The goateed novelist offers a beer and cigarette as he explains it was just a fluke he was discovered by Hollywood after being tagged as a Christian writer.
James Byron Huggins, who wrote three action best sellers in the Christian book market, picked up $1 million from Paramount Pictures for the movie rights to his fourth and newest novel, “Cain,” with Bruce Willis penciled in to star.
Sylvester Stallone and Universal Studios gave $1.25 million for the rights to Huggins’ next book, “Hunter,” which is still nothing but word-processing files.
All this for a 42-year-old who once smuggled religious material to Christians in the old Soviet bloc, lived in his car in Texas, and struggled to make ends meet as a newspaper reporter and, later, a policeman.
Huggins, while proclaiming his faith in God, said it’s not so much the Almighty as it is a brown-haired little boy who deserves credit for his lucrative move into the mainstream.
“It all comes from Gabe,” he said, referring to his 6-year-old son.
Nothing stirs as much emotion in Huggins as chivalry, the idea that his only true, honorable job is taking care of his wife of 10 years, Karen, and their two kids, Gabe and 3-year-old Sarah.
“I have a very old-fashioned code of honor,” he said. “You protect everyone around you and live your life to save those around you. That’s basically the heart of my books.”
It was finding himself unable to care for Gabe that changed Huggins’ life.
After a year working with the Christian underground in Eastern Europe, he came home to Alabama, where he had earned a journalism degree in 1981. He worked for two small north Alabama newspapers, married and become a Huntsville police officer.
The money wasn’t good, so Huggins took on two more jobs in addition to being a cop. One night he went home to find Karen scared and Gabe seriously ill. The little boy needed medicine, and Huggins couldn’t buy it.
“We didn’t have any money. The cards were maxed out. I had to go borrow $40 from Karen’s father to buy medicine for my kid,” he said, eyes reddened at the memory.
“That night I said, ‘My God, that’s it. I will never let my child be in this position.’ So I started writing a novel.”
Gabe recovered, and Huggins wrote his first book, “A Wolf Story,” on a desk made of an old mirror and two crates. It took a year to complete and was rejected by 20 publishers.
Finally a Christian publisher, Harvest House of Eugene, Ore., accepted it. The same company published his semiautobiographical “The Reckoning” in 1994, and another Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson of Nashville, Tenn., put out “Leviathan” the next year.
Successful in the Christian market, Huggins hooked up with the William Morris Agency, and the deals started coming.
“Cain” is being published by Simon & Schuster.
The common thread in his books is the struggle of White Hats against Black Hats, good vs. evil. It was that theme that made him a success among Christian buyers.