There’s not so so much to say about the business of MCs in romance novels, but if we’re looking at the MC in terms of characterization, there are some interesting things to consider.
First, it’s not always clearly stated – in fact, I can’t think of a single book in which the MC specifically refers to itself as an “outlaw MC” – but the MCs in smut are probably all outlaw MCs. Now, this sounds like something criminal or possibly exciting, but it really just means that the club isn’t sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) or doesn’t adhere to its policies and bylaws. That said, the overall sense of these MCs, even if they don’t directly address what kind of illegal business the club is involved in, is that they are shady. Why else would you need to kidnap a doctor to illicitly save someone’s life in the middle of the night? (Please see Striker by Lilly Atlas.)
In real life, MCs that do engage in illegal activity engage in all kinds of illegal activity, including prostitution, which is never one of the things the MC does in smut (there are things readers tend not to approve of, and peddling flesh is apparently one of them). I read that making, transporting, and selling drugs (not just weed, but the bad news kind) is the number one MC moneymaker in real life. In smut, we have varied illegal activity, depending on how rough is the characterization of the MC, but guns and drugs are the top performers.
Second, in most instances, the members of the MC are essentially employed by the MC, and they usually have some kind of legal operation that can, bare minimum, operate as a front for their illegal operations. Most of them run some kind of auto or bike shop, but I’ll give a shout-out to the Reaper’s MC of Joanna Wylde fame for having a gun shop and strip club in their diverse business portfolio. Chantal Fernando’s Wind Dragons have a strip club and a bar. You get the idea. These are working people who live in a world of hourly wages (though, to be fair, that’s most of us, because there are very specific requirements for categorizing an employee as exempt if we’re talking US employment laws).
These books are not for the readers looking for a white-collar guy in a sharp suit. In fact, as I continued to read, I began to think of some folks I know who really, truly, do not own dress clothes and who I have seen with my own eyes attend black tie dinners in jeans and a button-up shirt because that’s who they are and they don’t need to wear a black tie to a black tie event. Just throw a leather cut on that, and there you go. That said, these protagonists are typically portrayed as pretty sharp, as small business owners who have the same concerns as other small business owners. The hero in the first Reaper’s book is the club’s accountant, for crying out loud.
Finally, there’s a divergence between MC romance in which the club “got clean” versus is happily continuing to engage in definitely illegal activity, like running guns and drugs. In terms of characterization, the latter trends darker and more anti-hero than the former.
If we’re talking “the club was into illegal stuff and cleaned up”, those series would include the Chaos MC by Kristen Ashley and the Knight’s Rebels MC by River Savage. I might also include the Torpedo Ink MC by Christine Feehan in this crowd, because they were Russian assassins but now they’re an MC with paranormal powers that rights the world’s wrongs. (It’s super messed up, absolutely, but it is nowhere close to the level of yikes of Undeniable by Madeline Sheehan.) Nevertheless, these clubs still totally get their vigilante action on, so they are by no means upright citizens walking the straight and narrow.
If we’re talking clubs that just don’t care about the fact that what they want to do ≠ what the government says it’s okay to do, then you’re looking at clubs like the Reaper’s MC by Joanna Wylde or the Undeniable series I mentioned above or, honestly, most of the other clubs I read about. In these cases, I found it interesting that most of the time the gun and drug running was addressed as a matter of course, as if there was no moral issue with this activity. Chantal Fernando in particular tends to address this business as a non-entity, which I found perplexing. (Like, why get bent out of shape about sex and not about other moral quandaries?) Even so, there’s an undercurrent of dark and dangerous associated with “club business” in these books.
I thought it was fun to pick apart what the club does for work as an exercise in exploring what type of work an author might show as valuable or not. How the business demonstrates the cohesiveness and success of the club. How smart the brothers might be, when from the outside world they’re perceived as thugs. (Though, let’s be honest, people are not generally super psyched about strip clubs either, so what does that tell us, if that’s the MC’s business?) How they do or don’t take pride in their work. The characterization of the MC’s business doesn’t only show that the heroes are employed (however that might be), it provides a ton of social commentary that significantly enhances the overall feel and tone of the book.
Well, that wasn’t the last chart I’ll provide, but I don’t expect we’ll see too many charts when we talk politics next. Smut is super political. Don’t let anybody tell you different.
PS: All my Motorcycle Monday posts can be found here