“What is the wildest creative dream you’ve ever had?”

Forest Stearns, one of the people we meet this time, reveals what may be his answer to that question as we look at some lucky people who have pursued their dreams. They saw their individual visions and set to work to achieve what they saw, and even from modest surroundings in the Mother Lode, their efforts are now seen all over.

When words connect

By Scott Thomas Anderson

The coming-of-age novel is one of the great traditions of American literature. From the generational disruption of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” to the rough, rebellious regret of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” the need to chronicle our journeys into adulthood has proved irresistible to countless American authors. Now, an up-and-coming personality from Sutter Creek has made her own contribution to the genre – and fulfilled her dream of landing a publishing contract in the process.

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Jess Moore

Jessica “Jess” Moore’s childhood years were spent on the move. She grew up all over the Midwest and eventually settled in Ohio. Ten years ago, she was working as a teacher when her husband, Josh, was offered a job at Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas. The couple soon made the leap to full-time lives in the Mother Lode, and Jessica was employed as a social worker before she decided to focus on raising her children. She had always had a literary streak, and after settling into a certain rhythm in Sutter Creek, there was finally time to express that energy.

“When I decided to stay at home with the kids, I started writing more seriously,” she recalls. “Sometimes that creative outlet felt like the only way to be in my own head.”

Jessica rose early in the morning, before her family awakened, and began to shape the stories that ran through her head. She also took long walks to try to figure out the characters that slowly formed. She began writing passages for what would eventually become “The Evolution of Jeremy Warsh.” The young-adult novel explores the trials and tribulations of a budding comic artist and a creation on his pages, a character named Penny Kind. The story is, in every sense, an original take on the classic coming-of-age tale.

“I love the idea of trying to figure yourself out,” Jessica notes. “Even though there are several moments for this in life, those teenage years are a big one. There are so many huge choices and so many feelings.”

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Jess Moore signs copies of her new book at her Sutter Creek home.

Jessica met with the Amador Fiction Writers to help fine-tune the chapters she forged. Passing pages by Kathy Boyd Fellure for nearly 12 years, the close-knit, encouraging cohort helped Jessica start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Kathy said that she wasn’t surprised that Jessica eventually found a publisher.

“She was putting her work through a pretty intensive method of critiquing,” Kathy recalls, “and she just sailed. Jess was very faithful to the commitment of the book, too. I always believed in her writing.”

From Jessica’s perspective, the writing regiment that Kathy’s group demanded kept Jeremy Warsh marching ahead.

“It always kept me moving forward,” Jessica stresses. “They meet every two weeks, so I never had a chance to stall out.”

Jessica also turned her husband into her “main beta-reader.”

After three years of work, the novel was completed. Jessica decided to pitch it through a biannual Twitter contest that was monitored by book publishers and literary agents. In less than 280 characters, Jessica made an argument for why Jeremy Warsh and his visions of Penny Kind would connect with readers. NineStar Press, which was just starting a young-adult division, decided Jessica’s story was exactly what it was looking for. While NineStar Press is a new generation publishing house that has more than 100 titles in its catalog, “The Evolution of Jeremy Warsh” is one of its first forays into connections with younger readers.

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“The Evolution of Jeremy Warsh” was published in November.

“I was excited,” Jessica remembered. “I’d written and tried to publish a YA book before, and I’d ended up with something like 100 rejection letters. So, for this to happen in four weeks after it was on Twitter was really amazing.”

The novel was officially released in November. It’s available online and makes its debut in area bookstores soon. Among its virtues, the book has strong themes around the need for empathy and inclusivity. In an era when online bullying and teenage suicide rates are reaching epidemic levels, Jessica says these are topics that don’t just concern young people, but most parents as well.

“Inclusivity is something I’ve thought more and more about, especially since becoming a mom and watching my kids start to grow up,” Jessica said. “I meet so many parents who just want the best for their children and want them to feel like they can be a part of the things happening around them.”

Being a full-time mother doesn’t leave a lot of time to tour and work the literary circuit, but Jessica is beginning to hear from readers of “Jeremy Warsh” through social media and her itwasjess.wordpress.com/books site. Meanwhile, fans on the popular GoodReads website have called the book “immersing” and “tear-jerking.” Hearing from readers who see a part of themselves in the work is just one more aspect of Jessica’s dream coming true.

