Speakers & Topics

List of Speakers for 2023

Twila Belk

Also known as "The Gotta Tell Somebody Gal," Twila Belk is a writer, speaker, editor, and champion for writers. 

She has authored eight books (including the bestselling Raindrops from Heaven and The Power to Be) and contributed to many others, as well as written numerous articles and promotional materials. 

Since 2007, she has worked closely with veteran author Cecil Murphey as his personal assistant and associate, which has provided her with a wide range of industry knowledge, connections, and experience. Twila is also a former bookstore owner and writers' conference director. She has had the pleasure of teaching and speaking at many writers' conferences across the nation and enjoys brainstorming and working with aspiring writers. (www.gottatellsomebody.com


Two Keynotes: (1) A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Becoming a Writer 

(2) Overcoming Hangups/What's Holding You Back?

Writing Devotions: Not only are devotions a great way to break into the writing world, but they often reach a wider audience and have more of an impact than a 50,000-word book. Learn about the important elements of writing devotions and the opportunities available to you.

The Basics and Beyond: In this workshop, we’ll discuss terminology, resources, industry relationships, opportunities, where to start, how to keep it going, and more. 

Mary Potter Kenyon

Writer and Speaker

Mary Potter Kenyon graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Psychology. She is a certified grief counselor trained under world-renown grief expert David Kessler and a Therapeutic Art coach. Mary has had hundreds of pieces published in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies, including essays in ten Chicken Soup books. 

She is the author of seven non-fiction books, including the award-winning "Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace," and "Called to Be Creative: A Guide to Reigniting Your Creativity." Her children's book on grief will be published by Familius Publishing in 2024. A member of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, she has been doing workshops and programs on expressive writing for healing, creativity, and writing for conferences, women's groups, libraries, and community colleges since 2011. Mary founded a grief retreat and Faith Writers conference in Dubuque, where she lives with her husband Nick Portzen.  

Opening devotions and The Writer's Journey 



Sheri Shonk

Storyteller, Writer, and Speaker

Sheri Smith Shonk is a storyteller. Every childhood report card remarked “Sheri is a daydreamer and often doodles story ideas when she should be doing math.” Raised in Northern California, she now resides in rural Iowa with her husband and youngest three children. She loves trying new foods, family history and listening to good music, particularly contemporary Christian or jazz when she writes. Billie Holiday is her favorite jazz diva by far. 

  “My desire is to write stories of real, flawed characters that experience the grace and restoration of God in a very real way, giving hope and light in a sometimes very dark world”. Sheri currently has three published books, “Dancing On”, “To Sing a New Song” and “Giving In To Grace”. The fourth book in the Houses of Hope Series, “Walk With Me” will be released this fall. 

  Sheri can be found at: www.facebook.com/SheriSmithShonkAuthor, www.amazon.com/stores/Sheri-Smith-Shonk/author https://pouringfromafullpitcher.wordpress.com, and https://sherig32.wixsite.com/website 

What Is Self-Publishing? 

This workshop is a short introduction to the current trends of publication focusing primarily on Independent or Self-Publishing. We will delve into what is involved, why a writer might choose to self-publish, current platforms, and things to avoid when pursuing publication. We will touch on the role of beta readers, editors, formatters, cover design, and marketing. A short time for questions will be given at the end of the workshop. 

Linda McCann

Family historian, writer, and speaker

Linda Betsinger McCann is an Iowa native who has always loved Iowa history. She was an R.N. and took time off when her daughters were small. At that time, she began working on her family genealogy and was completely surprised to discover she was descended from the founder of Shell Rock, where she lives. Linda did not grow up there, and her mother and grandmother were surprised to learn this as well. 

A few years later, a group formed the Shell Rock Historical Society and Linda was elected president. She felt she needed to learn about Shell Rock's history and began researching that. The Society self-printed several books, and they were seen by a Publisher's Agent. He contacted her and wanted to publish her books. Later, The Iowan came to her, and most of her books have been published by them. Linda has had 14 Iowa history books published, and she travels the state sharing the info and encouraging people to learn Iowa's history. She loves speaking to students. 


