Staff and Board

James River Writers employs three part-time staff members and benefits from the support of an active Board of Directors and an Advisory Board.


Katharine Herndon, James River Writers Executive Director

Executive Director

Katharine Herndon was a fan of James River Writers even before they hired her. She has attended all seventeen conferences and over a hundred Writing Shows, and she plans to keep improving on that number. She was on the board for several years in a variety of roles, including executive secretary, co-chair of the 2011 conference committee (with the wonderful Valley Haggard), and membership chair. Prior to becoming employed at JRW, Katharine taught middle school language arts for thirteen years. Her favorite bits were Shakespeare and poetry, and she was in a minority in this. Katharine’s work has been published by RVA indie press Sink/Swim in The Great Richmond Zombie Book and appears in the anthology River Town, and the Richmond-based anthology River City Secrets. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, Davidson College, and St. Catherine’s School. (@kaherndon)

Katharine Herndon, James River Writers Executive Director

Program Director

Brynn Markham is an aspiring writer who has seen the impact of James River Writers through her work with Richmond’s PBS and NPR stations. In her communications and outreach role, she was thrilled to champion projects that connected public media audiences to national content through partnerships with Richmond’s nonprofit community. Prior to her tenure at WCVE PBS/NPR, Brynn worked with First Book, helping children in underserved areas gain access to books to tackle the literacy gap. Her love of writing and books began in high school when she penned a weekly column in her local newspaper and continued into adulthood when she dabbled in blogging. She is determined to see the countless note pads containing “the next big idea” that sit dutifully in her bedside table develop into an inspired work to be enjoyed beyond the confines of her home and immediate family.  

Phillip Hilliker, James River Writers Membership Coordinator

Membership Coordinator

Phillip Hilliker tinkered with writing for several years in private, huddled over his computer, not admitting to anyone beyond his wife that he wanted to be a writer. Before becoming JRW’s membership coordinator, he found James River Writers was the supportive community he needed to fully embrace the authorial side of his personality. Beyond writing, he has spent many years as a freelance illustrator and work-at-home dad while also teaching illustration courses at Visual Arts Center of Richmond. This combination of occupations means he spends a majority of his time thinking about monsters and robots. He lives in a demanding fixer-upper house with his wife and kid. (@PhilHilliker)

Board of Directors

Kris Spisak, Author, Editor, Web Content Specialist

Kris Spisak wrote her first book, Get a Grip on your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017), with a goal to help writers of all kinds sharpen their craft and empower their communications. Her “Words You Should Know” podcast and “Grammartopia” events follow the same mission, as does her latest book, The Novel Editing Workbook: 105 Tricks and Tips for Revising Your Fiction Manuscript (Davro Press, 2020). A former college writing instructor, having taught at institutions including the University of Richmond and VCU, Kris is now an active speaker and freelance editor. She is a member of James River Writers, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. (@KrisSpisak)

Kris Spisak, Author, Editor, Web Content Specialist

Bill Blume‘s love for the written word started back in high school with an addiction to comic books that was later hijacked by novels such as Frankenstein and Dragonflight. The first book in his young adult, vampire hunter series, Gidion’s Hunt, was published back in 2013. His short stories have appeared in many anthologies and were published in 2015 by Diversion Books in his collection The Deadlands and Other Stories. Just like the father figure in his “Gidion Keep” novels, Bill has worked as a 911 dispatcher for almost two decades. He also spent eight years working as a board member for James River Writers and served as the board’s chair in 2013. In 2007, he chaired JRW’s Annual Conference. He founded JRW’s weekly meetup Writers Farmhouse and has moderated dozens of panels at the Conference and the Writing Show. (@BillTheWidlcat)

Mike Christos, James River Writers Board Member

Mike Christos has been involved with JRW since 2003 in various supporting roles.  Due to his years of experience as a computer engineer and chief technical officer, he has helped JRW with various computer technical issues and is currently serving on the Board of Directors chairing the JRW Technical Committee.  Although not originally considering himself a writer, he is published in a scientific journal and is at work on a science fiction novel he considers an Indiana Jones/Dr. Who/Dan Brown mashup.

