Photojournalist and author Dave LaBelle, left, checks out the Iowa State Fair photo book while J.O. and Debbie Parker look on during the 2023 All-Iowa Writers’ Conference held on Saturday, Sept. 16 in Montezuma. The Parkers, who host the writing conference, donated the State Fair and Midwest Old Threshers Reunion books they published to LaBelle. J.O. first learned of LaBelle and his work as a student in the 1990s at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
It was the spring of 2010.
I stepped into the house after a long day at the Poweshiek County CR and Debbie, who was seated in the living room, said, “I want to hold a writers’ conference.”
“And I want to invited Donald Harstad to speak,” she added.
Harstad of Elkader is a 26-year veteran sheriff’s deputy in Clayton County turned author. He wrote his first novel, “Eleven Days” in the late 1990s, which became a New York Times Bestseller. He went on to write several other novels including: “A Long December,” “Code 61,” “The Big Thaw,” “Known Dead,” and November Rain.”
I didn’t know anything about hosting a writers’ conference, so I was a bit leery at first, but encouraged Debbie to reach out to Harstad.
She found an email and wrote him that evening. He wrote back at 3 a.m. and said he’d love to come speak at our first conference.
Shirley Damsgaard was there that first year as was Tamera Jones, Alan Loots, Mike Manno and others.
We’ve had a crime lab employee speak at our conference one year, and a Grinnell Police officer spoke of police duties and dealing with crime.
Our third year, we had Larry Weeks with Brownells come and talk about gun identification. He said some authors write about crime and don’t know a thing about guns. It was an educational presentation.
We’ve had nationally known authors, editors, illustrators, historical fiction, romance, crime, Christian and children’s authors. There are far too many to name.
And one year we received a grant to bring national best seller Laura McHugh to Montezuma. We also enjoyed a presentation by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby, an agriculture journalist and author of a number of Iowa books, including “The Lincoln Highway in Iowa,” “Classic Restaurants of Des Moines” and “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food.
The first nine years we held the conference in the Montezuma School, Memorial Hall and Community Hope Church before moving it to Grinnell for one year in 2019.
Then Covid hit and the writers’ conference came to a grinding halt for three years. But thanks to Debbie’s persistence, we brought it back this year.
She spends from four to six months finding authors to speak each year. She receives a lot more “no’s” than “yeses.”
And what a great lineup we had this year for the conference held on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Community Hope Church. They included Crystal Ferry, aka Stella Bixby of Montezuma, Laura Snider, a lawyer an author; Iowa State University Professor Kevin Kimle and his wife, Patti, who gave a moving narrative on the Underground Railroad in connection with their book, “The Only Free Road.”
Also speaking was Joseph LaValley, who has seven books based on fictional newspaper editor Tony Harrington. And Adrianne Finlay, an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa spoke about the writing process and shared about her books.
And lastly, a royal treat was Dave LaBelle, who calls Dyersville home. LaBelle is one of my favorite photographers and is the author of “The Great Picture Hunt,” and The Great Picture Hunt 2,” “I don’t want to know all the technical stuff..I just want to shoot pictures,” and “Lessons in Death and Life” His most recent book, “Bridges and Angles: The story of Ruth,” is a novel based on his mother, who was swept away in California flood in the 1960s when LaBelle was a senior in high school.
I first learned about LaBelle as a photojournalism student at the University of Missouri. I have followed his work for years and have all of his books.
When I learned that he had moved to Iowa, I reached out to LaBelle earlier this summer via Facebook and he agreed to come speak. I was on Cloud 9 all day as I shared my story with him and donated our books on the Iowa State Fair and the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.
LaBelle spent his time not only telling his life story, but talking about how words and pictures go hand-in-hand. He closed his presentation by encouraging the conference attendees to find their purpose in life and make the best of what is in front of them.
We all have dreams and purpose. Today is the day to make a step to see those dreams come to pass.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.