Interview with Jean Neff Guthrie   2 comments

Guthrie Author PicToday’s interview is with YA fantasy Jean Neff Guthrie. Tell us something about yourself, Jean.

I grew up on a farm in Virginia and have a B.S. degree in Dairy Science from VA Tech. While working in Richmond, Virginia, I earned my M.S. degree in Mass Communications from VA Commonwealth University. That combination gave me a unique capacity to converse effectively with large herds of cows. (Lela laughs) Seriously, my life path has taken a number of twists and turns, but writing and speaking have always been on the trail.

In February, I published my first novel, “Mystical Aria: Seeking the Gallion Queen.” It launched as Amazon #1 New Release in Children’s American Folk Tales & Myths. A few days later, it hit Amazon #1 Best Seller in Children’s eBooks > Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths > United States. I’ve gone a long way from cowgirl to best-selling author.


Guthrie AriaWhat happens in your “Mystical Aria” book?

In 2028, Aria Vanir, psychic 12-year-old from Virginia Beach, connects through her transmission diary with spiritually and technologically advanced aliens, the Gallions. The Gallion Queen Supreme, Nashata, orders a diplomatic mission with her royal family to Earth so she can test Aria’s worthiness of first contact. Nashata wonders if she can trust Aria with the secrets of her people.

When these good aliens beam Aria, her BFF, Tommy Manager, and her tomboyish 15-year old sister, Jackie, aboard their superspaceship, Aria’s typically passive mother makes a bold move to save her daughters. None of them realize that the Navy has sent Aria’s SEAL father, William, on a mission to capture or destroy the aliens. Worse, he has no idea that he’s putting his daughters and their friend in harm’s way.


That sounds like a really fun story. At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Guthrie Book 3DDuring my tween and teen years, I enjoyed writing poetry, plays, essays, greeting cards, and articles for the yearbook. For a while, I wanted to be a foreign news correspondent. After I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1995, I yearned to write a book. I felt something was missing; something inside me wanted to be told.


Tell us about your writing process.

I took a weekend class at Emory University, in Atlanta, taught by Tom Bird. He talked about how we can release books stuck inside us by getting into the flow and writing fast to bypass the critical, left brain. I worked with Tom’s programs of independent mentoring, media workshops, and writing weekends. Years later, after much soul searching and editing, I felt ready to release my first novel.


What are you passionate about?

I feel passionate about creating entertaining media that inspires kids to react from love, not fear, thus bringing more peace into their lives. I believe there’s too much violence in the world, especially for youngsters. I chose to write about spiritual/religious themes of love, prosperity, infinity, and forgiveness in a “funtastic” tone to capture hearts of kids and adults. In “Mystical Aria: Seeking the Gallion Queen,” I created a girl’s version of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.”

Since I don’t have children of my own, I want to leave a legacy of positive stories that kids enjoy reading for generations.


Books are legacies, I think. When you are not writing, what do you do?

To pay the bills, I work in the Atlanta area as an information technology program management consultant. For my health, I hike, bike, ski, swim, lift weights, and practice yoga. In the precious few moments of downtime, I play the piano or listen to music while relaxing on my porch.


How does your experience in management help you with writing and book publishing?

I’ve been blessed with both a strong creative side and a highly organized side. Association management and program management taught me how to effectively work with vendors, plan tasks, execute according to a schedule, change when needed, and focus on priorities. I even created a Kanban board on my office wall to track progress of publishing and promoting my first novel.


Guthrie Aria Promo


What inspired you to write YA science fiction, especially about a psychic girl?

I first heard the voice of Aria Vanir, the psychic tween protagonist in my novel, during a media retreat with Tom Bird and David Thalberg, co-founder of BrandStand PR. I had been writing a book about a girl named Red and her spirit guide when this other girl’s voice, named Aria, took over the conversation in my head and started telling me about her life. After journaling an hour or so with Aria about her friends, family, diary entries, and intuitive impressions, I knew I needed to trust this captivating girl and introduce her to the world.



It great when characters “hijack” the story. Do you have a special place where you write?

My favorite place to write is a landing on the second floor of my Smyrna, Georgia, home that faces east. I see the sky through windows in front of me and to my right. I listen to music that inspires my creativity. My pens and writing notepads are within reach. A large photograph I took of Machu Picchu hangs on a nearby wall and reconnects me to one of my favorite places on Earth.


What recurring themes do you find in your writing?

I write about how we can connect with something greater than ourselves to live more peaceful and harmonious lives. In my novel, the good aliens have achieved peace on their planet. I hold a vision that humans can do the same on Earth.


I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have to worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Sounds like fun! I’ll bring:

  1. A large, blank notepad and pens of 3 different colors for writing. I prefer to write everything on paper first, even answers for this interview!
  2. Hiking boots and clothes. I love being outdoors and want to see the countryside.
  3. Camera to capture the beauty of Alaska, especially the stars. I miss nights on the farm when I could see the Milky Way and distinguish various constellations.
  4. Gear to kayak or raft, assuming there’s a river near the cabin. Hopefully the water isn’t too cold.
  5. Laptop, if the cabin has Wi-Fi.
  6. Read books about Alaska wilderness or sacred traditions of the Eskimos.


I love the many varied answers I get to that question! What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

After reading my book, I want readers smiling and thinking that they can’t wait to start the sequel. I also want them to believe that they can choose to live more peaceful lives.


What’s unique about how you published your book?

I consider how I released my book to be a hybrid of independent and publisher-based. I used marketing and formatting in Tom Bird’s Publish Now Program, so the copyright page states Sojourn Publishing, LLC. However, I hired my own illustrator and found excellent editors through BookLogix, a publishing company in the Atlanta area.


Who designed your book cover?

Michele Phillips Illustration designed the cover. I wanted to find someone who could draw Aria Vanir and the alien queen as I had described them in the novel. The first three illustrators I tried failed because they drew the alien queen as an ugly, scary figure. In my mind, this spiritually and technologically advanced alien ruler was a beautiful creature who wanted to enlighten, not frighten, kids. Michele’s first sketch of the alien queen showed me that she “got” this vision.

Michele’s cover conveys critical moments in the first and second chapters when a futuristic message from Aria’s transmission diary is relayed via a unicorn to the alien queen supreme. Michele nailed it!


I think it is so important that a cover relates to the story. What influenced your decision to self-publish?

Years ago I secured a literary agent, but she never sold the novel to a publisher. I knew technology for self-publishing was coming. In the meantime, I worked with editors to improve my novel. In early 2015, I started having nightmares. They communicated to me that I was on the wrong path professionally; I knew I needed to finish editing my novel and publish it. I signed up for Tom Bird’s Publish Now Program and made a personal commitment to focus on completing this goal within a year. I launched “Mystical Aria: Seeking the Gallion Queen” February 8, 2016.


What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?

Ownership of my characters and control of communications.


Conversely, what do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?

Fame from endorsement of a reputable publisher.


Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as those traditionally published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

I believe self-published authors can produce high-quality work when they combine passion, drive, strong editing, and words from the heart.


Jean Neff Guthrie is the author of Mystical Aria: Seeking the Gallion Queen, which hit Amazon #1 Best Seller in February, 2016. Visit for novel highlights and purchase. Click here for VIP Access to Aria, which includes two free chapters, character map, promotions, news, fun facts, and more. #AriaVanir #JeanNeffGuthrie #MysticalAria #ET


2 responses to “Interview with Jean Neff Guthrie

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  1. Reblogged this on Daermad Cycle.


  2. Pingback: Author Interview by Lela Markham - Jean Neff Guthrie

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