Speakers & Topics

List of Speakers for 2024

Keynote Speaker

Susie Finkbeiner

Writer and Speaker

Susie Finkbeiner is the author of The All-American and All Manner of Things which were both selected as Michigan Notable Books. 

Her other novels include Stories That Bind Us, The Nature of Small Birds, and A Cup of Dust. She and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.


Mary Portzen 

Writer and Speaker

Mary Portzen 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 over 700 pieces published under the name Mary Potter Kenyon. This includes 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.  

“Breaking into Publication by Writing Shorts” and “Letting God Lead in Your Writing.”



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 four 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” was just released in March. 

  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 

I Wrote a Book, Now What?


Jocelyn Green

Inspiring Faith & Courage

Jocelyn Green inspires faith and courage as the award-winning and bestselling author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including The Mark of the King; Wedded to War; and The 5 Love Languages Military Edition, which she coauthored with bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman. Her books have garnered starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, and have been honored with the Christy Award, the gold medal from the Military Writers Society of America, and the Golden Scroll Award from the Advanced Writers & Speakers Association. 


Amylee Weeks

Artist and Speaker

Amylee’s art is a reflection of her journey of faith. Through simple drawings, she listens to her heart and creates what is speaking to her at that point in life’s journey. In her own words, Amylee describes her art process -- “As life ebbs and flows, my heart soaks it all in. There is a quietness of my heart that draws its strength from God. And it is in that quietness that I create.” She hopes that the recording of her journey and her reflections will speak to others on their journey.

Amylee is an eclectic artist. She has elements of watercolor, acrylic, and ink in her art. There are sketches, doodles, and illustrations as well. Her love for creating art for everyday items was born when she lost someone very close to her when she was in her twenties. Small parts of her heart healed each time she visited her local bookstore. Amylee creates art that brings hope and a hint of joy to all who come across it in their daily lives.

Dave 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 the National Press Photographers Association Region 10 Photographer of the Year, an honor he repeated for 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.”  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, and 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 the 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 blog at bridgesandangels.wordpress.com.  LaBelle’s latest book, and the first novel, is based on the disappearance of my mother in the 1969 flood. The book was published in March 2019. In May of 2022, David, and his wife Erin, began a job share as reporters and 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 to others in any way I can.”


“Finding God in the Everyday, 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. 

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 https://ryanshoward.com/


Robyn Mulder

Writer, Editor, Blogger, Speaker

Robyn Mulder lives in South Dakota with her husband, Gary. They go to Lincoln, NE often to visit their four children and two precious grandchildren. Robyn published her first book this year: Staying Away from the Edge: Help and Hope for Living after a Mental Health Diagnosis. She also writes at robynmulder.com and encourages others with her "Catch Your Thoughts with Robyn Mulder" podcast.

Title: In the Dark about Editing? (Bright Ideas from a Freelance Editor)

Does you're progect knead profesional editing? It sure does! (Hopefully you caught all four errors in that first question.) 

Come spend some time with a freelance editor and learn about the different levels of editing your project might need, as well as typical rates, where to find an editor, and best practices for working with an editor.

Editors use Track Changes in Word to make changes and leave comments. We'll take a look at an example and see how you, the author, can accept or reject changes. A good editor will help you produce a book you can promote with pride!

robynmulder.com - Focus Friday Blog and other resources

therobynsnest.org - Help for Angry Moms, and Happy Moms, Too!