Robin Farmer, Journalist, Author, JRW Board Member

Jaime Robinson Fawcett is a Richmond transplant from Anchorage, Alaska. She is the Executive Director for the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, and enjoys “rediscovering” the Poe short stories that creeped her out in high school. Jaime also serves on the Virginia Association of Museums Advocacy Committee. Nonprofits are her joy, and she welcomes opportunities to be a part of Richmond’s vibrant cultural community. At home, Jaime is an avid runner and likes to build furniture when she can find the time. She and her husband, Michael, live in Ruther Glen, Virginia, with their son Isaac, and their pets, Ranger the Rescue Beagle, and two cats, Max and Monkey Puzzle.

Robin Farmer, Journalist, Author, JRW Board Member

Reesy Floyd-Thompson is the founder and chief storytelling officer of StoryMAKERS, Consulting, a firm dedicated to helping business owners and executives turn their life and business experiences into profitable brand stories. With over 15 years of nonprofit marketing and public relations experience, she specializes in entrepreneurs, business owners, and nonprofits looking to make their mark on the world. Her unique StoryMAKER and marketing process has helped her clients win a free car, secure a $25,000 donation and help individuals meet celebrity influencers. She has been featured or quoted in Blavity, Forbes, Entrepreneur, YFS Magazine. The Huffington Post, The Washington Informer, Inside Business, The Virginian-Pilot, CoVABIZ and Coastal Virginia Magazine. She was named Best Outstanding Emerging Professional by CoVA Biz Magazine and Best Social Media Personality. She is also an Inside Business – Women in Business honoree. Reesy is on a mission to help business owners and nonprofits use story to create good marketing and bridge the gap to social change one story at a time.

Robin Farmer, Journalist, Author, JRW Board Member

Linda Heath crunches numbers to within an inch of their little lives, then chronicles their stories in credit memos—cleverly disguised as a Senior Credit Analyst at Village Bank. Previously she worked as a commercial loan officer, an underwriter, a bank consultant, and an entrepreneur. Her first business was a design/build construction firm specializing in critical power. Her most recent venture is Financial Holographix, providing financial analysis and loan packages to ensure Main Street business owners get the right financing from their banks. Linda enjoys decorating furniture and self-learning how to shuffle dance. She is thankful to be “old enough to know better” and young enough to do something useful with the info. She is married to her best friend, Herb Heath, and excited to be engaged with Communities in Schools this year. 

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Suzan McKenzie spent 30 years as a military wife before her husband retired as a Navy pilot in 2000. Living in several parts of the country has given her a lot of raw material for her writing. She is the author of the historical novel Minuet and Serenade, is working on yet another draft of a comic mystery called The Fall Guy, and is mentally plotting a sequel to her second book. She and her husband Jim (call sign Spuds) have three grown children and five grandchildren. They live in Midlothian with a sweet Labradoodle named Maggie.

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Terry Menefee Gau is an accomplished actor & writer, as well as a non-profit professional for the past twenty years.  She has a varied theatre and film resume, spanning over twenty-five years as an actor, producer, writer, and director.  Terry is a proud member of the Virginia Screenwriters’ Forum and has several award-winning scripts under her belt.  She also works at VPM as an events manager in Community Engagement. Terry received her M.Div. and MACE from Union Presbyterian Seminary, focusing in Narrative and Film Theology, and she has a B.S. in Mathematics from James Madison University.  She loves the dichotomy of art and logic, spirit and reason. (@TerryGau)

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Sharvette Mitchell helps entrepreneurs who struggle with attracting attention and exposure for their brand, and who want to build their online platform. In working with Sharvette, her clients generate more revenue and increase brand awareness. She provides web design services, social media consulting, and coaching on digital product creation. She is the co-author in two books, Mogul In the Making and Get It Done! Design The Business of Your Dreams. Lastly, Sharvette hosts her own radio show each Tuesday that airs on iTunes, her mobile app and internet radio. (@Sharvette)

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

DaNika Neblett Robinson is the author of a novella, The Metamorphic Journey, about three teenage mothers’ quest to succeed. The Metamorphic Journey is also the name of a movement she founded to provide individuals with opportunities to foster personal growth. DaNika has served as a higher education administrator for more than twenty years and is currently the CFO of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary. A recent graduate of the Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, she holds several other degrees and uses that knowledge, coupled with her expertise in transformational leadership, to empower young adults to embrace their purpose. (@DrDeeRobinson)

