Interview & Giveaway: Crimes and Survivors by Sarah Smith

Hello, dear readers! Today on the blog I have a great interview with Sarah Smith, author of Crimes and Survivors, a fabulous new historical set on the Titanic! We also have a giveaway so be sure to enter!

Hello Sarah and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Crimes and Survivors!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

When I was a kid, my family used to spend vacations at my grandmother’s house, which had last been updated in 1910. My grandmother and I would start the morning by going “down cellar,” bringing up two hods of coal, and starting the fire in the coal stove. An hour later we’d have hot water. The beds had a feather mattress over a straw mattress. As a special treat, sometimes we’d light the gaslights. It was magic. Forever after, the Victorian and Edwardian periods have been magical to me.

What inspired you to write Crimes and Survivors?

Titanic. I’ve been fascinated by Titanic since I was a kid.

But while doing the research for the book, I came across a different angle on the story.

A bit of background: I’m part of a multicultural family. The people who get asked “What are you?”--I’m related to some of them. Doing research, I came across the story of Jack Johnson and Titanic. Jack Johnson, as you historically minded folks know, would have been the heavyweight champion of the world if he hadn’t been black. He tried to buy a ticket on Titanic. The White Star Line decided they’d let NO black people aboard.

So here was a part of Titanic I hadn’t thought about. Some of my dear relatives wouldn’t have been able to sail on my dear Titanic.

“What are you?” As if what is the same as who. What are you, so people can judge you? Too young, too old, too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too ethnic, too impractical? Some of us get judged for writing or reading the books we choose.

My heroine’s a what-are-you. She’s very short-sighted; she can see only colors and shapes unless she’s close to them. An inconvenience for her but not usually a problem—except in the way some people treat her. “People decide I can’t see at all,” she says, “and if I can’t see, I obviously can’t hear. People ask Alexander questions about me when I’m right there to answer.”

Now she’s found out that the grandfather she barely knows may be passing for white. She could be black. At the height of Jim Crow America. By American law her marriage to her husband might even be illegal, if she’s black. It’s a nightmare. She’s furious and scared. “Being called black,” she says, “would be like being called blind. People think can’t. Think stupid. People have tried to make me that person for most of my life.” And she won’t have it.

She has to find out the truth—and it has to be the right truth, the one that will save her family.

But she wants to know the real truth, even if she can never tell it…

What research did you undertake when writing Crimes and Survivors?

Oooh, tons. I have a shelf full of books about Titanic. (I have an excuse for a shelf full of books about Titanic.) For the background of Perdita’s grandfather, I explored horse country Virginia with my friend Katherine Neville. In New York, friends lent my heroine and hero a very elegant apartment on Riverside Drive and I scouted other 1912 locations, from a Broadway deli to the steps of the New York Public Library. In Harlem, at the Schomburg, I researched black detectives, women detectives, and “downtown whites.” A favorite research location was Fort Lee, New Jersey, which in 1912 was like Hollywood. The last scenes of the book are set in Fort Lee during filming of the first Titanic movie—made just days after the sinking, with a real full-size wreck standing in for Titanic.

What would you like readers to take away from reading Crimes and Survivors?

Another thing people could be judged for in 1912? Being a survivor. Men like Bruce Ismay were blamed for surviving. Even the women were told that if they were suffragettes, they should have stayed on board and died. “Votes for Women was the cry,” one anti-suffrage poet wrote—but on Titanic “Boats for Women was the cry, When the brave were come to die.”

Some people—especially women—were so ashamed of surviving Titanic that they never told anyone they’d been on her.

My heroine and hero deal with what it means to be a survivor. “What are you?” they both have to ask themselves. What does it mean to take a place in the lifeboats? What does it mean afterward?
Towards the end of the book, one of them says something wonderful, one of my favorite lines in the book. What are they? “We are each other’s lifeboats.”

What was your favorite scene to write?

Touring Titanic. It’s night; the passengers are sleeping. The crew have crept out like mice. One man is stacking books in the ship’s library, cabins are still being painted. It’s the maiden voyage, nothing is quite ready. But the ship is so magnificent. And my hero and heroine see it together.

