Robert Hough grew up on the outer fringes of Mississauga, a bedroom community just west of Toronto. His father was a chemist (he made penicillin for Canada Packers) and his mother was a nurse on a psychiatric ward. It thus came as little surprise when Robert found himself doing a thesis at Queen’s University in psycho-pharmacology—he injected adult male rats with liquid valium and then taught them to memorize a pathway through a maze. Robert remains a little foggy as to why he did this, but he does seem to remember that it had something to do with the effects of tranquilizers on spatial memory. He is sure of one thing, however: he vowed that if he never saw the inside of a research laboratory again, it would be too soon.
With school over and a degree in hand, Robert got a job as a media estimator for a no-longer-existing ad agency in downtown Toronto. Seven months later, he left. This was a blessing: at Queen’s, Robert had written a satiric column for one of the school papers, and his departure from the world of advertising forced him to find out whether he could ever get someone to pay him to write. While collecting miniscule unemployment checks, he began writing articles. Most of them were done for free; one publication, a Toronto community paper called NOW, gave Robert $150 to write a predictably withering article about disappearing farm land. Depressed and impoverished—Robert recalls price-checking vinegar bottles at a discount grocery store, and then picking the one that was nine cents less—he took a job as a fact-checker with a décor magazine called Ontario Living. His job was to phone up article subjects and ask them such probing questions as, “Would you describe the wood trim in your study as … you know … sassy red?”
Ontario Living folded within the year. With a few industry contacts now under his belt, Robert started writing articles for consumer magazines that actually paid contributors. For the next dozen years, he played the freelance writer’s game, a game requiring hustle, pluck, and most of all, the determination of a fool. He didn’t so much read newspapers as comb them for magazine ideas. Every conversation at every party was monitored for possible article topics. Every time Robert left his apartment, he did so with the hope of tripping over something worth writing about. This existence was about as calming as it sounds, so in 1999 Robert began researching an idea for a novel about a long-forgotten Ringling Brothers’ tiger trainer.
That novel was The Final Confession of Mabel Stark. Since then, he has had four other books published, not including ghostwritten books, film-to-novel adaptations, and adult literacy books. Diego’s Crossing (Fall 2015) came about from a conversation with Rick Wilks, Director at Annick Press, who wanted to see a young adult novel that took place amidst the drug wars of northern Mexico. Diego’s Crossing is Robert’s first book for young adults.