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

During his career in public service Mark Slauter authored and co-authored 75 technical reports and documents with the occasional article in various environmental publications. His first published personal work in 1984 was a poem titled \”A Piece Of Fall,\” which has long since been lost to the minions of the Muse. Apart from music copyrights, Mark has one self-published work of non-fiction released in 2017. Over his career he has managed about $400M in projects and programs, and was involved with managing regional and national conferences. His most recent endeavor is an entertainment start-up, which has hosted three concerts in the country of Colombia. Like most writers his WIP list continues to grow. (@MarkSlauter)

Robert Toms, James River Writers Board Member

Robert Toms retired from an almost thirty-year career in law enforcement to pursue writing. While advancing to the rank of Lieutenant, he attended local, state, and federal government training and wrote articles, which were published in trade magazines. His law enforcement career involved working in specialized fields, including patrol, criminal investigations, background and security clearance investigations, interstate criminal extraditions, executive protection, and command-level supervision. He holds a BA in sociology from the University of Richmond.

Julie Valerie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Julie Valerie writes upmarket contemporary women’s fiction and is developing a series set in the fictional Village of Primm. Her debut novel, Holly Banks Full of Angst, Book One in the Village of Primm series, publishes December 2019 as part of a multi-book deal with Lake Union Publishing. A voracious reader, Julie has reviewed 200+ books in her genre, won the BookSparks 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Grand Prize, and founded the 85K Writing Challenge (, providing writers with a supportive, enriching forum to pen 85,000 words in 90 days followed by 12 months of writing, editing, prepping to pub, and publishing support. With a master\’s degree in education and a bachelor of fine arts degree in fashion, Julie earned an editing certificate from the University of Chicago Graham School and enjoys testing her knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style. (@Julie_Valerie)

Julie Valerie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

George Wickham is a Middle School English and History teacher at Collegiate School in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to teaching he works with the Model UN and Woodworking programs and coaches the Middle School Girl’s soccer team. He loves to hike, canoe, build furniture, and strum the ukulele. Before his career as a teacher, he worked as an attorney and adjunct law professor. He lives in Richmond with his wife, Mary, his off-to-college sons, Clayton and Will, and their crazy dog, Bear.

Advisory Board

Phaedra Hise, Author and James River Writers Advisory Board Chair

JRW Advisory Board chair and co-founder Phaedra Hise is an award-winning writer, editor, author, and content strategist. Her nonfiction work spans editorial and brand publishing for companies including Inc, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Washington Post, American Express, Pitney Bowes, Loyalty One (Air Miles), Merrill Lynch, and Walmart. She has authored five non-fiction books on a wide range of topics.(@HiPhaedra)

Ellen F. Brown, Author and JRW Advisory Board Member

Ellen F. Brown is an award-winning freelance writer and co-author of the book Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. Additionally, her work has appeared in a wide variety of print and online publications. Brown has a law degree and an MFA in nonfiction writing. She is a member of Biographer’s International and the National Book Critics Circle. Brown is currently working on a book about literary estates. (@ellenfbrown)

Constance Costas, Writer, Editor, Content Strategist

Constance Costas is a writing coach, ghostwriter, book editor, and content creator who splits her time between New York City and Richmond, Virginia. She got her start at Vogue magazine and moved from there to editing a small national fitness magazine. She joined Self three years later, writing cover stories for New York editors. She has published articles in Parents, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Health, Fitness, and Harpers’ Bazaar, among others. Her clients include corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, interior designers, media groups, and indie authors.