The scene is about the two of them—she’s going to America to make her grandfather talk, he doesn’t want her to go, he’s worried, their relationship is sailing into unknown waters. The trick was writing it so it was about Titanic too.

The next morning he gives her a pin marked Titanic. He makes fun of it for being sentimental, and of himself for being sentimental, but of course he’s making fun because he doesn’t dare face the depths of his love for her.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

Near the end of the book they both feel they’ve failed themselves and their son. He says “How can I be a good father?” and realizes maybe he can’t. She says “Will I always regret what I did?” and they both know the answer is yes.

At the depths of their misery and shame, the two of them reach out for each other.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was 8 or so and my mother said that my grandmother’s wonderful magical house would have to be sold someday. I decided I had to make money so we could keep it. Babysitting didn’t pay enough, so I decided I’d write a book.

My family still owns the house.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

I try to write for a couple of hours early in the morning, before my inner critic wakes up. For the last month or so, though, my whole schedule has been chaotic. Yours too, I bet. It is what it is.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

I can’t plot. I do a detailed outline as a kind of first draft, working out a lot of the plot problems then, discarding cliches, figuring out what I have to research.

This gives me the entirely fictitious idea that everything is under control.

Then I start the actual draft and the characters take over. They look over my plot, shake their heads, and mutter “You’re joking.” They go their own way and I bounce along behind, clutching my outline like a first-time water skier clutching a rope. Occasionally I go back and edit the rope.

Ropes are good to have and give great comfort.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Lots of people. James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (unfortunate title, classic book) was a particular inspiration for Crimes and Survivors. Hilary Mantel: oh, goodness, can that woman write. Mary Renault and Patrick O’Brian; the history’s brilliant but it’s all about the characters.

What was the first historical novel you read?

Probably A Tale of Two Cities. First not-so-classic that absolutely grabbed my heart? Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Sherwood Ring. A threefer: a Big House Book, a historical, and a ghost story. The ending, when the heroine sees the ghosts across the water, still makes me cry.

What is the last historical novel you read?

I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel, rereading the first two volumes of the Wolf Hall trilogy before sinking deliciously into The Mirror and the Light.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I can fix ANYTHING, if it’s Victorian. In my grandmother’s house, the lovely Victorian wallpaper was falling to pieces and flaking away. Little Sally fetched a ladder, glued the paper back on the wall, and then painted in the missing bits. I can do Victorian upholstery. (Sewing with a hammer and nails is about my speed.) But I cannot iron a shirt without making it look as though wolves ate it.
I actually own a tiny fragment of Titanic.

I also write SF. Historical fiction is SF where somebody else makes up the details for you.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

Murder mysteries are about people who act. If you believe in something strongly enough to murder for it, I’m interested in you.

And if you believe that the truth matters—if you believe it enough to face the truth, whatever it is?
Then you’re my heroine.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

Three guesses! But I also read a lot of SF and fantasy. I’m a complete sucker for steampunk and Victorian Gothic.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Hang out with people! Go to conventions, with people! Go to grocery stores, even, with people!

Right now, during the lockdown, I’m running a Zoom chat and reading series for authors. Tuesdays and Thursdays, an author comes to visit Teatime Readings and reads something. We record the reading and turn it into a YouTube video, which the author can use.

It’s a way to hear about books if their release has hit an iceberg.

Sign up at
Drop by and hang out at 5-6 PM Eastern, any weekday.
Watch videos of Teatime readings:

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Something completely different. It’s Victorian, but it’s set in a fantasticated version of 19C Brazil, in a remote area I know and love because my son-in-law comes from there. It’s got love and sex and revolutions. It’s got giant eagles who speak Latin. I’m having a great time and I hope you will too.

Well, you certainly grabbed by attention with that description! I look forward to reading that one! Thank you for stopping by today!

Crimes and Survivors by Sarah Smith

Publication Date: April 15, 2020
Make Light Work LLC
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook; 394 Pages

Series: A Reisden and Perdita Mystery, #4
Genre: Historical Mystery

It's 1912. America. The land of Jim Crow, of lynchings and segregation. And a young society woman has just discovered that the grandfather she barely knows may be black.

She has a family. She has a child. If she's black, her friends will deny they know her. Her marriage will be illegal. Her little boy will never be a full citizen of America.

