SPS 203: Using Your Military Experience To Write A Great Book with General Mari K Eder

Posted on Mar 29, 2023


Chandler Bolt [00:00:03] Hey, Chandler Bolt here and join me today is Mary K Eder. She’s a retired U.S. Army major general and a renowned speaker and thought leader on strategic communications and leadership. She’s the author of multiple books, including her book, Leading the Narrative. Her book, American Cyberspace Asari Cyber Scape, and her most recent book, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line. I’m really excited for this interview. Mary, great to have you here. How’s it going?

Mari K Eder [00:00:34] Great to be here. Chandler Thank you for inviting me.

Chandler Bolt [00:00:37] So why books? Why have they been such a big part of, of of your career?

Mari K Eder [00:00:43] Well, you know, for a while they weren’t. I mean, I started out working in military public affairs, public relations. And so I’ve written lots of articles. But I always wanted to write more, to write creatively and to write about things I care about. Now I have an opinion. I have a voice, and I want to use it. So I started putting different things together. My first two books were self-published stories and The Voice of My Dog because. He had stories he wanted to tell, obviously. And at the same time, I’m writing communications, things about strategic communication, misinformation, disinformation. Three of those kind of books, my first publisher had said to me, Now you can’t have two of these, and then one of those. And I said, Why not? Then there’s the poetry. So I really scared them with that.

Chandler Bolt [00:01:41] And so how do you I mean, did that how did you end up getting past that to get your first traditional book deal?

Mari K Eder [00:01:46] I didn’t mention the earlier stuff. They could find it if they wanted to.

Chandler Bolt [00:01:49] Yeah. Got you. That makes sense. And so, so so country. So it sounds like a bunch of different types of books books stories from your dog, early poetry and then kind of the military the military books, which it looks like. Were those the first traditionally published?

Mari K Eder [00:02:08] The first one was. Yes, they were. All of them got traditionally published by different types of publishers the Naval Institute, press, defense, press and a academic kind of a press.

Chandler Bolt [00:02:22] Got it. Okay. Any lessons learned from. I mean, those are obviously very different publishing experiences between that self-publishing, like any lessons learned or things that may be helpful for people?

Mari K Eder [00:02:34] Well, the great thing about self-publishing is you own it all. Now, the first couple of books I didn’t know much about layout design, so I made the second book in the My Dog’s Voice in a larger format and used color. So that priced it out of the market, which I didn’t realize. So there was a lesson in that that it got me better at organizing chapters, titling them, putting things together. And when you introduced the at American Cyber Escape Space.

Chandler Bolt [00:03:07] Mm hmm.

Mari K Eder [00:03:08] A publisher picked that title. Nobody could pronounce it. Yeah. So the good part about owning it is you pick the title you want. Mm hmm. But you also have to have, I think, an awareness of what’s working. Yeah. Well, I was writing the current book. The girls who stepped out of Line. It was important to me from stories I found. But I didn’t realize that World War Two was becoming this big thing. Mm hmm. So it’s not that you try to game the market or hit a mark with what you’re writing. You write what you want to talk about, what you have things to say about, and not try to make them, I think, be popular. Mm hmm. Some of that is accidental. And that’s great.

Chandler Bolt [00:03:51] Mm hmm. Now what? What do you think? Like, do you feel like there’s any skill set? I mean, there’s got to be right, Like skill sets from your time in the military that helped you write and publish better books.

Mari K Eder [00:04:06] My time in the military taught me to write expository writing reports, very nice emails, and lots of them. I think it is a more bland type of writing. So if you want to go from that to writing conversation and fiction, it’s very different. Plus, I also am used to writing an Associated Press style guide. So the transition back to the college days and using the Chicago Manual of Style has been an adjustment, which apparently, according to my publisher, I have not yet mastered.

Chandler Bolt [00:04:50] Hmm. That’s funny. What do you. Because was it is the newest book. Would you consider that more creative style than the previous books are now?

Mari K Eder [00:05:00] Yes, because it’s creative nonfiction. So the stories are certainly my time in the military has helped me write the military parts of those stories in such a way that. It helps explain them better, because certainly some of those stories I found originally there were mistakes in them or people who wrote them didn’t have a military background, so they skipped over or under-valued things that are significant. So what I wanted to do was to do right by the people that I was writing about. Mm hmm. So that was important to me. And having a military background made sure I got it right. The creative side was not in. Creating false conversations, but in making them interesting to a new generation so that they would want to read these stories. So that is the creative side to nonfiction in doing that. Yes, I have fiction, too. Yes, my agent is working on this, on selling it. And I still have work to do on that.

