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An Interview with Author Steven Kladstrup

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In addition to having been a teacher’s husband, Steven Earl Kladstrup is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Syracuse University, with Honors degrees in both Geography and Anthropology. He also holds a Master’s degree with Honors in International Management from Thunderbird (the former American Graduate School of International Management). After making a career out of writing and editing myriad proposals, contracts, marcom, and software documentation for other people, he has happily returned to his first love, the writing of fiction, with Jane Raggedfir Was a Dike, his debut novel.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I think it must have partly resulted from reading a lot as a child, thanks to good teachers, effective encouragement at home, and in particular, an older brother’s bookshelf full of sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks, including Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which I devoured by the time I was in eighth grade. I also discovered and fell in love with several different Marvel comic book superheroes, all with their own sets of alliterative and multisyllabic vocabulary (e.g., can you say “Dismal Dregs of Defeat?”). Something in this mix evidently made me want to aim high because I still have my grade school attempts at writing both a history of mankind and an alphabetical introduction to the subject of astronomy. When I started the history of mankind, I was still learning how to use a dictionary, so some of it ended up being pretty funny!

What inspired you to start writing this book?

My book is the result of watching my wife’s teaching career come to an unpleasant end. For her, it was devastating. To me, it was a story full of monsters. At the same time, I found myself realizing how often this happens to teachers in the public-school systems. I think the stats reflecting the situation are generally available to the public, but the reasons behind the stats are locked away behind fear and a sense of helplessness and lost hopes. My goal with the Jane Raggedfir Was a Dike series is to spin a teacher story that tells what really happens and by virtue of its in-your-face honesty make the reader react—many times with amusement, but also many times with head-shaking in disbelief. Jane Raggedfir’s story is a more truthful and bullshit-free exploration of why so many good teachers find themselves in work environments that make it impossible to teach—and what happens when they try.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Since the title contains the main character’s name, the first step was to come up with a name, and like a lot of other creative ideas, it came to me while I was driving and talking with my wife. I had already been mulling over the name “Jane” that is in the old grade school readers (e.g., “Run, Jane! Run!”), and in the car, when I thought about running, it occurred to me that teachers are run ragged. That got put together with ragged fur, as in a dog’s coat, and suddenly, I had a great surname. For my wife and me, it was a no-brainer to change “fur” to “fir” given that we both happen to be of Scandinavian heritage and “fir” just looks more Scandinavian. That is how the name “Jane Raggedfir” was created.

The rest of the title—the “Was a Dike” part—was inspired by the fact that my wife was called a “dike” by one of her students—in writing, no less! When you think about it, teachers really do hold back the “waters of ignorance.” Anyway, I’m thankful that that young person had no idea how to spell the word he meant to use.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

• Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in The Wall”

• Malvina Reynolds – “I Don’t Mind Failing in This World”

• Malvina Reynolds – “Little Boxes”

• The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Describe your dream book cover.

It would have to be a blackboard with lots of chalk dust wiped all around, showing where the eraser had been swiped and things erased. In front or on top of the blackboard would be a piece of chalk, broken in two.

The only other thought would be to add an embossed emblem labeling the book (or series) as a national award winner. I think that would be nice as well, but for the moment, that is still the dream part.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I work part-time in a store that sells bird seed, along with many other items for nature and wild bird lovers. I like it because I don’t have to take my work home with me, and I get to be around nice people. In addition, it keeps me physically strong, thanks to a lot of heavy boxes and bags of—what else?—bird seed!

As far as professions go, my degrees in Anthropology, Geography, and International Management have taught me to appreciate the differences between people, and I have also studied several languages as a result. Some of my writing contains plays-on-words that only a foreign or multi-lingual reader will pick up on.

My work career was spent at a few map-making companies with me playing lots of different roles, sometimes as a manager or supervisor, sometimes as a hands-on jack-of-all-trades—whatever, you name it—but the one thing that I know really empowered me to survive throughout it all was my ability to communicate well via the written word. People in management came to me to help polish their letters! I also wrote in a ton of other forms, including technical proposals, legal contracts, marketing, advertising, software programming, user documentation, etc. This broad exposure is what makes it possible for me to break the rules and create some rather poor examples of communication when necessary (as is often the case in Jane Raggedfir Was a Dike with some of my fictional high school administrators)!

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Prior to writing this book, I was lucky enough to be involved in the design and creation of a working networked classroom. The research into education that took place during that project was wide-ranging, often delving into the work of other involved parties, including tech companies, consultants, etc. That gave me some very helpful perspective beyond just being a teacher’s husband.

Once I started working on the Jane Raggedfir project, I purposefully avoided reading any more books on the subject so that I would not be tempted to copy anyone else’s ideas. Jane Raggedfir is an original work of fiction on my part, and it is based largely on my having been there to see what happened when my wife suffered through what some school administrators think they have raised to an art form, i.e., teacher harassment. With Jane Raggedfir Was a Dike, I am most definitely raising it to an art form, but unlike with the admins, it will be an art form intended for everyone to see.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I envision many perfect readers, each with their own particular take-aways.

My first hope is that teachers, especially all the ones who have suffered an unpleasant exit from the profession, will find validation and be able to enjoy a hearty “last laugh” because of Jane Raggedfir’s story.

I hope that Jane’s story will help a lot of people on the outside see what teachers deal with every day and how little support they typically have from school administrations, despite all the newsletters being mailed out and all the budget monies being spent. I would like outsiders to realize that when students and parents expect schools to treat them like customers who are always right, the result will be an education that is not much more than a “Happy Meal” from you-know-where.

I would love it if professors of Education in universities across the country discover the Jane Raggedfir books and use them to facilitate change by giving their students who want to be future educators a serious heads-up. There are so many chapters in Jane Raggedfir’s story that could form the basis for case studies for discussion.

I hope that there are some current school admins out there who are secure and open-minded enough to read Jane Raggedfir Was a Dike and then honestly and cautiously reflect on what they might do differently to make things easier—not harder—for their already-overworked teaching staff. Lastly, my wish is that Jane Raggedfir will remind everyone about the importance of humility when it comes to forming judgments that affect people’s lives and livelihoods. We can talk all we want about tolerance, but unless it is applied universally in a way that encourages curiosity and actual appreciation for differences, tolerance is just a muted form of bias and bigotry.

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