She can't be black. She's experienced prejudice before. Never again. It will not happen to her or to anyone she loves.

She follows her grandfather onto the newest, safest, biggest ship in the world, to learn the truth. The right truth, the one that will save her family.

But after the iceberg, she finds the truth is far more complicated than black and white. More inspiring, more loving. Far more dangerous... And what she'll need to find is not a convenient truth but a new America.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound


"The Titanic still cruises our imaginations...And she has secrets. Sarah Smith knows them and knows how to tell them in this riveting, page-turning novel, a tale unraveling from out of the ignorant past, through that terrible moment of truth on the Titanic, and on toward a hopeful future. Read it and be enthralled." -- WILLIAM MARTIN, New York Times bestselling author of Cape Cod and Bound for Gold:

"You may think you know everything there is to know about Titanic, but Sarah Smith’s 'Crimes and Survivors' carves out a space of its own—while, in the same breath, demarcating a huge swath of America’s history and painting a resonant vision of its future. The result is suspenseful, insightful, moving and highly recommended." -- LOUIS BAYARD, bestselling author of Courting Mr. Lincoln

"For those of us who have been hoping for a new tale of intrigue featuring Sarah Smith’s star-crossed couple Alexander Reisden and Perdita Halley, the wait is over! Smith’s new installment, Crimes and Survivors, takes readers aboard the Titanic and to Jim Crow-era America for a thrilling and romantic literary mystery that unflinchingly examines issues of race and identity, love and family, and the danger and beauty of uncovering long-hidden truths." -- SARAH STEWART TAYLOR, author of the Sweeney St. George mysteries and The Mountains Wild

"Come for the rich prose, meticulous research, and vibrant characters. Stay for the heart-stopping mystery. Sarah Smith's fresh take on the doomed Titanic sailing is filled with twists and turns and will enthrall both new readers and longtime fans of the Vanished Child series!" -- EDWIN HILL, Edgar and Agatha-nominated author of Little Comfort and The Missing Ones

About the Author

Sarah Smith started telling stories as a child in Japan. Her sitter would tell her ghost stories at night, and the next morning she’d act them out on the school bus for an audience of terrified five-year-olds. Back in America, she lived in an unrestored Victorian house, where every morning she would help her grandmother haul coal and break sticks into kindling to light the household stove. She’s loved storytelling and history ever since.

She studied English at Harvard, where she spent Saturdays in the library reading mysteries, and film in London and Paris, where she sat next to Peter Cushing at a film show and got to pet Francis Bacon’s cat. While teaching English, she got interested in personal computers (she and two friends bought 3 of the first 5 PCs sold in Boston). She realized that software could help her plot bigger stories, and she’s never looked back.

Her bestselling series of Edwardian mysteries, starring Alexander von Reisden and Perdita Halley, has been published in 14 languages. Two of the books have been named New York Times Notable Books. The Vanished Child, the first book in the series, is being made into a musical in Canada. The fourth book in the Reisden-Perdita series, about the Titanic, will be published April 15, 2020. Crimes and Survivors. You can preorder it now from your favorite bookstore.

Sarah’s young adult ghost thriller, The Other Side of Dark, won both the Agatha (for best YA mystery of the year) and the Massachusetts Book Award for best YA book of the year. Her Chasing Shakespeares, a novel about the Shakespeare authorship, has been called “the best novel about the Bard since Nothing like the Sun” (Samuel R. Delany) and has been turned into a play.

Sarah lives in Boston with her family and not enough cats.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, April 15
Review at Passages to the Past

Thursday, April 16
Review at Books and Zebras

Friday, April 17
Review at Gwendalyn's Books
Feature at What Is That Book About

Saturday, April 18
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Sunday, April 19
Review at Jessica Belmont

Monday, April 20
Review at Captivated Pages

Tuesday, April 21
Feature at I'm Into Books

Wednesday, April 22
Guest Post at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Saturday, April 25
Excerpt at Historical Graffiti

Monday, April 27
Instagram Feature at Just a Girl and Her Books

Wednesday, April 29
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, May 1
Review at YA, It's Lit


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a copy of Crimes and Survivors! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on May 1st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Crimes and Survivors

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing it. Great interviews. I love hearing about authors and their process, inspiration etc.


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