Most paranormal romance series take place in our world, or in a place extremely similar to it. But few are as invested in the most pressing issues of our time than Suleikha Snyder’s Third Shift series, which begins with Big Bad Wolf. In Snyder’s alternate version of America, the existence of supernatural beings was revealed to the general public in 2016, leading to mass panic, the creation of a surveillance state and the registration of said supernatural beings. Even worse, the government’s totalitarian bent has amplified homophobia, racism and sexism.
We talked to Snyder about putting her unique stamp on the shifter romance, scene-stealing vampires and more.
You're perhaps best known for your contemporary romances. What led you to switch genres?
Big Bad Wolf is my first longform paranormal romance. I've dabbled in the subgenre in some of my indie-published short stories, which readers can find in my Prem Numbers collection. Suffice it to say, diving in headfirst to a full-length series and having to build out a whole world was pretty daunting. But I always want to challenge myself!
I don't see it as switching genres so much as hopping around. I will no doubt jump back to contemporaries after this because I want to keep growing and learning as an author. And writing shifter romances has taught me a lot about continuity and just keeping the little details straight. What are the rules of this world? How do wolf shifters heal? Can vampires eat or drink? These are all things you learn to hash out as you pen a paranormal.
"I fully admit that I talked about imprinting mostly so I could make duck jokes."
Your paranormal world is clearly inspired by the political climate of the last few years. How long has this world been in your head? Did it change at all over the years? Why was it important to you to create an alternate reality that so clearly mirrors our own?
I've had some version of this world in my head since 2013 or so! But the shift in the political climate since 2015–2016 definitely kicked it all into high gear and informed how I moved forward with the stories. It became all the more vital for me to use the supernatural community as a metaphor for the challenges all marginalized people face. Not that I left it solely up to my shifters and vampires to carry that. My cast features Americans of all sorts—Asian, Black, Latinx—and characters represent the LGBTQ+ spectrum as well. My goal is to show that an "alternate reality" is often the actual reality that we've lived with our entire lives.
Big Bad Wolf doesn't confine itself to the main couple's POV in the way a traditional romance novel would; you tell parts of this story from other characters’ perspectives as well. What did that choice open up for you as a writer? When did you realize you would need to break from the stereotypical romance structure to tell this story?
I didn't even really think about breaking away from typical romance structure. This is just how I write. I think a lot of that comes from watching serial dramas my whole life. I'm a soap opera fan, both primetime and daytime, and love procedural shows and comic book movies. And most of those forms weave in multiple narratives to show you a full picture of what's happening. "Let's go see what's happening in the villain's camp." "Oh, here's some comic relief." And I love a good ensemble cast, so this was an opportunity for me to create one!
Were there any supernatural creatures you wanted to include and decided not to? Any that you'd still like to incorporate further down the line?
There are no supernatural beings that I deliberately left out. I like to leave myself room to do anything, try anything. But you will see more characters from South Asian mythology as the series continues. It's really important to me to pull from my own background and our rich cultural mine. I grew up with vampires and werewolves because of Western pop culture, but I also had the stories of nagas, yakshas, apsaras and djinn. So readers will get to experience some of that in the next two books.
One of the things I loved about this book is how you play with already established shifter romance tropes, such as imprinting/fated mates. Joe and Neha's attraction to one another both is and isn't the sort of paradigm-changing, life-altering force we would find in similar romances. Can you talk a bit about how you developed your own take on the imprinting trope?
I fully admit that I talked about imprinting mostly so I could make duck jokes. Sometimes I just do things for the quick laugh. But on a larger level, I'm not a huge proponent of the fated mate trope, because I grapple with what that means for free will. So I kind of dug into that with Joe and Neha. Sure, they're pulled toward each other and that might be because he's a shifter . . . but what does that mean about their ability to choose one another?
The Third Shift team feels immediately present and dynamic on the page. How did you build out all those characters and their relationships, and did any aspect of that surprise you?
I am a character person. Plot is so much harder. I could create friends and lovers and family members and have them all banter and spar all day long. So creating all these fun personalities was totally my wheelhouse—especially, again, coming from it as a soap viewer. I love relationships of all kinds. The close friendship between Third Shift founders Elijah Richter and Jackson Tate and their recruits is sort of the spine of the series. And then I just add romance wherever I can! One thing that surprised me was what develops between Nate, Finn and Grace. I had very different intentions for those characters, and their spark snuck up on me. The follow-through in Pretty Little Lion might very much surprise readers as well!
Speaking of Finn, he is the definition of a scene stealer—was he as fun to write as he was to read?
Oh my gosh, yes! I think people who follow me on social media know that I can't resist puns and innuendos, so I just leaned into that with Finn. I laughed aloud so many times while writing his dialogue. And please don't EVER do a drinking game to his eyebrow movements. I don't want to be responsible for what happens. With that said, readers will learn more about Finn in book two, Pretty Little Lion, and see another side to this quip-heavy flirt.
There's a really powerful moment near the end of the book when Neha talks about how, despite the darkness of her reality, she finds hope because she expects better from the world. How and where do you find hope?
Hope is the core of why we read and write romance, isn't it? That's where I find it most often. In that “Happily Ever After” at the end. So having Neha talk about hope and expecting better from the world helped me with my own sense of that. Fighting fiercely for who and what you love is what keeps us going in the end.
What's next for you?
I'm finishing up revisions on Third Shift book two, Pretty Little Lion, and after that it's on to book three! Tentatively titled Coldhearted Snakes, it will tie up the arc begun in Big Bad Wolf. And then I might find another subgenre to play in!
Author photo by Elizabeth McQuern Photography