Researching for Nonfiction Writers            

Handouts and discussion of places to research for writing nonfiction. 

David LaBelle

Photographer, Writer, and Speaker

Throughout his 50-year career, Dave LaBelle has been a photographer, editor, teacher, author, and lecturer.  LaBelle has worked for 20 newspapers and magazines in nine states, including the Anchorage Times, San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, The Chanute Tribune, Ogden Standard-Examiner, The Sacramento Bee, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he was the assistant manager editor for photography.  LaBelle’s love for feature photography and his ability to hunt out feature ideas has helped him win numerous awards.  At age 19, he was National Press Photographers Association Region 10 Photographer of the Year, an honor he repeated the next two years.  He was runner-up to W. Eugene Smith for the first Nikon World Understanding award in 1974 and runner-up for the NPPA National Photographer of the Year award in 1979.  In 1991, NPPA honored LaBelle with the Robin F. Garland Award for photojournalism education. LaBelle has written five books, including “The Great Picture Hunt.”  And in 2002, the Photographic Society of America Inc. honored LaBelle with the International Understanding Through Photography award.  LaBelle has also taught photojournalism at Western Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky and directed the photojournalism sequence at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio from 2010-2016.  LaBelle also taught photojournalism for Kent State in Florence Italy in Spring of 2017.  In 2018-19, he taught photography with The Athens Photo Project in Athens, Ohio, a non-profit art program that promotes mental health recovery.  In addition, LaBelle writes a monthly column for Oregon-based Ruralite Magazine, contributes to Florida Currents Magazine, Ojai Magazine in California, and writes a monthly blog at bridgesandangels.wordpress.com.  LaBelle’s latest book, and first novel based on the disappearance of my mother in the 1969 flood was published in March, 2019.  In May of 2022, David, and his wife Erin, began a job share as reporter/photographers at the Dyersville Commercial, a weekly newspaper in northeast Iowa.  In his words, “My life’s mission is to use the gifts God has blessed me with to be a blessing on others in any way I can.”


Having the courage to be vulnerable while striving to be your authentic self with words and pictures.  

Each of us must learn to recognize our God-given gifts, trust them, strengthen them, and then use them to Glorify God.  I plan to share with you my life's mission and the techniques I have found worked for me in this ongoing pursuit.  This will include some practical tips for better, more meaningful photographs. 

Mary Jedlicka Humston

Mary Jedlicka Humston   Writer/Poet/Speaker


Author and speaker Mary Jedlicka Humston’s poetry and essays have been widely published locally and nationally. She has won numerous poetry awards. She’s had a poem published every year since 2005 in the Iowa Poetry Association’s Lyrical Iowa. Thirty poems were published in past years in the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper. Another poem was displayed on the 2014 Krakow Wall of Poetry in conjunction with the Krakow UNESCO City of Literature. Humston has presented dozens of workshops, readings, and speeches on such topics as letter writing, poetry, writing, chronic illness, prayer, and Little Free Libraries. She coauthored Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink with Mary Potter Kenyon


Playing with Poetry Workshop, 2.0

Want to learn how one idea can be transformed into several poems? Different styles will be presented, allowing a “hands-on” opportunity to utilize these exercises with some in-session writing time. Perfect for all levels of poetry experience and expertise. 

Note: If you attended this session in 2019, come again and be prepared to have fun working on some new poetry forms. If time allows: please bring several copies of one or two “works-in-progress” to share (limit: 20 lines).

Shelly Beach

Writer and Speaker

As founder and Executive Director of Shelly Beach Communications, Shelly provides editing, mentoring, co-writing, therapeutic writing, and creative services to individuals who desire to bring their books to life.


Shelly has published fourteen fiction and nonfiction books under her own name. She is the recipient of the Christy Award for fiction, the Selah Award for inspirational nonfiction, the Reader's Favorite Award Gold Medallion for devotional books, and the Golden Scroll Award for nonfiction. Shelly has coached, co-written, or ghosted more than thirty additional titles and served as managing editor of several specialty Bibles. Her work has also included serving as an Acquisition Editor for Guideposts. She also worked as an English teacher for more than twenty years, as well as an adjunct professor of writing at Cornerstone University.

