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Nicole Cook grew up an only child in a small town, population 10. Because of this, her imagination was sparked early in the beautiful setting of Sugar Pine.

Out of necessity, she learned to entertain herself by reading, writing, daydreaming, and acting out stories she had created in her mind.

Her audience, more often than not, included tall silent trees, chirping birds, racing squirrels, and wild deer. Her rich, expansive imagination combined with her love of reading, ultimately led to the birth of Isla Dean (Cook’s pen name), author of romance novels.

“I didn’t pick up a romance novel until I was an adult visiting some friends in rural Florida, and the only place to purchase a book was Walmart,” Cook explained. “I picked up three Nora Roberts books and devoured them. They all featured fun, interesting characters doing interesting things in their lives.”

Even though romance is her genre of choice, romance is not what intrigued Cook during her teen years, rather it was strong, fascinating characters on compelling life adventures.

In 2006, she won a writing competition sponsored by Harlequin. The prize was spending a day in Seattle with NY Times Bestselling author Susan Wiggs, writer of historical and contemporary romance novels. Still, Cook’s creativity took a backseat as she continued her career in corporate America.

Much like the characters in her books, Cook has led an interesting life, temporarily leaving the Mountain Area to live in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, working for companies ranging from CNN to an independent film production company. However, she missed the carefree creativity and free-thinking imagination of her youth.

“As a child, I used to dance six days a week. I acted in plays and commercials. I wrote songs and took music classes,” Cook continued, “so I was definitely searching for a creative outlet when I began writing ‘Hidden Harbor.’ That’s when it all clicked. It helped me prioritize what is important to me.”

In 2014, eight years after winning the writing competition, Cook’s first book, ‘Hidden Harbor,’ placed on Amazon’s bestseller list. She published five books that year, and plans on another five this year.

Cook said that it takes her about 45 days to complete a contemporary romance or romantic suspense novel. She not only writes, but also designs her own covers and is in the process of forming an independent publishing company.

“Given my experience in media, business development, and digital publishing, I decided to self-publish. I think people misunderstand what it means to self-publish and assume it’s an easier path than traditional publishing,” Cook said. “It’s not easier. It means that I’m both the writer and the CEO of publishing operations for my books. At the end of the day, the responsibility sits solely with me, which definitely fits my experience and ridiculously self-reliant personality. I like being in charge of my own business, I like being a writer and entrepreneur. But the writing comes first, always, otherwise none of the other stuff matters.”

Cook’s characters aren’t based on anyone she knows or has met; rather, the stories seem to flow through her, and she never finds herself short on ideas or characters.

“The fictional characters I write about are not modeled after people. I let my characters be who they are,” Cook explained. “I feel like if I tried to model characters after people, I’d sell the characters short by placing undue expectations on them rather than discovering who they are along the way, and allowing them to be authentically themselves.”

Cook not only enjoys writing, but is an avid reader, as well. Her reading of choice changes, depending on her mood. Nora Roberts continues to grab her attention to this day. She is also a sucker for memoirs. Naturally, reading her freshly-written manuscripts aloud to her dog, Gigi, is also a favorite read.

Suzanne Smith started her life from scratch in the tiny coastal town of Valor, Maine after narrowly escaping death at the hands of her former fiancé. Now her life is quiet, simple, and calm—just as she wants it.

Legendary Buster MacKade finished out the last baseball season with a World Series win and a torn rotator cuff. Returning to his snowy hometown in Maine to rehabilitate before heading to spring training, the national hero is fascinated and frustrated by the private woman across the street who keeps her emotions frozen under a stoic surface.

Struggling to stay distant from a man who spends his life in the spotlight, she knows she can’t afford to step out of the shadows—it could mean risking her life. But when a picture of the two of them lands in the local news, she quickly becomes part of a national headline and a series of events begin to terrorize the town. Danger is creeping closer than she knows.

Suzanne must decide between hiding in the dark forever, or staying and fighting for life and love.

Intrigued?

Her latest romantic suspense novel, “Valor In Darkness” (excerpt above), is due to be released March 24 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

“Funny enough, I wouldn’t consider myself a romantic person by nature,” Cook admits. “I just like good character-driven stories about interesting people doing interesting things. And that’s what I write about today - independent, spirited characters - because that’s more interesting to me than the reactionary virginal secretaries who dominated the romance genre in the 1980s. Romance has come a long way since then and I’m happy to be part of it. It’s like the wild west at the moment and there’s a storytelling style out there for everyone. There’s enough turmoil in the world already; I would rather contribute to people feeling good, which suits me.”

Her other books include Pacific Passion, Sapphire Sea, Hidden Harbor, and One Winter Night.

All her novels are available in e-book and paperback across several distribution channels including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Google Play.

According to BookStats, the romance novel industry is a billion dollar a year industry.

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