Chandler Bolt [00:06:02] Mm hmm. Well, let me ask you about that. I mean, what? How do you feel like? Or maybe what advantages do you feel like someone who comes from a military background has over someone who doesn’t? When it comes to writing either nonfiction books about war or military or even fiction books like historical fiction, that sort of thing?

Mari K Eder [00:06:26] Well, I think for me, because my background is in the strategy of communication, I tend to look beyond what’s happening today. Other people are writing about what’s happening. I want to write about what’s coming over the horizon, what we need to worry about tomorrow. And what I see that’s out there that you can find a lot of information on things. Things to worry about next, if you’re or pick any subject. And if you want to study it in depth, you can certainly see a trail, you can see a pattern and you can see ways in which you might want to use that pattern or make your own story from it. So I’ve been doing that.

Chandler Bolt [00:07:03] Anything else that you feel like are just and this is probably in some ways hard to articulate because it’s like it’s it’s subconscious knowledge, Right? But is there anything else that you think about that? Like, Oh, because I have military experience, like you mentioned earlier, like some people would just skip over that whole thing. But, you know, that’s significant. Like anything else like that that you feel like, especially for people who are listening or watching, who are in the military thinking about writing, whether it’s nonfiction, historical fiction, that sort of thing that like might be helpful for them or a lens for them to look at, to say, okay, I can use I can lean on this or use this to write that book.

Mari K Eder [00:07:42] Well, if you talk about the difference between, say, thrillers of mystery and a mystery, the thing has already happened and now we have to figure out who did it and why. And the thriller is something that did happen, and there’s probably more on the way. So it’s how do you deal with what you think is coming? How do you figure out what’s happening and how do you stop it? So I think that’s where I have that look ahead. So, for example, I will look at a story about Russian presence in the Arctic because of the melting polar ice caps. So now I’m going to study climate change to see the effects, and then I’m going to do a what if what if there is a conflict in the Arctic over rights to certain areas or passageways? And then that becomes my story. Got it. So there. There’s the plot of my next book.

Chandler Bolt [00:08:34] Yeah. Cool. Nice. Now what? How do you navigate like what you can and cannot share in your books? I think I talked about this maybe was last B&B coauthor of Extreme Ownership. And I feel like other people that we’ve had write books with us that are in the military. They’re like, Oh man, I’m like, I’m going to have to get approval to talk about some of this stuff, some of this stuff. I don’t know if I can talk about it or not like. Any any thoughts or tips on how to navigate that?

Mari K Eder [00:09:02] My office and the chief of public affairs for the Army did those approvals. So I’m pretty well versed. And what you look at, what you don’t want to give away. And everything I use is open source. And if there’s anything beyond open source, it’s I create it. It’s not based on anything that’s classified or generally not.

Chandler Bolt [00:09:23] Not so.

Mari K Eder [00:09:25] So if I’m asked, I can say I made that up.

Chandler Bolt [00:09:28] Got it.

Mari K Eder [00:09:29] You know, there might be an accident at some point where you make up something that eventually comes true. Certainly that happened in my current book, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line, where someone predicted a large bad event and the next day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and then she was questioned. So how did you know that? And it was. Oh, I didn’t. I just. I just made that up.

Chandler Bolt [00:09:50] Oh, wow. That’s wild. And so that’s interesting. You said your office handles those submissions. So any thoughts like from, I guess, the other side of the table for authors in the military for submitting? Like what makes that process easier for them? Easier for for the office, for your guys’s office? Like, what’s and what does that process look like?

Mari K Eder [00:10:15] If you have some information that you doubt where it came from. Do I remember this from when I was still in active service or. Did I read this somewhere? That was classified? If you have any doubts about it, don’t use it. Or if you feel like you could be giving away what we call TTP tactics, techniques, procedures to perhaps someone with nefarious intent or or a potential enemy of the U.S., then you wouldn’t use it. So if you feel like you’re giving things away. Don’t. Don’t do that. You can refer to them obliquely. You can refer to them in a way that gives some mystery to it and intrigue that you don’t have to tell exactly how things are done.

Chandler Bolt [00:11:01] Got it. That makes sense. Any. This is something I wanted to get your take on. And I guess kind of kind of relates to the topic of your new book as well. I feel like and maybe this is just anecdotal and maybe this is just because I’m a guy, but I feel like you don’t see a lot of books from women in the military. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?

