5 insider Tips With Author Jackson D. TIlley
Get a kickass agent. Unless you’ve written and self-published twenty NYT bestsellers, you’re going to need some help. Find someone who understands you, who can keep you sane throughout the writing process, and who always operates with your best interest in mind. Your agent should be your friend, your confidant, and your reality check. Unless they check all three boxes, move on.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackson D. TIlley. He’s the director of Public Relations and Community Affairs at Organa Brands, the country’s leading cannabis distributor. Jackson is also working on a really exciting new book that chronicles the modern history of cannabis in America–he’s using his experience working in the cannabis industry coupled with his own experience in sobriety to tell a fascinating story about one of the world’s most talked about new markets. Although he’s only 26, Jackson has already made quite the name for himself, and has been featured in publications like Forbes, The LA Times, and USA Today
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
My story has long been a tale of good luck mixed with good timing. I got the opportunity to go to one of the most wonderful colleges in the country, The University of Colorado in Boulder. I met lifelong friends and mentors there who really steered me in the right direction throughout my adult life. It’s where I figured out that if you’re personable, doors open much more easily. I started working for a company that at the time was called O.penVAPE, and have been there ever since. It’s now known as Organa Brands, and it’s the leading cannabis distributor in the United States. I’ve always had a knack for relationship building, and I parlayed that into a career in Public Relations.
About three years ago, I decided to get sober and really reinvent myself. Addiction is a crazy beast, but there’s real joy in it too. I can honestly say I’ve been able to live two lives in a single lifetime, and it’s all because I put down the pills and focused on living in a way that’s more reflective of who I want to be. You may think it’s nuts to hear about a sober person working in the marijuana industry, but the reality is–I could be an attendant in a ball pit filled with Xanax, and would still manage to make that work for me. Sobriety isn’t about limiting the options available to ourselves, it’s about creating new ones beyond what we ever thought possible. I’m extremely grateful for the life I’ve built, and it’s thanks in large part to my friends, my family, and my amazing partner Michael. The various ups and downs of life have really inspired my writing, and I think it’s enabled me to find new ways of telling stories that are perhaps otherwise inaccessible.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
There’s so much I’d love to tell you, but none that I’m allowed to. Blame it on the NDA!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There are so many, but right now I’m working on a new book that I’m beyond excited about. We’re all familiar with the tired narrative around marijuana– it’s a drug like any other, and making it legal in our communities will lead to an erosion of the moral fabric that holds society together. I’m here to tell a different version of that story, one rooted in fact and personal experience– that cannabis is the next great American industry. In the book, I discuss the massive economic impact of a regulated cannabis market, lift the curtain on an industry that’s long been shrouded in mystery, and explore the history behind how we’ve finally reached this cultural tipping point. It’s the definitive modern history of cannabis in America, and though it includes a great deal of it, the book goes beyond empirical data to dive into what really moves the needle. Cannabis is here to stay, and I’m so excited to tell the story of the ins and outs of this new chapter in American history. We’re tentatively calling it Billion Dollar Dimebag: An Inside Account of America’s Legal(ish) Cannabis Industry, and the hope is that it becomes the go-to guide for everyone on the outside looking in.
I’ve always had a passion for writing as a hobby, but had never quite been able to take the plunge into sharing it with others. I ended up signing with CAA, and we’re working diligently to make this project a reality. As I mentioned earlier, my life has been a series of “right place, right time” moments, and there’s never been a better moment to write a book on this subject. Up until now, cannabis books have not sold well, that’s just a fact. Though it’s important to note, there’s never been one written by a publicist–a person who exists with the sole purpose of getting things into the national spotlight. That’s perhaps what I’m most excited about for the book–being able to leverage years’ worth of relationships to get a book into the hands of people that are champing at the bit to know more about what it is we do, and how the industry got to this point in history. We are living in the era of cannabis–it is a standard topic for almost every media outlet, and has dominated the news cycle in a way we’ve never seen before. There’s just never been a better time to write book on the subject, and I’ve never been more confident in the potential of a project than I am with this one. I read a book years ago called Made to Stick, and it’s all about what makes some ideas “sticky” and others not as much. When I set out to write this book, I wanted to do it in a way that made the content more accessible than previous titles had been able to, and that really boiled down to putting a lot of my own story on the pages. I think it’s much easier to absorb information if there’s a personal through-line to help tether it, and I’m hopeful that readers will find the book humorous and engaging in a way that makes it “stick”.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
