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K.L. Cook takes Waldorf by Literary Storm

Author K.L. Cook reading an excerpt from Love Songs for the Quarantined in the Salveson Ballroom. Photo courtesy of Diana Humble

By Diana Humble

On Tuesday February 13, fiction author K.L. Cook wowed Waldorf students, professors and community members with excerpts from his award winning collection of short stories, Love Stories for the Quarantined, and two of his other books, The Girl from Charnelle and Last Call, in the Salveson Ballroom. 

Earlier that day, Cook ventured out to Waldorf’s advanced fiction workshop class to lecture and critique students on their use of point of view. He advocated for students to break out of their comfortable writing positions and journey into less familiar territory. He pushed them to experiment with second person (using “you” as the primary pronoun) and third person omniscient (writing the story from an all knowing, God-like position) in their stories.

He also spoke extensively on how to hook a reader’s interest within the first page of a piece. He challenged writers to incorporate some aspect of mystery into the first few sentences. “Whether it be a major secret or unreliable narrator, insert something to keep your reader wanting more.” Cook said. Alongside that, he advised students to focus on an interesting relationship. “You don’t necessarily have to make the characters likable early on, but if the relationship between said characters is interesting and well written, the reader will be hooked.” he said.

In his evening reading, Cook revealed that much of his fiction is based on his actual life. He read an excerpt from his short story “Costa Rica,” which details the trials and tribulations surrounding the time his con-man father tried to purchase the entirety of Costa Rica. Shockingly enough, this was something his father actually attempted in real life! Cook said he dabbles in nonfiction, but appreciates the creative latitude that fiction affords him. He called himself a “straightforward liar” in that sense. He recommends that all fiction come from a place of personal experience since doing so brings about a certain authenticity that can’t be replicated in entirely fictitious writing.

Cook is regarded highly within the literary community; Linda Swanson-Davies, co-editor of Glimmer Train, a front runner in American short fiction, wrote a review calling his writing “riveting and deeply moving.”

Cook lives with his wife and children in Ames, IA where he is an Associate Professor of English at Iowa State University and spearheads the Creative Writing and the Environment MFA program.