Mari K Eder [00:11:29] I don’t. I do see some now. I see more than in previous years. Some of them are helpful. How to leadership works. Certainly. At one point I thought everybody who retired wrote a leadership work because there is certainly much to learn from everybody who’s had that experience. But I do think that for many people who have left military service, they want to go on and do the next thing and not write about the past.

Chandler Bolt [00:12:01] Oh, interesting. Yeah.

Mari K Eder [00:12:03] Or what I went through. Unless it’s a autobiography and then. I don’t know. I used to think I didn’t read autobiographies until I looked at my bookshelf one day, and there was a lot of them. Mm hmm. So I think many people may believe, Well, who would read the story about what I went through? So many others went through the whole the same thing.

Chandler Bolt [00:12:23] Oh, interesting.

Mari K Eder [00:12:24] Many people have the same experience as I did. Why would I write? And people ask me all the time, Why don’t you write your story? Because I don’t think it’s that interesting. Or because I think it’s very common in so many ways. So why would I? I mean, I buy the first 500 copies and that would be it.

Chandler Bolt [00:12:41] But. Do you think that’s true?

Mari K Eder [00:12:46] I don’t know, but I’m.

Chandler Bolt [00:12:47] Not think other people would think that. Because, I mean, you find yourself buying books from people who are like, Oh yeah, they had a similar experience to me. And that’s actually maybe. Well, I mean, why I’m interested.

Mari K Eder [00:12:57] Well, that’s true. And then I read it and go, Ha, I would have done this differently. A little judgmental, right?

Chandler Bolt [00:13:03] Yeah, that’s funny. So I just I guess as an outsider, you know, I’ve never been in the military, but it it feels like there’s this massive void of books from women in the military and that, that, that would that would lead to like, okay. Writing that like any other thoughts on that or maybe even even encouragement to that to women in the military who are thinking about writing a book.

Mari K Eder [00:13:30] I would say go right ahead and do it now. Now, we were talked about let’s say Ashley’s War is a book about a woman who was in one of the first female contact teams in Iraq. Or maybe it was Afghanistan, but it’s a a great story. The rights to it have been bought for a movie that hasn’t been made yet. But those are the kind of stories that are the new unique. If we go back to the previous generations, while I was writing this book, I found some autobiographies of women who served in World War Two. Probably I’ve read about ten of them now. So they’re out There are actually. They were out there in the 1948, 1940s, fifties. And so while I’m buying them online from eBay and they cost four and five bucks each and in the front of them, it usually says property of the Sioux City, Iowa Library or whatever place gave them up. So we cycle through generations of books, so. That was a good thing, though, because when you do research, If I had depended on. And a very long obituary. I read about a woman who was a counterintelligence agent. There were so many errors in that, but I was able to go back to find original documents, original biographies, one written by an ambassador in 1948 that gave This is exactly what happened because it was yesterday. So when you go back to the original documents, you get the reality of what people thought and what they felt that and not 40 and 50 later, some years later when. Well, you know, I want to protect my image here. And they changed all that.

Chandler Bolt [00:15:06] Oh, interesting.

Mari K Eder [00:15:09] Or they don’t remember. Yeah. No. And it gets better over time.

Chandler Bolt [00:15:14] Revisionist history. The the story that gets better as it gets told. Talk to me about your most recent book. So the girls who Stepped out of line, Untold Stories of the women who changed the course of World War Two. And just, you know, just looking on Amazon, it seems like this is by far the most successful book that you’ve done. Maybe that is. Is that true? And if so, why do you think so? Like, why do you think that book’s done so well?

Mari K Eder [00:15:46] Well, I think books on communication have a audience of communicators. Or or leaders who want to understand communications because leaders and executives have a built in requirement to be good communicators and many need to work on those skills. I think the dog books have a have a kid kind of audience.

Chandler Bolt [00:16:10] Mm hmm.

Mari K Eder [00:16:11] And so I think this book has a broader appeal because it has 15 unique and diverse stories in it. So it appeals to a broad range of people who are from those communities who are more who understand that.

Chandler Bolt [00:16:25] Oh, interesting. When it’s almost like broad and specific at the same time.

