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 sixteen conferences and nearly ninety Writing Shows, and she plans to improve on that number in 2019. 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, edited by Eric L. Douglas, 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)

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

With degrees from the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond, board chair Kris Spisak began her career as a college writing instructor; however, after six years in the classroom, she transitioned to professional writing and editing. Helping writers sharpen their craft was the driving force behind her book, Get a Grip on your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017). Kris is the founder of Grammartopia and the co-founder of Midlothian Web Solutions. She is also pursuing the publication of her first novel. (@KrisSpisak)

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

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

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

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

Phaedra Hise (Advisory Board Chair and JRW co-founder) is an entrepreneurial writer, editor and author. She has written award-winning articles and cover stories for national publications including the Washington PostIncFortuneForbesCNN Money, the Wall Street JournalPopular Mechanics, and Salon. Phaedra has written five books for major publishers, including two co-author collaborations. She has also run print and digital magazines including Edible RichmondColloquy, and Colloquy India. Phaedra is currently Vice President, Content & Social Media for Richmond-based company, Legacy Navigator; and Contributing Food Editor for Virginia Living. She blogs about urban gardening and cooking at (@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. She writes about a wide variety of topics relating to literary and publishing history. (@ellenfbrown)

Constance Costas, Writer, Editor, Content Strategist

Constance Costas is a writer, editor, and content strategist. 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 won two Emmys, a WGA Award, a Peabody and the Humanitas Prize for his work as writer and co-executive producer on the HBO miniseries John Adams. Currently, Kirk is developing a dramatic series based on the Lisa See novel China Dolls in conjunction with actor/producer Daniel Dae Kim. For producer Bryan Cranston, Kirk is also writing Drill, a dramatic series set amidst US Army basic training in Ft. Jackson. He is also collaborating with producer Tim Kring (“Heroes”) and Imperative Entertainment for Explorers and working on a variety of upcoming motion picture projects. A former co-governor of the writers’ branch of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Kirk served for four years as chairman of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Arts Commission and is currently the president-elect of Western Writers of America.

dl Hopkins, Actor, Poet, Teacher

dl Hopkins is a fixture in the Richmond theatre community. Onstage he is an award winning actor, veteran poet, and former Artistic Director of the African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia. On film and the small screen he has appeared in numerous roles ranging from HBO’s “The Wire”, starring in the Fox series “Legends & Lies” as Bass Reeves, The Real Lone Ranger, and most recently “Loving”. Mr. Hopkins has been an Artist-In-Residence at the University of Richmond where he preformed and taught. As well as a founding member of Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theatre, where 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 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 and is currently being developed as a feature film. Dean is the chief story teller of two History Channel documentaries and a producer of its unscripted series The Hatfields and McCoys: White Lightning. Dean’s writing appears in Esquire, Garden & Gun, Granta, Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, and the New York Times. Dean is a co-founder of JRW, a past board member of the Library of Virginia Foundation, and currently serves on the board of BIO, the world’s only organization dedicated to biography.

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

Joseph Papa is the Communications Director for Equality Virginia, the state’s leading LGBT advocacy organization. A Richmond area native, he returns from New York where he was a publicity director at HarperCollins Publishers working on over 50 New York Times bestselling books. Before that he was special events and programs coordinator for the Library of Virginia Foundation. He is the author of the national bestseller Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life (HarperDesign, 2011). (@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. Her award-winning short stories have been published in numerous literary magazines, and her essays are on line 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 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)(@DailyRobbins)

Ron Smith, Poet and James River Writers Advisory Board Member

Ron Smith is an American poet and the first writer-in-residence at St. Christopher’s School. He is the author of 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.