There are too many to list. Harvey Milk is at the top of my list–California’s first openly gay elected official. He changed the world for the better, and it’s because of him and people like him that I’m able to live a peaceful and equal existence. Many don’t know this, and I go into this more in the book, but the very origins of medical marijuana came as a result of two men fighting for their love in California during the AIDS epidemic. At its core, medical marijuana is deeply entangled with the fight for gay rights, and that’s a part of history that deserves to be told. If we’re moving beyond just historical figures, I’d be remiss to exclude the founders of Organa Brands, a group of people that had a dream and have fought tirelessly to achieve it, all while changing the political and social landscape of the world forever. It’s not often that you find bosses who support an employee that needs to take two months off of work to go get sober, but that’s exactly what happened with me. Their kindness and support is something that saved my life, and I work every day to try and pay that forward.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I just finished an outstanding book, Grocery, by Michael Ruhlman. I was blown away by his ability to take something I take for granted every day–a grocery store–and turn it into this beautiful book that was absolutely fascinating and emotional. I never knew that I needed to know so much about grocery stores until I picked up a copy. I read mostly non-fiction, and my absolute favorite author in that genre is Bethany McLean, best known as the author of The Smartest Guys in the Room. She and Peter Elkind managed to take an incredibly complex story about an even more complicated business and make it read like a script for a blockbuster movie. I’ve probably read it ten times, simply because it’s so well-written. I’m currently reading her 2010 book, All the Devils Are Here, about the 2008 financial crisis, and am once again astounded by her ability to transform the complex into the accessible. As far as fiction books go, The Essau Continuum series by J.C. Lynne is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. When I picked up the first book, The Essau Emergence, I couldn’t put it down. J.C. has a knack for developing characters in a way that makes readers so invested in the book that it’s impossible to stop reading. In the age of thirty-second attention spans, I admire any author who can keep readers engaged beyond the first chapter, and she does that and more. I think the general theme that’s uniform throughout my favorite books and what I draw the most inspiration from is the ability to take a story and condense it down to focus on the characters that make it up. It’s easy to get carried away in plot, but I’m most inspired by authors who find ways to make their characters relatable, yet still fascinating. It’s about managing to make a reader think “oh, I’ve felt that way too” or “I can see myself doing this” or “I’d love to be like this one day.”
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
With regard to writing on the subject of cannabis, we’ve been plagued by propaganda and misinformation for the better part of a century. I think the only real solution is a transparent approach to talking about marijuana. My hope is to help enact social change by allowing readers a look at an industry that’s much like any other. Beyond that, it really boils down to ensuring that journalistic freedom remains the focal point of any discussion about global politics. The words on the masthead of The Washington Post are simple ones: “Democracy Dies in the Darkness.” It’s up to authors and journalists to shine a bright light on the truth and ensure that, as a society, we don’t stray from the values that make us who we are.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
- Write about your passions. It’s easy to get swept away with what’s new and trendy, but at the end of the day, the best writing is honest writing.
- Be vulnerable. Your personality should jump off the page when someone reads it, and that can only be accomplished by a fearless commitment to represent the truth no matter how difficult it may seem.
- Find an amazing agent who shares your vision. But also find someone who isn’t afraid to tell you when you’re wrong, and who you trust to keep you on the right path.
- Learn to embrace rejection. It’s part of the process, and no great success ever came without struggle to get there. It’s not about being told no–it’s about what we do after that defines us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Ellen Degeneres says it best–Be kind to one another. Everyone is fighting their own battle, and sometimes all a person needs is some kindness and support.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Ask for everything you’ve ever wanted. I never thought I would have been asked to do an interview like this, and I certainly didn’t think it would be as an author. I always dreamt of writing this book, and it wasn’t until I asked for it that it became a reality. You have to fearlessly chase your dreams and make no apologies for doing so. Everything I have in my life, I’ve had to ask for. No is just a two-letter word…don’t be afraid to ask for what will make you happy.
- Choose your circle early on, and choose them carefully. I sent an email to my high school english teacher, a person who retired from teaching to pursue her career in writing to ask for advice. We haven’t seen each other in years, and she wrote back a few minutes later with some of the most helpful advice I’ve ever received. “Take a few deep breaths…Dip into your drama queen, my love. You’ve got this”. That was all I needed to hit the ground running. We become the sum total of the people we surround ourselves with, and I’m lucky to have the greatest cheerleaders: my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my partner. Choose your circle, lean on them, watch with wonder.
- Get a kickass agent. Unless you’ve written and self-published twenty NYT bestsellers, you’re going to need some help. Find someone who understands you, who can keep you sane throughout the writing process, and who always operates with your best interest in mind. Your agent should be your friend, your confidant, and your reality check. Unless they check all three boxes, move on.
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself on the pages of your book. I read books that I find relatable, even if the the subject matter has absolutely nothing to do with my own life. It’s about universal experiences and the ways in which they unite us. If you’re feeling vulnerable, keep pushing forward.
- Find your process and stick to it. I rearranged our apartment five times before I found a suitable location for my desk (in front of a window, slight angle, comfy chair, and exactly three tchotchkes). It’s about being able to sit down in front of your screen and feel inspired rather than overwhelmed. Though I may write as part of my job, it’s never felt like work. For me, success looks like waking up every day, kissing my soon-to-be-husband, and feeling thrilled for what’s to come. Find a perfect spot for your desk, and everything else will fall into place.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Oprah Winfrey. (Anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves!) She’s the epitome of a rags to riches story, but she is so much more than that. She has committed her life to giving back to others, and brings joy to those around her. She transcends gender and race and social status to shine a light on every different version of the human experience. Plus, I want the inside scoop on what Oprah’s Favorite Things will be this Christmas.
You can learn more about Jackson at www.jdtilley.com