Mari K Eder [00:16:31] It is, but they’re not all military either, because I think it would be more limited if it was. Mm hmm. So there are women who fought in the resistance. Now they’re 17, 18 years old, and, hey, I’m going to do this. Take the risk, Mick. Take a chance. But they don’t know exactly where it will go. So there are life lessons in it. So the job itself doesn’t really matter in some cases. I think that for one of the women in the book is a nurse. So, for example, people think nurses had it easy. They did not. So she was on the front lines, earned five battle stars going from the beaches of Normandy all the way through the end of the war. And these nurses had to put up the tents for the field hospital every ten days. And so when you read about this and in stories about heroes and then they put up the tent, if you have ever put up one of those tent tents, it takes at least 10 to 12 people to do it. And it is not easy. So they’re doing it in the rain while they’re being shelled, while they’re bringing in wounded and doing it every ten days. So that one line did not cover what that experience was.

Chandler Bolt [00:17:39] Hmm. Got it. And so that’s where you’ve that’s where you felt like there was either probably a little bit of both personal interest and this part, this untold story that I want to dig a layer deeper. Yeah. There’s this void in the marketplace where people aren’t talking about these things.

Mari K Eder [00:17:57] Right. Right. And it’s also the greatest generation. Oh, no, I didn’t do that much. I just did my part. I don’t need to. I know I don’t need a medal. I don’t need to talk about it. Everybody did something, and that was just my way. Yeah. So the modesty of it all also decries, I think, the actual accomplishments.

Chandler Bolt [00:18:18] Mm hmm. Now do you feel like. I mean, I know it’s hard to know some of this data, but do you feel like is it predominantly women that are buying this book, Women in in predominantly men?

Mari K Eder [00:18:32] It’s women and men. It is women and men. Sometimes military men are buying it. Lots of people are buying it for their kids. I don’t see that the Gen Z is buying it as much as older millennials.

Chandler Bolt [00:18:48] Mm hmm. And that because that’s just one of the things that strikes me, because when I was looking at your different books and I was like, Man, this is very interesting. Like just it seems like this book is doing so well. I felt like, honest. I’m like, Oh, I feel like women in the military would love this book. And so it’s just like so, like on I feel like on the nose for that, that group of people that it’s like, oh, that’s probably part of why it’s selling so much better. You feel like, is there anything that you did differently with this book than the other books that that caused it to sell so well? Like in the marketing?

Mari K Eder [00:19:30] I think the beginning part of it is the military audience, but it has expanded far beyond that. So libraries, I think carrying it and promoting it has also been helpful. So there’s also the reviews. They’re not reviews of my book in most military publications because it’s not about battles and generals. This is about ordinary people at all levels. And I think until we have the stories of ordinary people from all walks of life during a period such as a world war, we don’t have the full picture of what happened because everybody who was alive at that time was involved in one way or another.

Chandler Bolt [00:20:15] I’m looking at the I’m looking at your Amazon description here. And it’s interesting. The like the specificity of the marketing is for fans of radium, girls and history and World War Two buffs. And then it kind of goes into it like, I love how it just you instantly understand what the book’s about and whether or not it’s for me. Do you feel like was that was that intentional and different from kind of what you’ve done with some of the other books or No.

Mari K Eder [00:20:45] This is what the publisher does when they when they post it for Amazon and for other sites for how they do their descriptions. I’m probably not as. Flamboyant with how I would describe thing.

Chandler Bolt [00:21:03] Got it. What what’s the biggest difference in the in the writing style and any any lessons learned from there that might be helpful for people in the writing style, from writing this book to your experience writing some of your other books?

Mari K Eder [00:21:19] I think that when I am writing conversation, the way I write conversation is to just let it flow. I can’t do it and put in all of the quote marks and the punctuation, and that annoys me. I have to go back and do it later. So if I want it to sound like a conversation, I have to write it like one and then come back and fix it grammatically to be correct. That makes sense to you. Yeah.

Chandler Bolt [00:21:43] It makes sense. Yeah. And that’s something that we recommend for a lot of authors is even just when you’re when you’re writing, don’t edit while you write. Right. As we all know, someone who has five perfectly written chapters in their own finished book and is in the whole time editing, it’s like you just keep editing the same stuff. And so even sometimes I know two things that a lot of our authors do is write Big Red text for like, Okay, I need to add a story here. I need to add an anecdote here and that sort of thing. Or I think this is a Tim Ferriss thing, but t k and using that, those two letters in your writing is kind of a it’s a marker for I need to go back and add or fix something here because it’s, you know, pretty much never used in the English language. So that combo of letters you can easily search and find in your end, you mean in your manuscript and, and go back to those places?