Kirk Ellis, Screenwriter, Producer, JRW Advisory Board Member

Kirk Ellis wrote and co-produced the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams, which garnered him two personal Emmy awards among the 13 the adaptation garnered. Splitting his time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Palm Springs, California, Ellis has also written and/or co-produced such films as The Grass Harp (1995), The Beach Boys: An American Family (2000) and Anne Frank: The Whole Story (2001), and collaborations with Steven Spielberg.

dl Hopkins, Actor, Poet, Teacher

d.l. Hopkins is an award winning actor, veteran poet, and former Artistic Director of the African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia. On film and television he has appeared in many different roles from the motion picture “Loving”, HBO’s “The Wire”, and Fox’s series “Legends & Lies” as Bass Reeves, The Real Lone Ranger. dl has been an Artist-In-Residence at the University of Richmond where he preformed and taught. As a founding member of Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theatre, he toured as a fellow repertory artist, and taught Mr. McClintock’ s Jazz Actor’s technique. (@dlhop)

Dean King, award-winning nonfiction author

Dean King, a JRW co-founder, is an American author of narrative non-fiction on adventure, historical, and maritime subjects. He is the author of companion books to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series of novels and is the first biographer of O’Brian. He is also is the award-winning author of The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys: The True Story, which the Wall Street Journal called, “popular history as it ought to be written,” and nine other works of non-fiction. His national bestseller Skeletons on the Zahara, a Award Winner translated into ten languages, is the subject of a two-hour History Channel special documentary. 

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Meg Medina is a Cuban-American writer and an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of numerous works for children and teens, including Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which won the 2019 John D. Newbery medal. She serves on the board of advisors for both the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and We Need Diverse Books, and she is on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA program in Children’s Literature. A proud member and supporter of JRW, she lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Suzan McKenzie, Writer and James River Writers Board Member

Kevin O’Hagan is a founding partner of O’Hagan Meyer LLC with offices in Chicago; Los Angeles; Orange County; San Francisco; Boston; Detroit; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Wilmington, DE; and Richmond, VA. He acts as lead counsel for several Fortune 500 companies, has successfully handled over 1000 employment practices disputes, and is a Certified NFL Agent for representing clients in the National Football League.

Joseph Papa, Communications Director and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

As head of his own public relations agency, Joseph Papa drives successful publicity campaigns and major events in support of personalities/brands. He has strong relationships with national media, including television/radio (Today, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, The View, MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera America, NPR), print (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times), and online (Buzzfeed, The Daily Beast, Yahoo!). (@JosephPapa)

Virginia Pye, Author and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Virginia Pye is the author of two novels, Dreams of the Red Phoenix and River of Dust, and the award-winning short story collection Shelf Lives of Happiness. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary magazines, and her essays are online at The New York Times, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She was a three-term chair of James River Writers in its early years, has worked in publishing, as an assistant literary agent, and has taught writing and literature at New York University and at the University of Pennsylvania, and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (@VirginiaPye

Tom Robbins, Novelist and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Tom Robbins has been called “a vital natural resource” by The Portland Oregonian, “one of the wildest and most entertaining novelists in the world” by the Financial Times of London, and “the most dangerous writer in the world today” by Fernanda Pivano of Italy’s Corriere della Sera. A Southerner by birth, Robbins has lived in and around Seattle since 1962. His work includes the novels Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976), Jitterbug Perfume (1984), Skinny Legs and All (1990), Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000), Villa Incognito (2003), Wild Ducks Flying Backward (2005, collection), and the children’s book for grown-ups B is for Beer (2009). He was JRW’s first keynote speaker(@DailyRobbins)

Ron Smith, Poet and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Ron Smith is an American poet and the author of poetry collections Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery, Moon Road, and Its Ghostly Workshop. In 2005, he was selected, along with Elizabeth Seydel Morgan, as an inaugural winner of the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize. Ron’s poems and essay-reviews have appeared in numerous periodicals and reference works. He is a former president of the Poetry Society of Virginia and was Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2014 to 2016. He holds the George Squires Chair of Distinguished Teaching and serves as Writer-in-Residence at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia, where he is also an adjunct associate professor at the University of Richmond. 

Ron Smith, Poet and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Champagne saber in tote, author, host, and sommelier Jason Tesauro has promoted panache on radio and television from BBC to CNN to SiriusXM Radio while garnering glowing print reviews from The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy, and Publisher’s Weekly. Leading the charge for conscientious consumption and refined cool, Tesauro created the Smithsonian Institute’s Savvy Epicure course in 2004 and founded The Ritz-Carlton Modern Gentleman Seminar Series in 2005. He writes regularly for national magazines and newspapers.