Episode 16: Bill Blume and Phil Hilliker — James River Writers

Phil and Bill are two fine fellows. They are also extremely Middle Grade and Young Adult authors!

Phil Hilliker has been a successful freelance illustrator for sixteen years. After working so closely with many different authors, Phil started thinking about the stories that he wanted to tell and became a writer himself. As a writer and as an illustrator, Phil tells us that he quickly recognized Middle Grade (the expanding literary genre aimed at 8-12 -year-olds) as his true niche. Though as yet unpublished, Hilliker has secured a literary agent for his exciting new novel, Atomic Diner, and is working on his next novel, this one based around “frontier” tall tales of the American West.

Though not a Richmond native, Phil says that the local writing community here has played a huge part in making the city feel like home. Hilliker is the Membership Coordinator for James River Writers, the largest writing group in Richmond (including more than a few prior P&C guests, like Kris Spisak, Patty Smith, and Cheryl Pallant). He has also created a wonderful hobby: Scrabble paintings. For years, Phil has created micro-paintings on the back of Scrabble tiles and has been leaving them in random public spaces. So, if you happen to find one around the Greater Richmond Area, hit him up!

Phil also teaches an awesome Introduction to Children’s Book Illustration at The Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

Bill “Wildcat” Blume has been on our list of guests we want on P&C for a long time. A longtime member of JRW, Bill served as the chair for their 2013 annual writing conference and is a frequent moderator of The Writing Show, a monthly writing panel at The Firehouse Theatre.

A writer since way back, Bill is the author of many published short stories, as well as the exciting Gidion Keep series, of which the first two books, Gidion’s Hunt and Gidion’s Blood, have been published so far. It’s a YA series about a teenage vampire hunter, navigating the tricky path of adolescence while using his wiles to kill devilish vamps.

Bill and Phil were wonderful guests, and we had a ball talking about Howl’s Moving Castle, Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, and the vexing vampirical post-Twilight landscape for Young Adult Paranormal Fiction. Plus, advice for anyone who wants to publish a book! Check it out.

Since we’ve recorded this episode, Phil has sent me a couple of clarifications from our discussion, which I will include here. There has been quite a bit of criticism of the Indian in the Cupboard series from the Native American community, some links to which can be found here. Also, the story about Stephen Fry being unable to say the phrase, “pocketed it” while recording the first Harry Potter book is, sadly, untrue.  On a positive note, Felica Day has, in fact, narrated quite a few audiobooks!

This is Prose & Cons, thanks for listening ~

Episode 15: Dr. Bertram Ashe – Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles

“I killed dreadlocks. It was a crime of passion.”

Bert Ashe is an English professor at the University of Richmond, and author of Twisted: My Dreadlock ChroniclesWe sat down with Dr. Ashe in the WRIR studio to talk about his influences, his book, and his dreads.

Origins. Growth. Twisted. Golden Age. Locked. Confession. Twisted is structured according to Bert’s own journey of cultivating his dreadlocks, interspersed with Black history and the context of the modern dread, voiced in Ashe’s characteristic pithy wit.

The book starts with a confession–which Dr. Ashe reads during the second segment of the episode–he goes on to explain that he missed the Golden Age of dreads. That Bert, a down-to-earth husband, dad, and dude, has contributed to the normalization of the hairstyle that once, not so long ago, was a clear sign of righteous rebellion.

“from Uppercase Dreads to common-denominator lowercase locks…”

Dr. Ashe is not only unquestionably intelligent and well-educated, he’s also funny as hell! We had a ball chatting with our new friend Bert, and we, your ever-humble hosts, hope you’ll enjoy listening to this episode.

Bert also wants to promote his RVA reading group, Black Men Read?! If you’re a readerly black man in Richmond, you can contact Dr. Ashe for details!


Episode 14: Michelle Dodd and Rob Gibson – The Writer’s Den

On the last Thursday of every month, poets and poetry enthusiasts gather at Infuzion RVA for The Writer’s Den Poetry Slam. Poets include members of The Writer’s Den slam team, as well as walk-on performers. Slams provide a unique experience: during the course of three rounds, poets advance (or are eliminated) based on the combined scores of judges from the audience. The growing success of these events is due largely to the efforts of the founder of The Writer’s Den, Roscoe Burnems (one of our guests for our second-ever show, along with fellow TWD teammate Monica Edwards).

Last month, I attended my second Writer’s Den Slam. Upon arriving, I was asked to be a judge. I was given a small whiteboard and an unexpected dose of anxiety. How do you judge a poem? How do you compare one poet to another? Turns out, it’s as simple as it is stressful. I decided on a handful of basic criteria and tried to keep my cool when my score was met with pained yelps from the back of the room.

Each poem had its own distinctive style and tone. Some were bitter, cursing an ex-lover. Others downright hilarious. Two particularly charismatic performers were Michelle Dodd and Rob “Robalujah” Gibson.

“The Dodd is good…” “All the time.” “All the time…” “The Dodd is good.” Michelle Dodd is the only member of the Writer’s Den who receives her own battle cry before each performance. Michelle is a black woman who was adopted by a white family, and much of her poems revolve around feeling out of place and uncomfortable in her own skin. She is also a musician, often incorporating ground-shaking vocal performance into her poetry. Michelle Dodd is a powerhouse poet. She has published two books of poetry, which you can find on her website.

