley: Okay. Like I told you, I don’t read as much, I would say, U.S. fiction anymore, but I have read a couple recently that are a little outdated probably for most of the book community. But Ashlyn Drewek’s “Malum Discordiae” was amazing. I love a good paranormal romance, and that one was fantastic. Like, a necromancer. Like, the whole witches thing. It was real good. And then “Wrath” by Ellis James was gut-wrenching and beautiful and just so, so, so, so good.
But honestly, I’ve been reading a lot of, like, Japanese manhwa lately and watching a lot of Thai BLs, boy love series. So, I’ve kind of delved into that community a little bit, reading some graphic novels. Just to get different experiences and different looks at how other people view gay romance in other countries is really fascinating and interesting to me. And even things like “Young Royals” on Netflix, you know, with Sweden. And so it’s really cool to see, on an international scale, all the different stories that are coming out now. Really encouraging, considering how things are right now.
Jeff: Absolutely. You know, when everybody else kind of did too, we watched “KinnPorsche,” and it was utterly fascinating to see…
Onley: So good.
Jeff: …how that love story played itself out at all the components that went in it. Because the story would’ve never been told like that from an American author.
Onley: No. And that I think is why I’m so fascinated with Asia right now, because when I watched “KinnPorsche,” I was like, “Nobody questioned that there were three gay couples in one series.” Like, nobody blinked an eye. It was just a fact, and it was just what it was, and it had literally no bearing on the story whatsoever. And when I wrote “Necessary Evils,” I got so many comments on Twitter about people saying, “Onley James just said like, ‘Yeah, these brothers are all adopted, but somehow they’re all gay,’ and just went with it.” And I was like, “Listen,” and this is the God’s honest truth, “I assume everybody on this planet is queer until you tell me you’re straight. I’m sorry, if you’re gonna assume I’m straight, I’m gonna assume you’re a ghost. Sorry.” Like, “Don’t assume things.” But, like, I just love that aspect of it that, you know, everybody was just like, “Yeah, this isn’t a story about gay romance. This is a story about a mob boss who happens to be gay, and their romance, and all of their romances.” And it was just fascinating.
And I had some issues, obviously, with certain elements of storylines, like we all did, especially in this culture. Like, we’re all just kinda like, “Ooh,” like, “Are we supposed to think that’s hot?” You know? But it made for some really fascinating conversations. I actually have a BL group, a BL fandom group that started as a “KinnPorsche” fandom group, but just sort of expanded as we all collectively got more and more into Thai, and Taiwanese, and Japanese BLs.
But just absolutely gorgeous storylines over there. Just very unique, very interesting, very beautiful cinematography, stunning. And they really know how to do romance. Over here, and this is what I hate about certain gay romance shows over here, is that they tend toward the gratuitous, raunchy sex, kind of, you know… Like, Netflix is always trying to push that envelope, gay or straight. But, like, they tend to somewhat, I don’t know, just gloss over the romance part and kind of just go for shock value.
Whereas, in, like, these other BLs, it’s like, oh, they touched hands and that’s, like, super romantic. Or they just stare at each other’s eyes, or they finally kiss in Episode 8. And you’re just like, “Oh.” You know? Even if it’s the most basic kiss, it’s just like, “Oh.” You know? Because you’ve been waiting for so long, you’ve just been holding your breath. Like, “Are they going to do it?” Like, “Is it gonna happen?” And, like, I missed that in some romances over here. Like, it’s the same stuff that I used to think was amazing when I was a kid and reading Harlequin romances when I was 11, but before we got into, like, the real hardcore smut that, like… I mean, don’t get it twisted, you know I love it, but, like, it’s kind of nice to just take a step back and remember the romance aspect of it, too, and not just the physical part of it, like the emotional part of it. And I see that a lot more in Asian BLs, and it’s honestly affecting how I write. Like, it really is. It’s kind of reminding me to, like, not always be about the physical and stop and take a second to appreciate kind of the more romantic aspects that I used to roll my eyes at a little bit.
Jeff: Give me a swoony romance and I am a happy person, you know? I want to go, “Awwww.”
Onley: Yeah. Like, I watched a Thai BL called “Bad Buddy.” It’s absolutely my comfort show. I’ve watched it a million times. I’m literally learning to speak Thai just because I wanna be able to enjoy my shows without having to worry about the subtitles. But there is a kiss in Episode 5 that when it finally happened, I gasped out loud, like, I was clutching my pearls. Like, it was so perfect, and so romantic, and so sweet, and it was just, like, everything, and I was just, like, mouth open. And it shouldn’t have been as intense as it was, but they played it so subtly and so beautifully that you couldn’t help it. You just, like, literally stopped breathing. You were just like, “This is amazing.” You know? And I kind of missed that feeling that I, like, kind of found again, and it’s just so nice.
Jeff: Yeah. Right there with you. Absolutely. We’ve talked a little bit about two “Necessary Evils” spinoffs. You mentioned “The Watch,” which I will say here, I saw the Patreon cover that you dropped and I’m like, “I want that right this minute, please. Just based on the cover, if nothing else.” What can you tease us about what’s coming up next and, you know, kind of the timeline for some of this stuff?
