Jackson Landers attended the Workshop in songwriting in 1994 and 1995.
I live in Albemarle County, where I have lived since I was 13 (aside from college). Technically, I’m here because of a hot air balloon. It’s a long story.
After years of full-time freelancing and writing books, I recently started working as an education coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. I get to write about wildlife, drive around to different corners of the state to meet interesting people, and do environmentally valuable work. The regular paychecks are delightful. I am still freelancing a little bit and working on several new books.
I am reading To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World for the 5th time. Every time I finish it, I try to deliver a practice lecture on the complete history of the British Navy while on a long car trip by myself. Invariably, I get hazy about some of the more obscure wars with the Dutch and have to read the whole book all over again. I’m listening to a lot of Joy Division, Teepee, Ty Segal, and The Mikado.
Right now I am working on a project to recreate a 100 year old formula for snake oil to see how well snake oil (which, scandalously, never contained any snake-derived ingredients) really worked for treating symptoms of the common cold. This is for an article in Slate. My career as a writer was built on writing about hunting for food and about invasive species, but I want to avoid getting stuck in a situation where these are the only things I get to write about for the rest of my life. So I’ve been making a point of writing about subjects outside of what my public image is built on.
My second book, Eating Aliens, turned out to be pretty influential and I am very happy with the impact it has had. The documentary film that was made about me, Close to the Bone, is also a pretty big deal. Writing for the New York Times was a big enough career goal that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself after it happened. But honestly, all glory is fleeting. Within hours of any great accomplishment, I find myself struggling to follow it with something better. Nothing I have done so far seems quite good enough.
It was a very good way to learn the real discipline of practice and the work of writing. Taking set times each and every day to sit down in front of a pad of paper or a computer and treating this as something serious that deserves not only my own respect but that of the people around me. Incidentally, almost everyone I have kept in touch with from the Workshop has been phenomenally successful as a writer. We aren’t all getting paid especially well, but most of us are reaching audiences of millions of people.
I hate to say this, but non-fiction writing has been utterly devalued by modern media. Publications that used to pay a thousand bucks for a feature are offering $75 or nothing at all. Crappy writers are everywhere and willing to work for free to feed their egos. The market no longer values the difference between a good writer and a crappy one. This is not a business that I can recommend getting into. My advice to young writers is that they find some other way of making a living and consider writing as something on the side. Popularity and broad readership no longer translates to a living wage.