From Warrior to Wordsmith
During the tail end of his military service, Lanning attempted another vocation on the side that would later give him the confidence to switch careers.
“I had my journals from the war, and when I got back, I tried to write the great American novel,” he said. “I wrote a couple chapters, trying to mimic some combination of Larry McMurtry, Dr. Seuss and Charles Dickens. It didn’t work, and I focused on my military career. Years later, I gave it another try, but this time I just stuck to nonfiction. That was the key. As a starting point, I used the letters I had written my wife, parents and brother when in Vietnam. I hoped to give someone the idea of a year of a tour. Even though it was 15 years later, so much was as vivid as if had been yesterday.”
When Lanning was halfway through, he sent what he had to publishing giant Random House. “Eventually, I had double what they wanted to publish, so they ended up giving me advances for two books,” he said. “I was on my way.”
His first offering put him on the New York Times military bestseller list, and his third book, “Inside the LRRPs: Rangers in Vietnam,” became his most successful, selling approximately 150,000 copies. Since then, he has grown his bibliography to roughly 30 books, spanning subjects from the Revolutionary War and Vietnam to non-military topics like sports. Several of his books were published by the Texas A&M University Press, including “Texas Aggies in Vietnam,” which celebrates his Texas A&M roots by sharing war stories from Aggies who fought in Vietnam.
His works have garnered praise, and the New York Times Book Review declared his book “Vietnam 1969-1970: A Company Commander’s Journal” to be “…one of the most honest and horrifying accounts of a combat soldier’s life to come out of the Vietnam War.” He has also appeared on major television networks and the History Channel as an expert on the individual soldier on both sides of the Vietnam War.
Lanning, who currently lives in Lampasas, Texas, and is originally from Sylvester, Texas, considers his strongest writing quality to be his skill turning a mountain of information into shorter hard-hitting words of impact. “I can stare down a piece of paper and keep going,” he explained. “Many authors have trouble with that. And I don’t try to aggrandize myself with my writing style. It may even be boring in some places, but war sometimes is boring. I’m proudest when I get a call or email saying, ‘I was in the 101st, and that’s just like it was.’”
Published in 15 countries, he’s proud of his place among Aggie authors. “I think I’m the bestselling Aggie writer in military nonfiction,” he added. “As an Aggie, I feel very proud to have excelled at this.”