Hawkins was raised in Tennessee, where she lived with her parents, biological brother and sister, an adopted sister, numerous foster siblings and a number of foreign exchange students. It was not uncommon for 12-15 children to be living in the house at any one time.
Hawkins has a Ph.D. in political science, and spent time teaching political science at a small college in Georgia. She studied writing by joining the Romance Writers of America and attending their workshops and conferences. Before she was published, she won RWA chapter and national contests for her work, allowing her to gain feedback and critiques from actual editors. With this feedback, she refined her craft, and sold her first book in 1998. She now publishes two books a year. Hawkins was also the driving force behind the two Lady Whistledown anthologies, developing the idea, gaining a publisher, and organizing the intertwined parts of the books.