Robalution. Robalujah. Robalu. Rob Gibson is a poet, artist, musician, and coach. This man breathes verse. While we were recording this episode, I saw that Rob was writing or doodling on some scrap paper while we spoke. Afterward, we saw that he had sketched each of us in the room.


Writing this, I realize that I actually know very little about Rob. Maybe that’s part of his charm.

During our conversation, Michelle mentioned that another member of The Writer’s Den once said that all poets can be classified as of the elemental “benders” from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra: water, earth, fire, and air. Michelle is a self-described water poet, Rob an air poet. This seems about right to me. Michelle’s poems will wash over you with total emotion. Rob is whimsical and daring with his poetry, like Aang riding the wind on his glider.


From the Archives — Episode II: The Writer’s Den with Monica Edwards and Roscoe Burnems

Sequelitis. After the success (and many, many hours of editing out my ums and ahs) of our pilot, the pressure was on to make a great follow-up episode. We were incredibly lucky to get two amazing poets from The Writer’s Den slam team.

Roscoe is the coach, the founder. Now the official emcee for TWD slams, Roscoe is the voice and the tone-setter. A teacher by day, poet by night, father and husband all the time, Roscoe is incredibly community-driven. In our recent episode featuring two other Writer’s Den team members, Michelle Dodd and Rob Gibson, Michelle speaks to Roscoe taking her under his wing, extending a sense of family and familiarity amongst this intimate team of performers.

Listening to this episode now, almost a year after we recorded, Monica’s performances still give me chills. She wields her rhythm, cadence and emphasis to imbue a lasting impact on everyone who has the great fortune to hear.

The Writer’s Den slams happen on the last Thursday of every month at Infuzion in Scott’s Addition. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend these events as a chance to see for yourself some of the best up-and-coming poets in Richmond.

Episode 13: Kris Spisak – Get a Grip on Your Grammar

Kris Spisak does it all: fiction, non-fiction, blog writing, editing, web design, even hosting of (probably) the first ever grammar gameshow! Kris sat down with us humble P&C hosts in the WRIR studio for a delightful chat about grammar, writing, and the surprising similarities between emojis and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Spisak has been garnering her online following since creating her writing tips blog in 2012 (she recently posted her 337th tip: “‘Nick of Time’ vs. ‘Knick of Time'”). Last year, she gave in to the constant chorus of “When’s the book?” and published Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused

Though a passionate editor and grammarian, Kris didn’t set out to join the grammar police. Since deciding to become a writer at sixteen, she has written several novels, many drawing on her background as a Ukrainian American. Although Get a Grip is Spisak’s first published book, she currently has a manuscript out which she hopes will earn her a publishing deal soon.

You know that nightmare where you show up in school in your underwear and have to take a test you didn’t know about and didn’t study for? That is how I felt when Kris started an impromptu grammar quiz (though for the record I was wearing most of my clothes). Despite me making an utter fool of myself by using the non-word “funner” (and being called out on it by our lovely co-host Dom), we really had a great time chatting with Kris. She even got us pretty excited about grammar tips!



From the Archives — Episode 1: PILOT! Featuring Oliver Davis and Aden Ware

For now, new episodes of Prose & Cons only air twice a month, so on those off-weeks we’ll be posting our back catalogue of goodies!

This episode is near and dear to our hearts… we not only lucked into two amazing guests, it’s also our pilot. Our firstborn. In the minutes leading up to our recording, Justin asked Aden to come in the shortest possible notice, Dom came up with the idea for our guests to bring in something written by someone who has influenced them, and we all tried to calm the butterflies in our stomachs.

We talk about gender, race, and all kinds of fun stuff! Big thanks to Aden and Oliver for coming on a show that didn’t exist yet. Big thanks to Justin and Dom for going along with my crazy idea. Big thanks to you for listening!

Episode 12: Patty Smith and Cheryl Pallant

Patty and Cheryl, authors and organizers of the RVA Lit Crawl, joined the full Prose & Cons crew in the WRIR studio to chat about books, poetry, and life!

Patty Smith is a full-time Literature and Writing teacher at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg and the author of The Year of Needy Girlsher debut novel set in Smith’s native Massachusetts. Many settings and themes from the book stem from Patty’s own life, such as the struggle of a working-class woman teaching at an elite school, the fear of being an openly gay teacher in a tight-knit community, and the tragedy of a local ten-year-old boy’s murder. The stage of this grisly tale is set with a immersive and ominous prologue describing the events leading up to this boy’s untimely death, and the story delivers a powerful and thoughtful examination of false accusations in a small town.

Author of twelve books, professor at the University of Richmond, dancer, spiritual healer, and cutting-edge researcher, Cheryl Pallant is truly a woman of many talents. During our conversation, we focused on her two most recent books: in Ginseng TangoCheryl tells the intimate true story of her year in Daegu, South Korea; Her Body Listening is Pallant’s newest collection of poetry, described by the author as “a poetic reflection of [her] final year in training as a Healing Touch practitioner”. Cheryl is also the author of Contact Improvisation: An Introduction to a Vitalizing Dance Form, drawing upon her decades of experience in freeform dance, and the upcoming Writing and the Body in Motion: Awakening Voice through Somatic Practicebased on her innovative and immensely popular and Writing from the Body workshops.

This is a killer episode, with anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom galord. Give it a listen!


Patty (left) and Cheryl (right) after their joint reading at Chop Suey Books on January 23, 2018.