Jackson Landers

Alumnus, 1994-95

Jackson Landers attended the Workshop in songwriting in 1994 and 1995.

Where are you living and what brought you there?

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.

Where are you working and what do you enjoy about it?

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.

What do you find yourself most often reading/listening to lately and why?

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.

What are you working on right now and what does it represent in the larger body of your artistic accomplishments?

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.

What are your publications, performances, albums, and/or achievements that seem most important to you at this point in time?

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.

How would you characterize the influence of your YWW experience in your life?

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.

What’s the best advice you can give a Young Writer (in general or in your specific genre)?

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.

Where can we find you online?