Reddit Comment: Author vs. Writer

A Reddit comment on Brandon Sanderson’s reply to the recent Wired article about him.


My uncle (who’s written some bestselling books) says that there is a difference between an author and a writer.

An author is who they are in public. A writer is who they are in private.

Most writers are pretty much the same: a person sits in a dirty bathrobe staring at a word doc while trying desperately not to start playing a browswer game.

Whereas an author can be anything. Because humans have limitless variety in who they are and where they come from.

But also, the author is a story. You’re asking a storyteller to tell you a story about themselves, but it’s still a story! They might tell that story in one way that comes across as totally different from if they told it a different way. (And they might – rust and Ruin! – even make stuff up!)

An author’s story can be just that of a writer, dirty bathrobe and all. Or it can be very far away – can be anything. Mr. Sanderson’s author-story is very close to being just the story of a writer.

The person behind this article doesn’t like that. He struggles a little to articulare why. Perhaps he thinks Mr Sanderson’s story of himself should be as exciting as his stories of Vin and Venli and Vivenna. Perhaps he just disagrees with Oscar Wilde. Perhaps he’s just disagreeable – or that is the story he’s telling.

Personally, I like Mr. Sanderson’s story of himself. I like who he is as an author. I think it’s a good story! He seems like a hard-working, thoughtful, pretty normal guy. He seems like he tries to be a good person – to his family, to his many employees, and to his many many fans. Personally I find it pretty inspiring. Not in the same way that Kaladin’s story is inspiring. But not necessarily more or less. Because there’s – gasp! – different kinds of stories!

But also – there’s so much that’s interesting here! How does a pretty normal, decent guy, build such incredible worlds and tell pretty moving stories? A person could ask How! A person could ask Why! A person could explore that apparent dissonance – and quite possibly find that it isn’t dissonant at all! A person could talk to other similar writers. Gather datapoints! Look for patterns! Be interesting!

After reading this article, I am left with one overriding thought: I so look forward to reading an article about Mr. Sanderson that is interesting.

This got me thinking about what kind of story I might tell about myself. I’m often trying *not* to talk about myself. I can’t deny that many of the more successful authors I know have a very strong, appealing story about themselves that is a big part of their marketing. I’ve always shied away from this.

A Reading List of US/Vietnam-era War Novels

On March 29, 1973, some of the last U.S. soldiers in Vietnam lined up at an outprocessing center in Saigon, preparing to leave the country. (AP)

I asked ChatGPT to expand a list of novels from recommendations in this article and comments on the story.

