Author spotlight: Cash Anthony

By Hyenas in Petticoats Press - January 20, 2021
Author spotlight: Cash Anthony

This week's featured contributor to "The Stories of She" is Cash Anthony, award-winning screenwriter, author of numerous books, editor, world traveler, motorcycle mama, and recovering attorney. We're thrilled she's part of our project! 

TITLE: Taking Up Serpents


The infant lay dead a few inches from her face, a piece of rebar through its back. She let her M-16 fall from the sling on her shoulder. Her leg wasn’t working, and her right hand was mangled, but she ignored all that. She sobbed without awareness. A tray fragment had sliced her forehead open from her ear to her right eye. But she'd seen more than enough with the left one.

She pointed her M-16 at the sky. And with her bloody, ruined trigger finger, she fired and fired and fired.

What is “Taking Up Serpents” about?  

Amira de la Garda is a young woman who was brought to the U.S. from Manila by the self-styled leader of a Texas religious sect that believes in snake-handling, polygamy, and child sexual abuse. She escapes the cult and goes into the Army but must return after she's wounded--to rescue the daughter she left behind, before she's forced to marry at age 14. 

How did you come up with the concept and characters for your story? 

I saw news stories about the women who had escaped the Warren Jeffs-FLDS compound and how hard it was for them to live normal lives, get past their brainwashing, and deal with constant threats from the men still there. Although many documentaries and movies have been made about the Warren Jeffs case and the FLDS Church, this sort of secret violence against women and children continues in many states; and people are still willing to accept it rather than change their beliefs.

On a personal level, my father brought us to Texas so he could attend a theological seminary with the intent to become a priest; while my mother came from a "hard-shell" fundamentalist background. So I was around uncompromising biblical doctrine throughout my youth. Much of my surviving family still believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and in scriptural inerrancy. This caused a great deal of intellectual conflict for me until I matured enough to make up my own mind about it.

What inspired the names of the characters in the story? 

I wanted the female lead, Amira de la Garda, to be a survivor, a fighter, and eventually a guardian of her younger sister and secret daughter; and I wanted her to be mixed race, a foreigner to the U.S., and a good soldier, as "de la Garda" suggests.  

Amira is both a Hebrew and an Arabic name (many Muslims live in the Philippines), and in numerology the name represents people who are of the land, stable, balanced, realistic, practical, persistent, with high self-discipline.

The younger sister, Marikit de la Garda, also needed a name that was authentic to the Philippines, and Marikit Santiago is an award-winning Filipina-Australian artist.

Cora, the daughter, was given one of my favorite names (my beloved cat who lived with me 17 years was named Cora).  It's a variation on my favorite word, which is "heart."

How did you come up with the title?  

The cult is involved in snake-handling, which they erroneously justify by a passage from the Bible about Christians:  "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them." Mark 16:18. So that was easy. 

But deliberately handling poisonous snakes or drinking deadly liquids expecting God's protection is definitely contrary to Christ's teachings. In Matthew 4:5-6, Satan tries to persuade Christ to throw himself down from a pinnacle merely because he had a promise of protection. However, Christ rebukes Satan because he is misapplying the scripture. Jesus says to Satan, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God." 

This is an example of the many contradictions found in the Bible, which makes a literal interpretation of every passage impossible to me.

What do you hope readers will connect with in your story?  

I hope they will connect with Amira as she struggles to free herself from the cult; with her terrible experience of war in the Army in Afghanistan; and with her determination to protect and save a child she cannot even claim, since Cora was born to her when she was a teenage prostitute in Manila, before Amira was "rescued" by the church's leader and brought to America to be his sex slave.

Did you learn anything during the writing of this story? 

I learned a great deal about how cults brainwash their adherents and what brings some people to them, and why they stay. I also learned a good deal about the Pentecostals who practice snake handling. And I learned how a family can be completely corrupted by greed, lawlessness, and a lust for power among the adults; but a strong woman can start to undo the damage to a child who has grown up surrounded by this.

Have you written any other books or scripts, published or unpublished? 

I've written six feature screenplays, three short films, a TV pilot/series, a whole slew of poems, six murder mystery plays, and a series of ten short stories about a biker chick/sleuth which have been published. I'm working on an anthology of stories in that series, interspersed with reports about real motorcycle trips across the U.S.  I've also written three non-fiction books, all published.

If your story had a candle, what scent would it be? 

The smell of South Texas: a mixture of dust, Mexican food, tilled soil, and sugarcane. 

Is there a writer whose brain you’d love to pick for advice? 

Ernest Hemingway.  Who could say more about having the courage to write about the human struggle, and about writing brilliantly?

About your writing process:

My writing process is instinctual after I get a general idea of the plot in mind.  I love to do research, but it all has to settle without a lot of analysis about how to integrate it until the first draft is done. Once I start writing, I totally lose track of time, hunger, thirst, and fatigue. It's not the healthiest way to live.

Who or what made you want to become a writer?  

I grew up speaking several languages and loving words.  My father read to me and always had his head in a book when he could.  I worked in a library as one of my first jobs, which allowed me to be surrounded by books. I wrote small-scale material then but never thought I'd be able to write something as long as a screenplay.

Advice for new writers?  

Read, read, read.  Jot down ideas. When you decide to write something, learn the conventions of the genre you choose, if you intend to sell your work.  Be patient with yourself, and don't quit.  Listen to people around you when they tell you who they are and what they want.

CASH ANTHONY - is an optioned master screenwriter, author, editor, producer, and director for stage and film. She has written eight screenplays, six plays, a TV series, and three short films made by her company, MSG Productions. Her series of twelve published short stories, featuring biker/sleuth Jessie Carr, will be published this fall as High Mileage Mysteries. Taking Up Serpents, the short story, is a drama based on a feature of the same name that has been a multi-competition finalist. She graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Plan II Honors from The University of Texas at Austin and then earned a J.D. degree from UT School of Law. Based in Houston, TX, Cash is VP, Editorial Department, and a founding board member of Salter Network Press. She is a producer of Red Fever, a dark sci-fi thriller short film; and she wrote, produced, and directed Do Me No Favors and False Negative, her own short films.