Snow Globes and Hand Grenades — a novel about a girl

I WANTED to write a novel someday about a girl.

Having written two novels about boys, Never Hug a Nun and Try to Kiss a Girl, I wanted to tell a story whose main character does more than hop freight trains and pee on bushes.

But the problem was… who.

Who was this girl? What did she want? And what was she all about?

I journaled about different ideas for about eight months. Mostly, when no ideas came my journal entries consisted of: “This will never work. I’m going take a nap.”

Then one day a girl named Mimi Maloney got on her Schwinn and rode across the blank screen of my computer.

Mimi, Mimi, Mimi…

Like all girls, she seemed smarter than boys, but with Mimi you could tell she was way smarter – not in trivial things like math or science. She was smarter in life. 

Without warning  she sneaked into an all-girls prep school, pulled the fire alarm and hid in the bathroom until all the nuns and students left, so she could raid the principal’s office and steal some school letterhead.

What was she doing? I wondered

Turns out Mimi was in love. She hurried home and typed up a fake letter on the Royal typewriter in her room – a letter from the school to her parents saying that they were sorry, but “due to overcrowding” they could no longer fit her in as originally planned next fall. Instead, the letter said, why don’t you send her to that fine public high school down the road? (So, that was it. She had a boyfriend at the public high school.) What a schemer. No boy could think like that.

I felt embarrassed for the eighth grade boys in the story compared to Mimi. They reminded me of me—shallow, gross, mired in juvenile delinquency.   

Boys like Patrick Cantwell and his best friend Tony Vivamano. They stole a snow globe paperweight from the desktop of a cruel teacher and put it in the hand of the gold statue of Mary on the church roof.  (Didn’t they think someone would notice that up there?)

The Archbishop saw it during a visit. Archbishops are always looking at roofs.

It’s discovery touched off an Inquisition that raged for the final two weeks of eighth grade. Whoever did this, and by God, we will catch them…  Whoever was responsible for this sacrilege will have their Catholic high school acceptance letters torn to pieces — and end up in the opium den of the pubic schools. (That was always the threat back then near the end of Catholic eighth grade.)

The boys were in trouble and Mimi agreed to help them.

Of course, you say, of course the boys probably have to fall in love with Mimi. I was against it, but they got lured into the project and ignored all my finer subplots I had outlined for them. The boys shook me off and zoomed in after Mimi. She was just too much for them to pass up – freckled, fast, bike-riding, self-determined, self-reliant, self-doubting, loud, quiet, shy, assertive, green-eyed, perceived by most as just an average girl, but secretly she was a genius in lying, organizing small criminal matters, and love.  That was her only weakness – falling in love. That—and fainting in a crisis.


Well, the book was galloping along strange enough, but then it got stranger. One night, to my astonishment, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger took over a chapter. Nixon appeared in a white tennis outfit playing Ping Pong in the White House basement with his Chinese master Feng Wu. Nixon was working up a sweat.

Just then, Kissinger comes down the steps to warn Nixon about the possibility that the upcoming Senate Watergate hearings could upend his presidency.  Bagghhhhh, Nixon says swatting the ball.

I was going to erase Nixon. This isn’t your book, I said. But he urged me to leave him in. Nixon got all insistent and jowly about his request.  This could be instructive to the youth of today, he argued.  

He did have a point.

His downfall did have some parallel to the main story. The snow globe investigation was raging in the same weeks (late May 1973) as the Senate Watergate hearings were about to start.  Nixon was ready to lie just as bravely and earnestly as the boys who put the snow globe on the roof. Nixon had Kissinger to help him prepare a statement. But the boys had Mimi. (Had it been the other way around, history may have been different.)


Meanwhile, back at the school, the dandelion seeds drifted in the breeze above the blacktop playground crowded with kids. Summer was oh so near. Emotionally blank eighth graders wondered: How could it be almost over?  Who am I? Can I name all the planets? 

The big question was who put the snow globe in the hand of Mary. That’s what the investigators asked each student in a dark room with a bright light in their eyes. Mimi knew what to say. She had the kind of answers I never had when I was in the principal’s office.  

A few times I doubted her chances of getting away with it all, and felt sorry for her. She came close to blowing up once. But Mimi was a meticulous one. Always on the move, romping through the book with a plan of her own, and the boys only too eager to chase after her.   

When I looked out the window one afternoon, the winter snow on the roof had melted into spring and it was over. The end. Tah-dah. Time to do some work around the house. Mimi had given me a book. I don’t know how she did it.  But I know it wasn’t planned by me. I was just the stenographer to her daydream.  She was running the show, the whole book and everyone one in it. 

That’s how Mimi is. No one knows where she is today.

Snow Globes and Hand Grenades is scheduled for release November 17.  You can pre-order a copy on line at Left Bank Books, a fine independent book store that has a cat roaming around. 



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My New Novel — Try to Kiss a Girl

July, 1969 — The Apollo Eleven astronauts are hurtling toward the moon, and somewhere down below,  two eleven-year old boys who meet on vacation launch their own mission — to try to kiss a girl before the week is over.

It’s a hot week in the lusty resort town of Grand Haven, Michigan, where Patrick Cantwell — the juvenile delinquent from Never Hug a Nun — meets a new friend who reveals to him the secret of the ages… where babies come from. GrandHaven_cover-5-11-w-retro-action-layer-LOW-RES

Astonished and ashamed that he has overlooked this hidden activity at work throughout history, an activity which apparently even Abraham Lincoln knew about, Patrick wonders what else he has missed and decides he needs to open his eyes and start living.

