We are thrilled to welcome popular Gay Romance Author Onley James to the BL Xpress.
Onley James is the pen name of YA author, Martina McAtee. She splits her time between writing YA LGBT paranormal romances, writing adult MM Romances and running her publishing company, 7 Sisters Publishing, which specializes in diverse fiction. She loves ghost stories, true-crime documentaries, obsessively scrolling social media and writing kinky, snarky books about men who fall in love with other men. Join us as we strike a conversation with the prolific writer, about the thought process involved in the making of these novels and their imaginative universes!
1) Your novels are characterized by inflammable chemistry between morally ambiguous men, who often get into unspoken troubles. How do you visualize your characters and their quirks?
I think I am a bit morally ambiguous myself. I am a firm believer of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. I have the unique perspective of having worked as both a paralegal and then later as a psych nurse, so I see how perceived psychiatric issues feed directly into prisons and how many truly bad people fall through the cracks and are still walking free based only on financial status or skin color. In my world, having a mental illness or being neurodiverse doesn’t make you the bad guy and the real bad guys always pay with their lives. It’s a bit of wish fulfilment on my part because I am also neurodiverse. As for the chemistry… that just takes care of itself.
2) “Elite Protection Services Series” has a recurring theme of older commitment phobic men falling for their younger yet weaker love interests. What did you have in mind while writing about these deeply flawed individuals?
I don’t see their love interests as weaker. I see them as more willing to show their vulnerabilities. Linc has severe PTSD, Shep is a sociopath, Calder is terrified of commitment after losing his family. Those could all be seen as weaknesses, but because they are big, tough men, they aren’t seen as vulnerable. The only truly together one is Jackson and even that speaks to some underlying pathology to be the best version of himself to take care of his family. There are no perfect people in the world. There are people who hide it better than others. I just like to peel back the layers so everybody can see why they do the things they do.
3) The premise for the spin-off series “Time Served Series” is quite different. We have wrongfully accused convicts who inevitably end up falling in love? How did you conceptualize this storyline?
I was briefly obsessed with the show Rescue about a group of ex-cons who rescue Pitbull’s and find them forever homes. I love that concept. It might seem like a complete reversal of my previous answer to say that committing a crime doesn’t make you a bad person, but I one hundred percent believe that. I think you can do one bad thing in the moment that shapes the rest of your life. But I also think there are some people in this world that are beyond redemption. In my world, I get to play judge, jury and executioner, sparing those who can be saved and punishing those who can’t.
4) Your “Wages of Sin Series” features hot serial killers/ assassins falling for snarky individuals. How much fun did you have visualizing the animosity and subsequent surrender to their feelings?
I think its safe to say that Neve and I had a blast writing this series. We have very similar writing styles, but our brains work in totally different ways. I’m a big picture plot person and she ‘sees’ certain scenes in her head so it becomes a game of me fitting Neve’s visions into our overarching stories. We just wanted to write a series where we didn’t have to focus on the morality of our characters. We tell you right from the start, these are bad guys, then we try to make you love them anyway.
5) “Wages of Sin” is your first collaboration working with Neve Wilder. How was the experience of co-authoring this book series?
It was fun. We are both naturally skittish people and neither of us were sure we were capable of writing with others. So we started the book with the idea of, this is just for fun and if it doesn’t work out or we are no longer having fun, we’ll bail on the project. But we found that not only were we having fun we sort of compliment each other’s writing styles. We push each other to be better.
6) In “Necessary Evils Series”, you have created an invariable universe filled with psychopaths fighting for social justice. Why did you choose such intriguing yet antagonistic subjects as your main characters?
I am obsessed with true crime. I live and breathe it. I listen to podcasts, and I have documentaries and television shows about it running in the background. I started obsessing over psychopaths and serial killers when I was a pre-teen, and it never went away. Its part of why I became a psych nurse. When people seemed intrigued with my character Shep in my Elite series, it gave me the green light to pull the trigger on this concept for Necessary Evils. Again, I like taking unapologetic ‘bad guys’ and making them do good things without changing who they are on a fundamental level.
7) I have noticed that you enjoy writing steamy romances, where one character is increasingly possessive and the other is vulnerable. Why are you drawn to such characters?
I am sure that speaks more to my own psychological issues than anything. I think that most people—especially people who are hurting or broken or act tough or standoffish—desperately want somebody to step in and take care of them. I think the more independent people are, the more it shows that they were once vulnerable, and it backfired on them. While I have no interest in dating somebody who thinks of me as a possession or object, having somebody who makes you the sole focus of their lives is kind of a heady thought and offers a layer of protection that allows the object of their affections to feel safe to be who they are.
8) Do you have any favorite book, drama or movie that has left an ever-lasting impression on your mind?
Two books come to mind, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Go Ask Alice by Anonymous for very different reasons, the first blew me away with its creative narrative and the second traumatized me for life. As for dramas, Dexter and Criminal Minds have definitely shaped my perception on why people do bad things and how to refocus a broken mind into something more productive. Movies…I find myself drawn to psychological thrillers that surprise me or movies that have snappy dialogue and fast-paced action scenes.
9) Do you enjoy reading MM Romance novels written by your contemporary authors? If yes, then who is your current favorite author and why?
I used to mainline MM romances before I started writing them. I loved Sloane Kennedy, Lucy Lennox, KM Neuhold and Stella Starling just to name a few. Since I started writing MM romance, I’ve backed off on reading it, one: because I don’t have time and two: because it gives me a bit of imposter syndrome which causes writers block.
10) Being a Gay Romance Author yourself, what is your opinion about the current status of LGBTQ representation in books?
I’m going to try not to get on my soapbox about this. I started out writing YA books under my real name and my book was filled with many LGBTQ characters. People told me I would never get published with that many queer characters, which was crazy because I was writing fantasy books about reapers and witches, but more than one gay character made it unrealistic. It just made me shake my head.
While we are getting better about representation in books, it still makes up a very small percentage of the overall published works and still carries with it a sort of othering that I find a bit irritating. It’s not fantasy, its gay fantasy, not romance but gay romance. We don’t call MF books straight romance. I don’t think I’ll be comfortable with the representation in books until there’s no longer a need to designate gay romance or LGBTQ fiction and I’m not sure that will ever happen.
11) What are you working on right now? Talk to us about your future books?
I’m currently working on Moonstruck, my third book in my Necessary Evils series. There will be seven of them total, plus a spin-off series based on characters met in this book. That will easily take me through all of 2022. I also plan on expanding my single title Disciplinary Action into a trilogy at some point in early 2023. I’m also hoping to continue writing with Neve Wilder, maybe on another Wages of Sin book or a different series entirely. After that, I’m really not sure.
The BL Xpress would like to thank Onley James for taking the time to answer our questions!