“It is a little weird to finish something and have it go out into the world and then have no control over it anymore,” Jessica observed. “But on the other hand, hearing from readers is something that’s been so incredibly positive.”

A career stitched together

By Margaret Sloan

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Amy Mazzaferro

According to Laurence Olivier, an actor should be able to create the world in the palm of his or her hand. But clothing makes the man, as they say, and Amy Mazzaferro-Carr works behind the scenes to create the actors’ costumes with a needle in her hand.

Amy, a self-described proud Bullfrog from Bret Harte High School (Class of 2007), is living her dream in Los Angeles, stitching her way to a career in costuming. She has sewn costumes for film, television and, most recently, the Los Angeles Opera.

Life in the theater started early for Amy, with school drama classes and community theater.

“While I was in Calaveras County, I worked with Murphys Creek Theatre back when they had the Mirror Creek Youth Program. I did that every summer until I turned 16.”

Her love of technical theater and backstage work really ignited when she worked at the amphitheater at Stevenot Winery outside Murphys. And, she said, “I started doing costumes for the shows at Bret Harte. I kind of got bitten and it just stuck.”

“Calaveras County is so lucky that it has two incredible drama teachers in its schools,” Amy said. “My sister (Ann Mazzaferro at Calaveras High School) was one of my best teachers. I did shows with Grover Anderson at Bret Harte back in the day.”

But perhaps her strongest inspiration and teacher has been her mother, Kathy Mazzaferro.

“So much of where I am now is part of a house that was built on a foundation that she gave me,” Amy said. She described how Kathy – theater aficionado and co-founder and president of the Calaveras Sings Theatre Arts Repertory for Kids – taught her to sew. “When she was making costumes for other theater groups, she would teach me. She would say, ‘This is how you cut out a pattern,’ ‘This is how you put a pattern together.’”

Amy says her mother was always supportive of her creative endeavors.

“I got really into fashion when I was 16 or 17 years old, after binge-watching the first season of ‘Project Runway.’ Mom would come home on Friday night with a stack of black T-shirts. She’d kiss me on the forehead and say, ‘Have fun.’ I’d cut up all of my clothes and put them back together in interesting ways.”

When elder sister Ann commented that Amy possibly looked a bit odd, Kathy told her to “Let Amy be Amy.”

Amy being Amy led to school in Los Angeles at California State University, Northridge, where she is finishing her bachelor’s degree in theater. It has taken some time because Amy has worked professionally at the same time.

“For a while I was taking classes, for a while I was working in retail and taking shows when I could,” Amy said. “In the last year and a half, I started getting more consistent work in costuming. In the last year, I have been able to completely support myself between film, TV and theater work.”

In August Amy was hired at the Los Angeles Opera, a dream-come-true job for her.

“I’ve been there ever since. I love my job,” she said, but admitted that, “It’s also completely insane.”

This past fall she worked on a production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” This production of the 19th century opera brought to the stage gigantic dancing gnomes, owls, mushrooms and furniture.

“Normally when you’re working in costumes it’s a lot of chiffon and alterations and heavy velvets, particularly when you’re working in opera.” But for this show, Amy said, “There was a lot of puppet work. There was a lot of fake fur. At one point there’s a scene where some of the objects, like some of the furniture, stand up and move and it’s all covered in raffia and dried grass. It was so funny to try and figure out how do we make this bigger? How do we make this better? That was really fun. They were so cool to work on.”

Success hasn’t taken Amy away from the Calaveras County theater scene. She still comes home to help her mother and sister with their theater projects. Those who saw Calaveras High School’s 2018 production of “Cinderella,” directed by Ann, couldn’t help but be wowed by the step-daughter’s dress that transformed from a peasant maid costume to a fancy ball gown. Based on a costume by designer William Ivey Long, it took a lot of research to figure out how to make the transformative piece work.

“I spent a lot of time yelling at my dress form,” Amy said.

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Amy Mazzaferro has sewn costumes for theater shows since high school and today creates for the Los Angeles Opera.

“Costuming is a lot of trial and error. Failure is such a big part of discovery. It’s so easy when you’re young to be afraid of that, but it’s the only way you grow. If you’re going have any kind of creative career, you have to be comfortable with the fact that you’re going to fail and be wrong a lot.”

“My mother always said, ‘It’s one step forward and two steps back. It’s not a disaster; it’s just a cha-cha.’”