Mari K Eder [00:22:40] Well, let me tell you about when I wrote this book, because I signed the contract to write it in January of 2020. They wanted the completed manuscript by one May. I had written nothing. Then we have the pandemic begins, and every site I would go to for research shuts down. I can’t contact museums, libraries. I can’t go anywhere. So that’s when I started buying books online, which was done in a sheer panic for the most part. But it took me back to those beginning sources. And it was good. So I wrote that book in two months. I think it should take you 18 months to write a book that’s research like that. But I didn’t have much of a choice at the time. So my going back now is in doing a newsletter from my Web site so I can tell more of the stories I found. I can now go to sites. I could I could see a video about one of the people in the book where they did an interview that told me things I had never been able to find. So I am able to do updates. So will there be another addition? Who knows? I don’t know. Yeah.

Chandler Bolt [00:23:53] How did you. How did you write the book in two and two months and any any lessons that you learned from that process?

Mari K Eder [00:24:01] It was what you had just said. Just keep going, get it, get it all done, and then go back and look at how it goes together. And it didn’t go together. They the publisher, liked the chapters in a different order. So they re-ordered the chapters. And then I had to make them flow.

Chandler Bolt [00:24:17] Mm hmm.

Mari K Eder [00:24:17] Make a transition from one to the next. That made sense.

Chandler Bolt [00:24:20] Mm hmm.

Mari K Eder [00:24:22] Some of that was easy enough because many of these people were connected in odd ways that you wouldn’t expect. Mm hmm. They knew of each other or they’d been in the same place at a different time, or they’d heard of what the other one did. Or they had similar boyfriends who were pilots. There were all kinds of connections and ways that helped it flow together.

Chandler Bolt [00:24:44] That makes sense. You I don’t know if you if you, if you knew this or noticed this, but looking at your book on Amazon and the girls who stepped out of line is one of the editor’s picks on Amazon. Is it that didn’t. What did they did they reach out about that that just happened one day. Like how did that process work?

Mari K Eder [00:25:04] I think because they received an arc, an advanced reader. Copy that. By the time it was posted on their site for the launch date, it was already an editor’s pick.

Chandler Bolt [00:25:13] Oh, no way.

Mari K Eder [00:25:14] So and it was for The Washington Post for the month of August and a couple of other places, library, journal and a few others.

Chandler Bolt [00:25:21] Wow. And that was your publisher that did that or how that happened?

Mari K Eder [00:25:26] As far as I know, it was magic. So I was a publisher, but I don’t know how they do that.

Chandler Bolt [00:25:31] Yeah. Wow. That’s cool. That’s really cool. I feel like you don’t see that often on books on Amazon, so that’s. That’s really cool. Well, Mary, what would be your parting piece of advice for the Mary from years ago where you wrote your first book, or maybe even for people who are listening or watching her in the military thinking about writing a book? Yeah, well, knowing what you know now, what would kind of be your parting piece of advice?

Mari K Eder [00:26:00] You can do this. Do not be dismayed by the fact that it needs to be 80,000 words. Make yourself an outline. Do the first chapter, then write the third one. And then you can see that you can do this one one piece at a time and you assemble it later. So it’s the bite out of an elephant kind of thing. Don’t worry about how large it is. Sooner or later you’ll break the computer with it big. But you can do it and you can get this to come together and be reasonable. Tons of other people are doing it. You can do it too.

Chandler Bolt [00:26:34] It’s awesome. Well, Mary, it’s been great. Where can people go to buy the book? To find out more about you and what you’re up to.

Mari K Eder [00:26:42] Well, the book is on, of course, on Amazon, since you’re there with it and Barnes Noble and any other places that sell books. Although we love independent bookstores, for sure. And and libraries have it, too. Some of them have more than a few copies, which I think is great. So what else did you ask me about? What’s next or.

Chandler Bolt [00:27:02] Yeah. Where can people go to find out more about you and.

Mari K Eder [00:27:04] What you’re up to? Oh, I have a website. They maybe have a website. You need to have a website so that your people who are interested in what you write can continue to keep up with you. The same with having a newsletter. And I didn’t want to do a newsletter because it’s more work. Mm hmm. But then I found that it. Let me tell more of the stories that I was still finding. I liked it. So my my website is, well, the name of my dog was Benson. So it’s Benson’s review icon, or it’s just my name. Mary Kay Intercom.

Chandler Bolt [00:27:33] Well, awesome. Well, the new book is The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line. Check it out. Grab a copy. Mary, thank you so much.

Mari K Eder [00:27:41] Oh, thank you. It’s been great.

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