C A A Allen - From Hip Hop To Epic Fantasy
C. A. A. Allen was still busy making a name for himself as a manager and publicist in the hip-hop scene when he got bit by the literary bug. However, it wasn’t until he took a hiatus from music that he began writing The Cave Maze, an epic fantasy book. With its diverse and distinct cast of characters and compelling setting, it is a tale that will appeal to everyone from fans of epic fantasy to role-playing gamers. Today we chat with Allen about the innovative magic system he came up with for the book, the fascinating residents of his maze and his secret skills.
Please give us a short introduction to The Cave Maze: Wizard Warrior Quest
A party of young questers hunt for treasure in a twisted wizards cave maze. If you love sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, and role-playing games then this book is for you!
Briefly, what led up to this book?
I was working as manager, and publicist for a talented musician named Young Ma$$, he is the youngest member of multi-platinum hip-hop group Digital Underground. Ma$$ was nominated for album of the year two years running at the San Diego Music Awards, and we began hosting shows all over Southern California. When I received kudos for articles I had published in local newsweekly magazines regarding Ma$$, and the San Diego music scene, a literary spark ignited. When a shootout went down at one of our shows, and unrelated circumstances landed Ma$$ in jail, I took a hiatus from the music business and began writing this book. Five years later it was completed.
What was your inspiration for the fantasy world of your book?
Tolkien's Middle-earth, and Lewis’ Narnia have mesmerized me since watching the early Hobbit, and Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe animated movies. At around age twelve the Choose Your Own Adventure, and Dungeons & Dragons based Endless Quest books inspired me further. The unpredictable, multi-choice multi-ending format of those franchises had me filling my shelves with offerings from the gamebook genre. Finally, the Wizardry series of computer role-playing games, and movies like Labyrinth, and Willow all contributed to the setting.
Your book features quite a diverse and distinct cast of characters. Any personal favorites?
Dread Jenkins, he's the snide-comment side character. This guy is always looking for his next sip of mead, easy hustle, or female companionship. He is also an all-true friend with bad feet, and surprising hidden talents.
Can you tell us more about the beautiful illustrations included in the book?
Darko “Paganus” Tomic is the freakishly brilliant artist behind all the books art. I first discovered his deviations in an online art gallery. He had an ogre posted that was hideously awesome. That led me to the eerie work he did for Marie F. Crow’s Risen Series, I knew he would be perfect for the hag I had in mind for the cover. Then I feasted my eyes on the art he did for James A. West’s Shadow and Steel novel, Paganus shot to the number one spot on my list. I feel so blessed we were able to link up for this project. Anyone else would have been a disappointment. The sketch of Porridge, the brownie-dryad, is my favorite. She’s beautifully imagined with great detail, just as I envisioned her.
What made you choose characters who are very much amateurs at what they are doing instead of an experienced party for the story?
The Cave Maze has some strong coming of age elements. All members of the party learn a lot about their fighting, magic, and/or thieving potential during the quest. They start out amateurs, but will have to either experience up, or die to survive what they encounter.
What kind of treasure would it take to lure you into a trap-filled and monster infested maze?
A chest containing any two of the following items just might tempt me:
10. A box of the White Witch’s best Turkish Delight
9. A Nintendo World Championships Gold Edition cartridge.
8. Leeloo’s Elemental Stones.
7. A bottle of Hennessy Paradis Imperial cognac.
6. Amelia’s Zuni Fetish Doll. (With gold chain firmly intact.)
5. A complete set of Resident Evil “Tokyo Game Show” Mansion Keys.
4. The Aberdeen Bestiary.
3. Bubo the Robotic Owl.
2. Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady With The Ermine painting.
1. JRR Tolkien's hand annotated map of Middle-earth.
Wizard Warrior Quest reads like a good role-playing game and even includes a dungeon maze activity with the kindle version. Do you play games yourself and, if so, can you name a few favorites?
The computer role-playing game Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord is my all time favorite. It was the first party-based RPG for the computer, and had a big influence on my vision of the maze. More recently I have been getting into MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars 2. I am also the king of Jenga, and I love to play Uno, spaids, and craps!
This book would work great as a blockbuster fantasy movie. Which actor would you prefer seeing in the shoes of Raff Jenkins?
Ha! I promised all seven of my kids parts in the movie if that ever happens. It was the deal I made with them to make up for all the family time taken away during the writing process. I would go with English actor Christian Cooke to do the honors of playing Raff. You may remember him for his role on Lifetime's Witches of East End. He seems suave enough to pull it off, and the accent is a must.
How did you come up with the interesting magic system used in the book?
The system was realized through the teachings of unconquerable novelist, Orson Scott Card. He says there has got to be a penalizing trade off for using magic. I had to come up with something nasty.
You created quite a few fascinating denizens for the maze. Which ones were your favorite to create?
As much as I like the crotch-masticating hellhound, I would have to say Mustela the belette is my favorite. She is a weasel type animal that can sense magic, traps, and evil. Inspired by Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the valiant young mongoose from Chuck Jones' animated film, Mustela turns out to be a fierce combatant as well. Another one I enjoyed creating would be Rex the giant cockatrice. The idea came to me while browsing the wine & spirits isle at the local liquor store. Rex is named, and inspired by the rooster pictured on bottles of Rex Goliath wines. What the label on the back describes as His Royal Majesty Rex Goliath, the ‘Worlds largest rooster’ becomes the most feared cockatrice, now sporting the head, torso and legs of a cock, the tongue and tail of a snake, and the wings of a bat. Of course the beast has a poisonous bite, and a glance that will turn you to stone.
Besides writing, what secret skills do you have?
Do you remember The Humpty Dance by Digital Underground? Well, I create Humpty-Hump noses! The process starts with a cheap pair of Groucho glasses. By the time I’m done stripping off the eyebrows, and painting the nose it becomes an awe-inspiring piece of wearable art. The glasses are great for Digital Underground concerts, 90’s parties, and as part of a Halloween costume. I have had the honor of Shock-G AKA Humpty-Hump himself wearing one of my creations during a live performance.
What are you working on now?
I have received a lot of love from the LitRPG community for The Cave Maze, so my next book will be all out in that genre. This means you will get a mixture of Science Fiction, Sword and Sorcery, and MMORPG elements in a game world with leveling. You can rest assured there will be several new denizens, and even a Cave Maze tie in. I plan to release the book on March 30, 2018, the same day the movie version of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One hits theaters.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can interact with me from July 21-24 at Comic-Con International: San Diego! I will be on the patio bar at Bub's @ The Ballpark just a few blocks from the San Diego Convention Center. Look for me to be promoting the book to all comic-con passerby’s, and handing out souvenir ‘Cave Maze’ shot glasses. Come through and have a drink with me! If you cant make it there’s the Facebook fan page (https://www.facebook.com/TheCaveMaze/) or Twitter. (https://twitter.com/thecavemaze) I'd love to hear from everyone who has taken a step into this treacherous adventure!