by Kristin Bair

Fear is a funny beast that in the best of times can make even the bravest human behave in peculiar ways. Before the COVID–19 pandemic, who among us ever thought we’d be wrestling an old woman in the grocery store for the last 30-roll pack of Charmin Ultra-Soft toilet paper?

Agatha Arch, the eponymous hero of my new novel (Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything) is frightened of an absurd number of things:

  • mice
  • her Facebook mom group
  • the dark
  • fireworks
  • the Interloper
  • not fitting in
  • losing her kids
  • drowning
  • a rogue lion
  • being alone
  • a past life
  • alien invasion
  • beans (yes, beans)
  • and more…

When Agatha discovers her husband frolicking nude in the shed with their town’s beloved dog walker, she loses her ability to manage this overflowing cornucopia of fears. While her somewhat bellicose responses to fear in the early chapters may make you wince, there’s no doubt the woman gets things done. (Still figuring our the core values of your own protagonist-in-progress? Try these tips.)

As I try to balance my own pandemic-induced fears (what if I can never hug a friend again?) with the need to continue writing, I often find myself asking, what would Agatha advise?

Dress for your version of success.

Determined to keep tabs on her wayward husband and a number of other perceived threats, Agatha dons a pair of mission-worthy spy pants with enough pockets to accommodate all necessary tools: fishing line, a headlamp, waterproof matches, a ball of twine, snare wire, camera lenses, a can of fluorescent pink spray paint, and so much more. You, too, can boldly prioritize function over form. These days, comfort is paramount. Consider a set of satin or fleece pajamas, or don that ugly old stained sweatshirt that reminds you of your earliest days at the keyboard. No one can see you anyway, and even if they could: Who cares? You do you.

Find your mantra.

When frightened, Agatha is often heard chanting “Fear sharpens us, fear sharpens us,” a mantra she borrows from real-life survivalist and adventurous TV host Bear Grylls. The repetition of this positive, affirmative phrase helps her in her darkest moments.

As a writer and writing teacher, my mantra is “Writing begets writing.” What’s yours?

Invest in the best.

Agatha makes good use of a Leatherman Super Tool 300 EOD and a top-of-the-line drone with blockbuster camera technology. Follow her lead. You may not be able to afford the $1.47 million Aurora Diamante pen with its 2-hectogram platinum barrel, 19-carat gold nib, and 1,919 De Beers diamonds, but, rest assured, many affordable, dreamlike writing options are out there.

Turn to the masters.

Agatha’s literary touchstone is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Mine is anything by Toni Morrison. Whatever books you admire most, keep them close at hand.

Seek professional help.

Without her therapist, Agatha’s quest for a less fearful life might prove too daunting. Shrinky-Dink is a voice of reason, a cheerleader, a teacher, and a guide—something we all need from time to time. If your time is now:

Find an editor, teacher, class, writing partner, or therapist to share with, complain to, and learn from.

Try, try again.

Like Pythagoras, Agatha is terrified of beans. (It’s a long story.) Despite her aversion, she drives to Taco Bell, orders an enchilada with refried beans, and almost—almost—consumes it. Success or failure isn’t the point; trying is. If you haven’t been able to make that last chapter sing, write it again. And again. And again.

I loved the years I spent getting inside Agatha’s head and chronicling her heartbreaking/heartwarming adventures. Funny how writing about fear has a way of reminding us to be fearless. (Want to know more about that process? I’ll be in conversation with Career Authors Contributing Editor Jessica Strawser via Penguin Bookshop on my launch day, November 10! Register to join us virtually here.)

How has fear sharpened you or your writing? Visit Career Authors on Facebook to trade ideas and advice.



Kristin Bair’s Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. As Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, she has published two previous novels, The Art of Floating and Thirsty. Her words have appeared in Gettysburg Review, Writer’s Digest, and others. Find her: twitter @kbairokeeffe, Instagram @kbairokeeffe and Facebook @KristinBairOKeeffeAuthor.