In the spring of 2010, William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins,
Paradise Under Glass:
An Amateur Creates A Conservatory Garden.
A starred review in April’s LIBRARY JOURNAL describes
her new book as “informative and extremely entertaining.”
Carol Haggas in BOOKLIST says
this indoor garden memoir is inspirational and instructional,
while LJ calls it
“a surefire antidote for a midlife crisis or the winter blues.
An Amateur Creates A Conservatory Garden,
it is a memoir of the author’s unlikely desire
to build, stock and tend to a small conservatory in her suburban Maryland home,
interwoven with the history of conservatories
from Renaissance orangeries to Victorian glass palaces
to cutting-edge “living walls” of today.
One winter afternoon five years ago,
Ruth Kassinger was walking down Independence Avenue on Capitol Hill
in a gloomy frame of mind.
Her three teenage daughters were soon to leave the nest,
her younger sister and best friend had recently died of a brain tumor,
and she was recovering from arduous treatment for breast cancer.
It was with change and loss on her mind
that she was struck by a sweeping view
of the Conservatory at the U.S. Botanic Garden,
its rounded glass roofs gilded by the setting sun
and gleaming against a darkening sky.
She decided to take a quick look inside
before the buildings closed for the day.
When the doors to the Palm House closed behind her,
she immediately fell in love with the vibrant tropical life inside.
Warm and humid, lush, and ever-green, a conservatory,
she decided, would be the perfect antidote
to the losses and changes of middle age.
Brushing aside all
objections — that
she had no gardening experience
(and in fact hated outside gardening
with all that sweating and all those bugs)
and had killed every houseplant she ever
owned — she
plunged into the project.
Digging into the history of conservatories,
she found the structure of what would become
Paradise Under Glass.
She would tell two personal
stories — the
evolution of her tropical garden
and the evolution of her perspective on mid-life
losses — while
simultaneously weaving in the history of conservatories.
The approach was a natural one for Ruth:
the history of science and technology
had been the subject of her eight previous books.
as she progressed in her research and as an indoor gardener,
she discovered an almost eerie entwinement of history and memoir.
When she was ready to branch out beyond the offerings of her local nursery,
it was time to write about
the intrepid plant hunters of the 18th century
who sailed the world in search of exotic species.
Just as she discovered that her quiet green refuge
had metamorphosed into the social center of her household,
she found herself writing about
how 19th century European nobility
transformed the first
conservatories — the
orangeries that were essentially winter warehouses for
trees — into
graceful buildings for entertaining.
Then, as she researched today’s cutting-edge conservatories,
she invented an easy “vertical garden” system
(which she details for readers) for growing plants on an indoor wall.
Ruth emerged from her unlikely adventure
reinvigorated and reinvented.
That reinvention didn’t require upending a family
or starting a new career or venturing farther afield
than the local garden center.
She found an answer to mid-life malaise
in learning to care for tropical plants,
plants that have beguiled denizens of cooler climes for five hundred years
and inspired a glittering architecture,
plants that anyone can make flourish,
under a skylight or behind a window pane,
Ruth Kassinger began her writing career as a journalist.
Her science and health writing appeared
Twelve years ago at a writer’s conference in Washington, D.C.,
Ruth submitted a book proposal about the history of inventions.
Ellen E. M. Roberts,
who was critiquing book proposals for the conference,
recommended that she expand her book concept into a series.
Ruth called Ellen at Where Books Begin to set up an appointment
that would begin a long partnership between editor and author.
Ruth Kassinger’s book
Ruth Kassinger’s book
Ruth Kassinger has found
that the secrets of success in writing for adults
are no different from writing for children.
“One of Ellen’s most important pieces of advice,”
“is that a non-fiction writer
has to have her eye on a potential audience
as well as her heart in her subject.
She helped me understand how to think about that audience.”
An old hand at writing materials for institutions,
Ruth has worked for the National Portrait Gallery,
the World Bank, and the National Institutes for Health.
Ruth put her foot in the door of children’s book publishing
with a book about the U.S. Census.
Ellen thought that schools and libraries across the country
would welcome a book aimed at middle-graders
showing how the U.S. decennial censuses
reflect the evolution of American history.
Editor Walter Kossmann bought the idea.
Hers was the only unsolicited manuscript he had bought in a decade!
The book went on to be a success in school and libraries.
While Ruth enjoyed writing about the census,
she still had her heart in a project on inventions.
The project that she had first shown to Ellen back in 1997 refused to die.
Ruth worked with Ellen to reshape her proposal
for a children’s book on ancient technologies,
which she presented to editor Kate Bradford at John Wiley.
The two-book series:
Reinvent the Wheel,
Build a Better Mousetrap,
explored the creative process behind such inventions
as ink, magnets and batteries.
In both of these books,
kids peek into the minds of real inventors
as they recreate the inventions they use everyday.
Ruth found the expertise of Ellen and the staff at Where Books Begin
extremely helpful as she strove to explain
the complex ideas of physics and chemistry
in clear, simple terms aimed at a middle school reading level.
Ruth Kassinger’s book
Around the same time that she sold the two-book series,
Ruth also sold a five-book series called
In it, she tells the stories of how people learned to make useful things
out of gold, glass, iron and steel, dyes, and ceramics,
while incorporating the science of the materials in her tales.
Ruth was able to sell her children’s books without an agent.
She worked hard to create strong query letters
that reflected her painstaking research
and her genuine interest in technological subjects
and leveraged Where Books Begin’s knowledge
of the publishing industry
to help her market her books effectively to editors.
This is not an approach for all authors,
as juvenile nonfiction may be the only genre left
where a direct pitch to an editor will be considered seriously.
When Ruth branched out into writing for the adult trade market,
she engaged the services of agent Michelle Tessler at Tessler Literary Agency
to sell her book.
Michelle’s expertise with books related to natural history,
as well as her marketing savvy, was just what Ruth needed.
Paradise Under Glass
to HarperCollins as both an engaging memoir and a history of conservatories.
It took no time to find the right editor for the book
so that Ruth could continue her research,
confident that the book would reach its audience.
Today Ruth lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland
with her husband Theodore Kassinger.
They have three daughters,
a conservatory filled with tropical plants,
and a devoted dog, Scotia.