  • “Embers of War” by Fredrick Logevall: A comprehensive historical account of the French and American wars in Vietnam, exploring the decisions that led to the conflict and its lasting impact.
  • “A Bright Shining Lie” by Neil Sheehan: A gripping biography of John Paul Vann, a military advisor in Vietnam, that explores the complexities and failures of the war.
  • “Street Without Joy” by Bernard Fall: A chilling examination of the French Indochina War, revealing the brutal realities of combat and the tragic consequences for both sides.
  • “A Great Place to Have a War” by Joshua Kurlantzick: An in-depth exploration of the secret CIA-led war in Laos during the Vietnam War, and its lasting consequences.
  • “The Ugly American” by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick: A political satire that critiques American foreign policy and diplomacy in Southeast Asia during the Cold War.
  • “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene: A British journalist and a naive American idealist are entangled in the moral complexities and intrigues of the Vietnam conflict.
  • “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes: A visceral, intense novel about a young Marine lieutenant and his platoon’s harrowing experience during the Vietnam War.
  • “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien: A collection of interconnected short stories exploring the emotional and physical burdens carried by soldiers during the Vietnam War.
  • “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: A multigenerational saga of a Vietnamese family enduring the tragedies of war and striving for survival.
  • “Dust Child” by Alison Croggon: A poignant novel about a Vietnamese-Australian girl’s quest to uncover her father’s identity and her family’s war-torn past.
  • “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen: A gripping spy thriller about a Vietnamese communist double agent navigating the end of the war and his exile in America.
  • “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh: A haunting account of a North Vietnamese soldier’s experiences, exposing the devastation and trauma of war.
  • “The 13th Valley” by John M. Del Vecchio: A gritty and authentic portrayal of an American infantry platoon’s experiences during the Vietnam War.
  • “If I Die in a Combat Zone” by Tim O’Brien: A powerful memoir reflecting on the author’s experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War and his moral struggle with the conflict.
  • “Dispatches” by Michael Herr: An influential and raw account of a journalist’s experiences covering the Vietnam War, revealing the chaos and surreal nature of the conflict.
  • “Tree of Smoke” by Denis Johnson: An epic novel spanning the Vietnam War, following a diverse cast of characters whose lives are intertwined by fate and circumstance.
  • “Going After Cacciato” by Tim O’Brien: A surreal and imaginative tale of a soldier’s pursuit of a deserter during the Vietnam War.
  • “Fields of Fire” by James Webb: A gripping and authentic portrayal of the lives of American Marines during the Vietnam War.
  • “Chickenhawk” by Robert Mason: A riveting memoir of a helicopter pilot’s harrowing experiences during the Vietnam War.
  • “The Lotus Eaters” by Tatjana Soli: A love story between an American female photojournalist and a Vietnamese photographer, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
  • “Fields of Bamboo” by James R. Olson: A tale of a CIA operative infiltrating the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, exploring the line between loyalty and betrayal.
  • “The 25th Hour” by David Benioff: A gripping novel about a man’s last 24 hours of freedom before beginning a seven-year prison sentence, exploring themes of friendship, loyalty, and redemption.
  • “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien: A collection of interconnected short stories exploring the emotional and physical burdens carried by soldiers during the Vietnam War.
  • “Rumor of War” by Philip Caputo: A powerful memoir that offers an unflinching account of the author’s experiences as a Marine officer during the Vietnam War.
  • “Dog Soldiers” by Robert Stone: A thrilling novel about a disillusioned war correspondent who becomes entangled in a dangerous heroin smuggling operation during the Vietnam War.
  • “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms” by Gail Tsukiyama: A moving family saga set in Japan during World War II, exploring the lives of two orphaned brothers and their dreams for the future.
  • “The Killing Zone” by Frederick Downs: A raw and unfiltered account of an American infantryman’s experiences during the Vietnam War, detailing the horror and brutality of combat.
  • “Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War” by Wallace Terry: An oral history capturing the experiences, perspectives, and voices of African American soldiers who served in the Vietnam War.
  • “In Country” by Bobbie Ann Mason: A coming-of-age novel about a young woman in rural Kentucky trying to understand her father’s death in the Vietnam War and the impact of the conflict on her family.
  • “A Rumor of War” by Philip Caputo: A harrowing memoir that provides an unflinching look at the author’s experiences as a Marine officer during the Vietnam War.
  • “The War Lover” by John Hersey: A psychological drama about an ambitious and reckless bomber pilot during World War II, examining the allure of combat and the darker side of heroism.
  • “The Green Berets” by Robin Moore: A gripping account of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces’ covert operations and daring missions during the Vietnam War.
  • “Dispatches” by Michael Herr: An influential and raw account of a journalist’s experiences covering the Vietnam War, revealing the chaos and surreal nature of the conflict.
  • “A Soldier’s Sweetheart” by William Boyd: A powerful novel about a young nurse’s experience of love and loss during World War I.
  • “The Odd Angry Shot” by William Nagle: A darkly humorous novel following a group of Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War, capturing the camaraderie and absurdity of the conflict.
  • “A Glimpse of Hell” by Charles C. Thompson II: An investigative account of the 1989 explosion aboard the USS Iowa, exposing the human and institutional failures that led to the disaster.
  • “The Best and the Brightest” by David Halberstam: An insightful examination of the key figures and events that led to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, exploring the impact of their decisions.
  • “The Long Gray Line” by Rick Atkinson: A compelling chronicle of the lives and experiences of West Point graduates from the class of 1966, following their journeys through the Vietnam War and beyond.

    Note: This list went through several iterations. Sometimes the bot would add descriptions, and other times it didn’t. When I had the list of 30 some books, I asked it to generate descriptions and it kept timing out at around the 20th book.

    Then I asked it to generate an HTML list and it timed out as well.

    It also couldn’t search outside sites to add links to each title. This should get better with time.

I was also surprised that it never added “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young.” I figured every list of Vietnam books would have that one.

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