Hughes was born in Williamston, South Carolina; soon after her birth, her family relocated to Texas. While she was a voracious reader as a child, she didn't care for the canonical works. She's said, "In high school and college, I was force-fed a lot of what is considered great literature. I must've been a shallow person because I didn't appreciate it at the time, and I don't remember most of what I read."
Hughes began her writing career in the early 1980s as the features editor of a small newspaper. She wrote humorous short pieces before venturing into longer works.