Shelly is co-founder of Breathe Writer’s Conference in Michigan and the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Conference in Iowa. She and her husband Dan live in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and have two adult children and six grandchildren.




Wanda Sanchez

Writer, Speaker, and Producer

Wanda Sanchez is the executive producer of one of the nation’s longest-running radio talk shows in the country and has over thirty years of experience in broadcast media, marketing, and publicity. She has been widely published in magazines, blogs, Bibles, and books. 

Wanda is a monthly contributor to The Mighty, a blog with over 4 million unique visitors every month. Born into a world of chaos, she experienced extensive physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, finally resulting in a diagnosis of CPTSD. With a lot of continuing hard work and healing, she is coming out on the other side.

 Today, she travels, writes books, and speaks about PTSD/Trauma/Resiliency and hope for recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder to incarcerated women, first responders, clergy, criminal justice organizations, adoption/foster care agencies, and health professionals around the country.

Steve Thompson

Steven Thompson is a freelance writer from Osage Iowa. He has written for newspapers, periodicals, and compilations. He has self-published a book. (title?) 

He enjoys writing agricultural and human interest stories, as well as humorous pieces, devotional, and inspirational materials.  He is especially interested in encouraging new writers to use their writing talents in various ways.    

Humor Is More Than A Laughing Matter

Evaluation May Be A Spring Board To Your Writing Success 

Cherie Dargan

Cherie is a retired Community College teacher who reinvented herself in retirement: she's an active volunteer, writer, blogger, and family historian working on a series of novels about a midwestern family. She’s President of the local LWV, married to Mike, mother of four adult ‘kids,’ and grandmother of three. She calls herself an author and advocate.

She became a debut author with the October 2022 publication of her first novel in the Grandmother's Treasures series, Book One, The Gift. Book Two, The Legacy, has been sent to her publisher, and Cherie's at work on Book Three, The Promise.

She’s the webmaster for the Ruth Suckow website, the Cedar Falls Authors Festival, the League of Women Voters of Black Hawk Bremer Counties, and her author website. She's also the webmaster for the CFCWConference website.

www.cheriedargan.com – Her new website for the Grandmother’s Treasures series.


Practical Magic: Lessons for Writing  (Historical) Fiction 

The true story of how I used family stories and artifacts to create Grandmother’s Treasures, a series of Historical Fiction novels—and became a debut author at age 68! Each of the five novels has dual timelines and narrators, with Gracie O’Connor and her family as the main characters of the contemporary stories, set in the fictional town of Jubilee Junction, Iowa. 

I’ll share the strategies used to finish my first novel, The Gift, and write four more during the first year of Covid, with lessons learned about planning, drafting, and rewriting my novels. I’ll also share resources for finding information to create your story world & what I discovered about blending family stories, artifacts, and history.

Ryan Howard

Podcaster, Writer, & Speaker

Dr. Ryan S. Howard is the host of Cutting Edge Faith, a podcast with nearly 140,000 downloads across 195 countries. He is a contributor for Charisma Magazine online and is the author of 21 Days to a Spirit-Led Life. He holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and has degrees in engineering and business. Ryan speaks about faith in everyday life and has delivered messages at churches in the US and Brazil. He works in global procurement and manufacturing and has visited over 20 countries, worked with nearly 200 businesses, and coached over 50 leaders. Ryan lives in Iowa with his wife Bruna and their son John.

 Learn more and connect with Ryan at ryanshoward.com

This workshop will provide an overview of podcasting. You’ll learn the benefits of podcasting and how writers can expand their reach by promoting their work on podcasts. We’ll cover how to find and join podcasts as a guest and the simple steps to creating your own podcast.

The workshop will be delivered by a seasoned podcaster who has been a guest on top

ranked business and Christian podcasts and has produced over 200 episodes of his own

show with nearly 140,000 downloads across 195 countries.