Methland: The story behind the book (Oelwein Daily Register)

OELWEIN – A book titled “Methland” is probably not going to create a lot of positive feelings about it at first glance, but author Nick Reding says the book does have a positive message.

Reding was in Oelwein Monday to sign copies of his book that has created quite a bit of controversy in the town that he portrays in the book. While some people think Reding has made Oelwein the meth capital of the Midwest with his new book, he claims it contains a different message.

“It’s frustrating how the book is being portrayed,” said the slight of build author who some might have thought was trying to go undercover again in his plain t-shirt and workman’s pants. But maybe it was just his way of saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“The reviews so far have largely focused on the sensational and the negative. People have written a lot on what they think the book is about, but too me, it’s about a town that has overcome incredible odds,” Reding explained.

While Reding would argue about the meaning of the book, it would be hard for him to argue that it does not have some negative connotations in it, as well as the sensational, from Oelwein once being ran by the Mafia to kids riding up and down the street mixing up meth in liter pop bottles on the backs of their bikes. And those are just a couple of the mild things that Reding brings up.

Reding also believes the book is getting an initial bad rap from Oelwein residents because so few people have been able to read it.

The book seems to be literally running off the shelves at area book stores and is usually sold as fast as the stores get the copies in.

“We’ve been getting in five to 10 copies at a time and they are usually all sold or spoken for in a matter of a few minutes of hours,” said a clerk at the Waldenbooks Store at Crossroads in Waterloo.

So far the publisher hasn’t been distributing the book in mass quantities.

Reding said his first book barely sold 3000 copies, but “Methland” surpassed the 3000 mark in its first day on the shelf.

“People are naturally wary to say whether they like it or not, if they are not able to read at least part of it first. My primary reason for being here is to talk to people about what their concerns are about the book,” Reding said prior to a question and answer session at the Oelwein Library, Monday.

Reding said he had already been receiving lots of feedback, mostly from Oelwein residents, prior to his visit , through email and phone calls.

“I would say that 2-1 it was positive. People’s number one concern was why write about something that was negative about Oelwein, but there again, not many of them had read the book. I sent copies to people I wrote about in the book and most of them said it was 100 percent right on. That’s the thing  that I’m proudest of,” Reding explained.

One of the things that Reding seems to always get asked is “why Oelwein?”

He said he had already planned to do a book about the meth epidemic and happened to be reading an archived article from the Des Moines Register that quoted Oelwein’s Dr. Clay Hallberg.

“ I thought he sounds like a smart guy so I called him up and that’s kind of what got it started,” Redding explained.  “I wanted to write something about the meth epidemic in a small town but I just didn’t know what town it should be. I just hope people understand that I’m not out to get Oelwein. I like it here, in fact I’ll probably be here this winter to pheasant hunt with my friends.”

At the question and answer session Reding was asked why some of names were changed in the book.

He said his publisher told him the names should be changed due to liability.

“I managed to keep the four names I wanted,” Reding said referring to Oelwein’s Dr. Clay Hallberg, Mayor Larry Murphy, Police Chief Jeremy Logan and Assistant Fayette County Attorney Nathan Lein.

“I realize that it’s not like they’re not going to know (who I’m talking about), but I couldn’t publish it unless I did what my publisher said,” he explained.

When asked if the book should be classified as fiction then, rather than non-fiction, Redding responded “It is written as journalism. There is nothing fictive about it. I stand behind everything in the book, even though I understand there are some things I made mistakes about,” he said.

When asked again “why Oelwein?”, he explained that it was not his intention to make people believe that meth is intrinsically linked to Oelwein.

“It was like throwing a dart at a the map of the U.S. and then going there to see if  I could find meth. I don’t think the book is about meth being the driving force in Oelwein. It’s about people wanting to change things,” he said.

Reding was also asked if they considered “warning” the local media about the book’s release date.

“I knew it was going to be a shock. It always is when you read about yourself. I wish I would have thought about (an advanced notice),” he said.

One of the younger members of the overflowing crowd in the library’s meeting room asked him why he chose to write about meth.

“I think it’s important to talk about it. It’s a big problem and fascinating in terms of economics,” he responded.

Dr. Hallberg , along with Nathan Lein, both sat beside Reding during the session at the front of the meeting room. To back Reding up, Dr. Hallberg said, “Every generation has its own way of dealing, its own remedy, whether it be alcohol, marijuana, but this drug is different. You don’t rehab people from this. Users don’t put their lives back together very well.”

Dr. Hallberg said he could tell stories about the drug and the people that used it, that didn’t make the book that were worse than the ones in it.

Then Reding was questioned about why some of the stories seemed exaggerated or even down right wrong.

“I was a teacher at Oelwein and I was not afraid of my students. You talked about a chance of the school closing but we’re the largest district in the area. When you put these statistics in the book, people have no way of knowing that drug dogs were not running  up and down the hallways and teachers were afraid,”  said a former art teacher at the Oelwein High School.

Reding said he wrote the book based on the people he talked to.

“Non-fiction is also based on opinion, so you have to write what you think is the truth,” Reding said.

Speaking about the importance of meth as a subject that needed to be addressed by the Oelwein community, an area undercover police officer Phil Fordyce, said he came to Oelwein in the mid-80s and at that time Oelwein was one of the first places in Iowa to be getting large quantities of meth on a regular basis.

“Back then it was coming in by the pound. Now, we don’t have as many cookers but we have the Mexican stuff coming in, so roughly  it’s the same amount of stuff as there’s always been. It’s a tough thing to break. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with meth users and dealers but I think the citizens have made a good commitment here. They’ve put 30 people in federal prison on drug charges. I’ve even been thanked by parents for putting their son or daughter away for six or seven years, because the drug is that destructive,” Fordyce said.

“I thought maybe I shouldn’t get involved in this thing because it wouldn’t be good for my self image, but I think it’s something that needed to be done,” Dr. Hallberg said.

One person in the audience told the crowd “You have to look for the message in this book. Don’t pick it apart. If you’ve known anyone involved with drugs, you know how bad it is.”

Mayor Murphy, Lein and Dr. Hallberg were also all applauded for their commitment to the book and the battle to make things better in Oelwein.

“These guys laid they’re life on the line in this book,” one audience member said.

Whether they liked the book or not, or the idea of the book or not, it did not stop people from getting a copy and waiting in a very long line to meet, and for some, to shake the hand of the author that has put Oelwein in the limelight, for better or for worse, depending on how you interpret “Methland: The Death and Life of An American Small Town.”

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