Amy also notes the importance of developing a variety of skills for a life in the costume shop.

“If you have an interest in costume design, learn how to sew. I’ve gotten more work as a costumer and a seamstress. It makes you a better designer, a more well-rounded theater technician. I’m a one-woman band.”

One thing that Amy really wants to pass on, especially to younger readers, is the importance of determination in the creative world.

“I wasn’t the best in school,” Amy said. “I was a good student in high school and college, but I was by no means the best in the class. I wasn’t even the most talented costume designer or seamstress in college, but I was the most determined to succeed. I worked hard, studied everything I could about theater and costuming, I took risks and, more than anything else, I was determined to build my career in the performing arts. I was always taught that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I was very prepared when opportunities came my way.”

“This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” she added. “Now that I’m here, I just want to keep doing it. If I am fortunate enough to do that for the rest of my life, that’s my dream. I am so happy and I am so lucky because I’ve found this place where I belong.”

Amy was home in the Mother Lode for the holidays, which gave me a chance to do a photo shoot of her and the amazing costumes she has made that pack her mother’s closets. Afterward, at the kitchen table in less than a minute, Amy threaded a needle and ran it through a purple ribbon to create two inches of ruched and rippled ruffled glory. She laughed at my amazement.

“It’s what I do every day!” she said with a peal of laughter, gathering another fold of cloth.

Ancestors help cook life

By Sarah Lunsford

“A dream is a wish your heart makes,” says the song from the Disney film “Cinderella,” and sometimes a wish can be so tightly bound to the heart that when the dream comes true, you didn’t realize it was a dream.

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Jenny Baxter looks through a 1998 edition of Sunset, where her recipes were featured.

“I learned to cook from my Lebanese grandmother,” says chef and expert on entertaining Jenny Baxter. “But really, I’ve been cooking since I was 11. I have always loved being in the kitchen.”

Jenny’s love of cooking, along with the freedom to experiment and be as creative as she wanted in the kitchen, began to plant a wish in her heart. The spur for the wish was a pile of Sunset magazines on the coffee table of her parents’ house.

“When I was growing up, my mom was an avid Sunset reader,” Jenny said. “I would sneak into the sitting room and look at the magazines, and I thought I would give anything if one day I could be in a magazine like that. Sunset was a big deal.”

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Sunset was a bit different then than now. Then it was the periodical for entertaining and cooking, focused on all facets of planning parties and serving wonderful meals. The avid entertainers of the time perused Sunset to discover new recipes and innovative ideas.

Even though Jenny would grow up to become an educator, her love of cooking coupled with memories of reading Sunset evolved into a wish that became a dream.

Jenny turned her love of entertaining into a second career when she opened a catering business with a partner in 1982. Later she branched out on her own and founded Jenny’s Kitchen in 1987, a brand that would see her to today’s world with a television show that is shown in Calaveras, Tuolumne and Sacramento counties. She began to write cooking and entertainment columns for newspapers, too, but even with all those accomplishments, she still dreamed of Sunset.

The awakening started with a phone call Jenny received in 1998.

“I came home and played my messages and I just couldn’t believe what it said. I had to listen to it three times to believe what I was hearing. It said, ‘Jenny, this is Linda Anusasananan of Sunset magazine, and we would like to feature you in Christmas in the Gold Country.’ It was a total surprise, and I literally felt like I was walking on air.”

She found out later that she was chosen from three potential Mother Lode cooks to be in the magazine, representatives of which had called Jan Hovey of Target Marketing to find out who the cream-of-the-crop cooks were in the Gold Country.

Magazines like Sunset have long lead times as they plan features, and Jenny was introduced to the world of foodie writing as part of the piece’s creation.

“I had to submit my Christmas menu and all the recipes, then they tested them in their Sunset kitchens in the Bay Area,” she said. “Then they came to my kitchen” in March.

Word began to spread that Sunset was going to feature Jenny, and people offered to help her prepare for the article and photo shoot any way they could.

“As word got out, the community wanted to help,” Jenny said. “Duff’s Florist filled my house with color and scents, and Milliaire paired the wine that would go with my meal.”

The Sunset crew stayed three days and brought two food stylists, three scene setters and one lighting director, and that was just for the photographs.

“Every day they took shots for three days,” Jenny said. “They took over 150 Polaroids to make sure the lighting and everything else was perfect for the actual photographs.”