Onley: Okay. So, I have two spinoff series coming and the patrons will have seen “The Watch” cover. But also just last week, I dropped “Paladin,” which is “Jericho’s Boys” Book 1’s cover as well. These are going to be two very different feels. And as far as how the book’s love stories go, “The Watch” is…it started out as a whole different idea. It was always going to be a school for psychopaths that are basically being taught to be kind of like international assassins. But I was originally going to do it almost like as an age gap, where it was kind of like the guys who run the school falling for their students. But honestly, as I started to, like, get to know the students and get to know, like, the characters just, you know… As I was working through it, really, there was so many connections between the students themselves that I don’t really wanna pigeonhole myself into making it any kind of, like, one type of romance.
Like, the first couple is Park and Gift, and they’re both a Thai couple but they’re in the international school. And their story is so different than, say, the next story that’s gonna be coming. So, it’s gonna be all the same characters. You’re gonna see these people over and over again. So, it’ll still be that fun found family kind of element, but it’s gonna be a little bit more graphic novelly in that you’ll probably see a more global aspect to the killing. There’ll be, like, a little bit more political intrigue, a little bit more, like, into weapons, and a little bit, like, you know, a little clicker, a little more gritty. But you could see students falling for each other, you could see assassins falling for their handlers, you could see, like, students falling for teachers. Like, it can be all kinds of stuff.
So, I don’t really have any set end to that series. It can go as long as, you know, people are still interested in reading it. I will probably just do, like, “Necessary Evils” and start off saying it’s probably gonna be seven books, just to kind of have that, you know, in people’s heads, like, you know. So, it’s gonna be a long series. But then “Jericho’s Boys” is going to be a little bit of, like, I hate to say it this way, but like a poor man’s “Necessary Evils,” where it’s definitely gonna be more grassroots as far as, like, you know, they’re very much in protecting their community. They live in a poorer community where people take advantage of people who are undocumented. And so it’ll be more stories of, like, getting revenge on people who are taking advantage of people who can’t protect themselves.
So, it’s gonna be a little bit angstier. There’s gonna be kind of some Noah-like storylines that are gonna be a little darker. It’ll still be, like, light enough with the snark and stuff like that, but it’ll just be a different feel. You’ll see probably more of the “Necessary Evils” characters making appearances in that one versus “The Watch,” though Archer and Mac will obviously be in “The Watch” because they work there. So, it’ll be a very, still, all interconnected but very different feel. All of the boys in Jericho’s series, they are all gamers. So, the gaming aspect will be prevalent in their covers, in kind of like their stories. So, there’s a little bit of almost like ’80s throwback vibe with, like, the whole gamer thing but, like, modernized with, like, their Twitch streamers and stuff like that. So, there’s gonna be, like, a lot of different elements in them, but I’m going to be releasing them staggered.
So, it’ll be Arsen’s book “Paladin” first, and then I’ll switch over to “The Watch” and give you “The Watch” Book 1. Then I’ll switch over to Book 2, and I’ll go like that. I only have plans right now to release four books this year because there’s so much other things going on as far as all of my foreign releases and audiobooks and stuff like that. I don’t wanna kind of overtax myself because I have been having a lot of illness. And so I just really…I can’t afford to really overtax myself. So, four plotted, but if things take off and I’m just rocking and I’m feeling really into it, it could be up to six books this year. It just really depends. And obviously, it’ll depend on the feedback of the readers, you know? Like, if they’re loving it, then we’ll take it as far as I can, you know. And at some point, I plan on bringing in an “Elite 2.0” with that series. There may even be a “Necessary Evils 2.0” with the kids from the Mulvaney family. So, there’s a lot of stuff in the work.
Jeff: That’s awesome. What is the best way for the readers to keep up with you online to get all of this news and keep up to date?
Onley: The best way would be either to join my reader group on Facebook, or to be part of my newsletter. You can find any of those at linktr.ee/onleyjames. That’s my link tree. So, every way you could possibly wanna follow me is on there. You can stalk me in every way but showing up in my house. As long as you’re not in my bushes, I’m pro-stalking. So, like, you can find me there.
Jeff: Fantastic. We will link to that link tree in the show notes and let people discover you any and all the ways that they want to. Onley, it has been amazing talking to you and finding out all this stuff.
Onley: Thank you.
Jeff: Thank you so much…
Onley: I’m so happy.
Jeff: … for being here and talking to us.
Onley: I love it. I’ve always wanted to be on the show, so I’m very excited.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. The show notes page has links to absolutely everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
And just as a quick reminder, if you want to get book recommendations in your inbox every single Friday, you should sign up for the Rainbow Romance Reader Report. It’s this podcast’s official newsletter. We feature new releases and books that are coming soon to help you keep your TBR up to date. You can sign up at BigGayFictionPodcast.com/report.
Jeff: Alright. In my case, when I read the newsletter each week when it’s getting ready to go out, I just go, I wanna read that, wanna read that… as if my TBR has any extra space in it. I just don’t know.
Anyway, thanks again to Onley for joining us. It was great hearing about her start and how much Asian storytelling is influencing her writing these days. And of course, I’m happy to talk about “KinnPorsche” at any opportunity. After our chat, I am so looking forward to “The Watch” even more. I just can’t wait to get my hands on that book cause it sounds like it’s gonna be awesome.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday, April 10th, KD Casey will be here to talk about the latest in the “Unwritten Rules” series.
Jeff: That’s right. Baseball season actually starts this week… And you know what? I almost said kicks off this week, and that would just be a bad mix of a sports metaphor there.
Will: I don’t think you kick baseballs.
Jeff: Not typically. No.
Anyway, “Diamond Ring” is releasing just as the season starts. This is a second chance romance, which you know is one of my very favorite things. It’s going to be fun to hear all about the story of Jake and Alex.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.