Thomasville author tries her hand at fiction

Jan. 21, 2013 @ 02:55 PM

After writing two nonfiction books, Davidson County author Karen Cecil Smith has channeled her writing skills into her first fictional novel.
The book, however, is based on a true story.
“Pillow of Thorns,” published by Argus Enterprises International, is based on the true story of a young Fayetteville woman, Ann K. Simpson, who was accused of poisoning three husbands. While Smith doesn’t want to divulge too much of the story, she says her novel has some unique twists and turns reminiscent of a true-crime book.
“A friend of mine who is a history teacher and historian came across a transcript of an 1850 murder trial,” recalls Smith, who lives in Thomasville. “I had written two books, and she said, ‘I really think you should consider writing a book about this.’”
Initially, as Smith began to research Simpson’s story, she planned to write a true-crime account. But when the research trail went cold, she says, “I decided it would be best to make it a novel rather than a nonfiction book, so I changed her name and the names of her family members. But as far as the historical account, I’ve kept all those names. It’s historically accurate to the trial.”
Smith’s research was thorough. In addition to researching the case at the public library in Winston-Salem and at the N.C. State Archives in Raleigh, she also went to Fayetteville so dig through newspaper accounts of Simpson’s trial and to interview locals who were familiar with the case.
“Ann Simpson was a member of Fayetteville’s elite,” Smith says. “She was basically a spoiled 17-year-old — a beautiful, exotic woman, very shapely, who wanted to have a home of her own. She wanted to get married and have a home of her own. So this older, wealthy man came from New York to open a carriage factory in Fayetteville, and they eventually got married.”
The story then follows the sequence of events leading to the young wife — Maria Miller Stafford in the book — being accused of murder, and her subsequent trial.
The book gets its title from an actual statement made by the prosecution during the sensational trial: “An artful, false woman shall set thy pillow with thorns.”
Although this is Smith’s first attempt at writing fiction, she apparently hit a home run, eliciting these positive words from well-known North Carolina author Lee Smith: “Infamous Maria Miller was certainly one of the most beautiful and intriguing women ever to live in North Carolina — but was she a murderer? Author Karen Cecil Smith knows how to keep her impeccable research in the background and let a good story rip. ... Both informative and entertaining, ‘Pillow of Thorns’ is a model of historical fiction.”
Smith’s first two books were nonfiction — “Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife (1844-1939)” and “An Old Salem Christmas, 1840” — but she took a definite liking to the fiction genre.
“I like it because I can take more liberties with it,” she says.
She likes it so much, in fact, that her next book will also be a novel, based on the life of her husband’s Sicilian grandmother. | 888-3579


Karen Cecil Smith will sign copies of her novel, “Pillow of Thorns,” on Feb. 9, from 1 to 3 p.m., at Literary Bookpost in downtown Salisbury.
Other signings are being scheduled.
The book is available at or through the publisher, Argus Enterprises International, at
For more information about the author, visit her website at