Not only were there food shots, but Jenny invited family and friends to join her in her dining room that was dressed for the occasion. Those people are in the photographs that accompanied the article.

“The article focused on food philosophy,” Jenny remembers. “And, I always think that people eat with their eyes; if it looks good, they’ll try it.”

The photos and the recipes were not only featured in the Christmas in the Gold Country edition of Sunset that year, but Jenny’s recipes from the article were included in Sunset’s annual cookbook. That led to an invitation to sign copies of the recipe collection at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento.

“After they left, a week or so later, I saw that I had gotten something in the mail from Sunset,” Jenny said. The mystery envelope contained a check for $500. “I was just honored that they chose me, let alone paid me for something that I enjoy doing.”

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Jenny Baxter’s Angels Camp kitchen has the Sunset article memorialized on the wall.

The dream of Sunset that came true got Jenny to thinking.

“Once my dream came true about Sunset magazine, I thought to myself, ‘If I can do this, what else would I like to do?’ I had always wanted a TV cooking show, so I went to the Public Access Television Studio in San Andreas and spoke with the manager, Ed Lark, and he told me I had to have a sponsor for each show. I left and immediately called on everyone I knew that could be a potential sponsor and asked them to sponsor my TV shows.”

The shows are still in production 20 years after Jenny was featured in Sunset, but she credits the magazine feature with allowing her to get those first sponsors and realize another dream.

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought that when I was a little girl sitting in the living room of the house I was reared in would my dream of being published in Sunset magazine ever come to fruition!” Jenny muses. “Once this dream was recognized, I am convinced it spurred me onto attempting to fulfill my other dreams of expanding the catering business, hosting my own TV show and writing a food column for a newspaper. Disney was right, ‘Dreams do come true!’”

There are easels in space

By Patricia Harrelson

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Forest Stearns, above, with one of the satellites that carries his art.

Forest Stearns dreamed he could put art in space. Though he may not have been able to articulate his dream as a child, his mother claims his passion about space began at an early age. Dianne Stearns has pictures to prove it, including a drawing of “Star Wars” aliens her son drew on a plate when he was 4, and a photo of him on a chair in a spacesuit at his 5th birthday party, addressing his friends who are similarly dressed.

While his early passion for space found outlets in costumes, friends, laser beams and Yoda voices, the drawing on the plate indicated Forest’s interest in art was simultaneously initiated. Having a mother who was a gifted artist served him well.

“I think art is a teachable, learnable skill in someone who has the desire,” his mom once told me, which seems like an appropriate comment coming from an artist who has worked with Tuolumne County students to build beautiful mosaics at Columbia and Jamestown elementary schools and taught calligraphy classes at Twain Harte Elementary. Because she is a teacher, Dianne often invited her son and his friends into her studio to make art.

Forest definitely had the desire. When he was 8, he entered a 3-D origami piece in the Mother Lode Fair and won Best of Show. When he was in high school, the City of Sonora hired Forest to draw caricatures for the annual Spring Fling. From there, Forest’s “artist journey” (his words) combined formal education and a willingness to fully explore unique opportunities.

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The Planet Labs satellites get Forest Stearns’ immersive drawings applied before launch.

During conversations with Forest, I’ve gathered some of the highlights of that journey, some of which I have reported before in Sierra Lodestar. For instance, he credits his mother with providing one particularly useful early steppingstone.

“I grew up going to art shows and receptions, where I talked with adults about art,” Forest explained. “Those conversations are actually what gave me permission to explore art.”

After graduating from Sonora High School and traveling for a while, Forest went to California State University, Humboldt, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art. While in Arcata, he and a group of artist friends opened a studio called Empire Squared or E2.

“We agreed that we were going to have a new show every month, and that made us fearless,” Forest said. “That intention forced us to go for it. Much of what we did was a mix of fine art and graffiti, and there was not a whole lot of technique.”

During that endeavor, Forest got an offer to illustrate a children’s book about otters, which introduced him to the world of illustration, which led him to pursue a master’s degree in illustration. That was when he began to seriously study technique. To pay for graduate school, Forest sold 200 silkscreens of the Dali Lama celebrating the practice of gratitude.

After getting his degree, Forest got an offer from Deviant Art to be a beta tester. Forest describes Deviant Art as the “largest conversation about art on the web; kind of the Facebook of art.” That assignment led to an offer to be the website’s art director, which required him to address 30 million users on their journeys toward making pieces of art successful.

Forest admits that the job at Deviant Art was more about getting art done than actually creating it. Though this was an exciting and growth-filled step on his path, he was scanning for opportunities to make art and earn a living.

Let me sidestep here to mention that Forest makes art every day. In every conversation with him, he emphasized the need to practice.

“I draw every day in a sketchbook. It’s my middle name: Forest Practice Stearns. I figure by the time I’m 80, I’ll be a good artist.”

While with Deviant Art, Forest envisioned an opportunity when he took part in a venture capitalist retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains called Camp Grounded. During that weekend, he heard a talk by Robbie Schlinger, president of Planet Labs, a company that makes Earth-imaging satellites. As Forest looked at Schlinger’s product, his passion for space merged with his love of art in one clear thought: “I wanted to draw on that.”

This is where Forest’s imagination and fearlessness fused in yet another conversation about art. He approached Schlinger and relayed a story about the art that was drawn on the noses of bombers during World War II. Then he leaped to his idea of putting that kind of art on Schlinger’s satellites.

“Why would someone want to put art on a satellite?”

“For the same reason that we put art on our T-shirts!” Forest answered when the question was posed in a classroom full of seventh-graders. “Art is one of the ways we celebrate what we do as humans. Get weird,” added the enthusiastic guy who proposed putting art into space.

Schlinger agreed to give the charismatic creator a chance, so Forest became the artist in residence for Planet Labs. Forest now boasts the largest art show in low-Earth orbit, with 340 images circling the planet.

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Forest Stearns

However, Forest’s dream did not come to fruition overnight. Moreover, he was not done dreaming. His story about putting art on satellites has propelled him to his next dream, which is to use art to encourage people to become curious. That may seem like a more abstract, if not inconceivable, dream than putting art into space, but it is a deeply practical intention.

“Everyone has to solve problems,” he said and, according to him, it takes curiosity to find solutions. He explains this beautifully in a TEDx Talk he delivered in Sonoma County in November.

Dapper in a suit, porkpie hat and red-framed glasses, Forest stands on a stage to address the audience. He describes the path he took to get his art on satellites, including the incredible challenge of determining how to put the beautiful designs he created onto the spacecraft. The problem was that he needed to find a medium that could withstand the pressures and wild temperature fluctuations of space.

The story involves consultations with numerous experts and reconsidering everything he ever learned about producing art. It’s a compelling tale told in an engaging manner by a proficient speaker. And that’s the most amazing aspect of the talk, at least for Forest, who claims to have a fear of public speaking.

“I’ve never worked so hard to do something outside of my field,” he declared.

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As early as age 5, Forest Stearns knew space figured into his artistic journey …

Here again, he stressed the importance of practice, practice, practice. Preparing for and producing the TEDx Talk is yet another step in the artistic journey Forest has taken, and he constantly seeks opportunities to grow.

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… and he grew up to deliver a Tedx Talk on art and life late in 2018.

For one thing, he joined Toastmasters International to hone his public-speaking skills. And after five years at the aerospace lab, he has moved on to a position as artist in residence with Google for the purpose of putting art on quantum computers. Once again Forest’s work is about creating bridges between seemingly dissimilar fields: art and science.

Talking with Forest is as mind expanding as listening to his TEDx Talk (which can be found on YouTube by searching “Tedx Talk, Forest Stearns”). Here are a couple of quotes from our recent encounter that illustrate how a single comment he makes can be so thought provoking.

“We are a mark-making species.”

“Companies need to innovate. Artists do this all the time.”

“Art adds value to the corporate setting. It ‘humanizes’ the mission.”

“Firms with an artist in residence position arrive at better solutions.”

Forest claims that when artists and scientists converse about their work, they ask one another, “Why are you doing it that way?” This kind of curiosity propels people in both fields to imagine solutions. He swears that when you get hyper-intelligent scientists into conversations with artists, they fuel each other’s imaginations in profound ways.

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Planet Labs has more than 300 of Forest Stearns’ artworks in low-Earth orbit right now.

It’s not hard to have confidence in a guy who dreamed of putting art into space and succeeded. So, people of the Mother Lode – and planet Earth – keep your sights on Forest Stearns, for this dude is sure to travel far as he dreams big.

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