Shaking hands with his new friend Rex on a five-dollar bet, Patrick rockets into high orbit to try to be the first to kiss a girl before their vacation is over.

But it’s not that easy.  There’s Mr. Jawthorne, the protective father of the kissable, young Tammy and her ChapStick-loving friend Ginny.  There’s a biker just back from Vietnam on a road trip to no longer be a killer who meets two boys in Grand Haven he’d just love to kill.  And there’s Patrick’s big Catholic family whose puzzle nights, dirty diapers and warnings about sin and death threaten to cost Patrick five bucks.

Try to Kiss a Girl is a Kodak snapshot of the station wagon era, when the simulated wood grain was unfaded, and parents were young and a cooler full of orange soda and WonderBread sandwiches prevented back seat anarchy.  Well, most of the time.

Up ahead — beyond the Burger Chefs, the Sinclair Dinosaurs and Stuckey’s — was a rental cottage with crooked floors and a lake view, a land of relaxed adult supervision and freedom.  A place where an eleven-year old boy could body surf on a red flag day, ignore thoughts of the approaching school year, work on his pinball game at the Khardomah Lodge and try to figure out someway, somehow… to kiss a girl.

To get your copy, please order it through one of the best local book stores in the country, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, celebrating 45 years in business and fighting the good fight of making shopping for books fun and local.


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Never Hug a Nun Wins Ben Franklin Award

The Independent Book Publishers Association awarded Never Hug a Nun its 2013 silver award in the Humor category.BenFrankSilverEnhanced

“This is the only award I’ve won since high school when I got ‘most improved sophomore,'” said author Kevin Killeen, “and that was due mostly to my poor showing freshman year.”

Killeen noted that he shares the silver, runner up category with the fine humor book Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?

The gold medal went to Uncle John’s 25th Anniversary Fully Loaded Bathroom Reader.

“Obviously, the competition was tough,” Killeen said, “We were up against two books that included a bathroom theme.”250px-BenFranklinStore

Killeen also wondered if the Ben Franklin award judges may have been swayed by the chapter of his comic novel in which the eight-year old boy main character robs a Ben Franklin candy store.

“That may have hurt us, or helped us,” Killeen said, “There’s no telling.”

Killeen is looking forward to the day when a box of silver medallion Ben Franklin stickers arrives that he can put on the copies of the book he gave to his children, so they will know their dad is award winning.

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David Carkeet, Bogart and Me

THE ORIGINAL DRAFT of Never Hug a Nun was boxed in my basement next to some paint buckets, neglected for eighteen years, when Humphrey Bogart and David Carkeet intervened.

David Carkeet working up a joke

David Carkeet working up a joke

Carkeet, my 1990s novel-writing professor from the University of Missouri St. Louis, (author of Double Negative, The Full Catastrophe, The Error of Our Ways and From Away) was retired in Vermont watching TV with his wife — a show about screen writing called “Tales from the Script.”

Humphrey Bogart demonstrates the art of revising a novel in The African Queen

Humphrey Bogart demonstrates the art of revising a novel in The African Queen

Someone being interviewed compared the task of revising to Bogart in The African Queen, getting back in the leech-infested waters to pull the boat.

“Kevin Killeen said that eighteen years ago in my class!” Carkeet said turning to his wife.

“Who the heck is Kevin Killeen?” she said.

Always eager to cause trouble,  Carkeet went to work.  The following Monday he emailed me about the show, prodding me to revise Never Hug a Nun and submit it to this new Indy Publisher, Blank Slate Press.  Then came the lit fuse:

“I did a rash thing,” his email said, “I wrote and told them about your book.  They’ll be expecting to hear from you.”

Kevin Killeen pretending to be hard at work

Kevin Killeen pretending to be hard at work

Reluctantly, I climbed back into the water and started revising, taking half a year or so to hack through the jungle and pull the boat forward.

Eventually, the rains came and despite my efforts, the boat lifted out of the swamp and Never Hug a Nun was published.

So it’s not all my fault.  Some of the blame goes to David Carkeet and Humphrey Bogart, and of course to the rain.

To get your copy of Never Hug a Nun, please go to


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UPDATE: Women React to Never Hug a Nun

WEBSTER GROVES, MO — With 80 percent of all books in America purchased by women, this vital demographic is weighing in on a novel featuring grade school boys in trouble.

One female reviewer objected to the tale of boys constantly peeing on bushes and running amok while their moms are home baking cookies.

Another reviewer, “Simply Stacie,” reports the story stirred her to root for the main character “like I was his mother.”  She also says she “couldn’t put it down,” anxious to find out how it would end for her young hero.

Meanwhile, parish moms in the vicinity where the book takes place have pulled the author aside with their heads shaking to ask, “Did you really do all this stuff?”

It was the 1960s, after all, and there were fewer rules, no cell phones, and boys were only expected to “be home for dinner.”


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A Fool’s Novel Welcomed by a Forgiving Public

WEBSTER GROVES, MO — They filed past the book signing table like well-wishers filing past the casket.

Hundreds of friends, relatives and sympathetic strangers turned out for a series of events marking the release of Never Hug a Nun.

Kind people, many of whom left dishes in the sink, ventured out to get a copy of the novel at Charlie Brennan’s Fontbonne Book of the Month Club taping Nov 27, at the KMOX Holiday Radio Show Dec 3, and at the Webster Groves Book Shop Dec 8.

Many of the men whispered confessions of their own delinquent past as they purchased the book, then hid it under arm and hurried to their car.  Most touching was the procession of parish mothers, some of whom remember the author as a “troubled student,” purchasing two or three copies to impress upon their grand children the dangers of going the wrong way.

At the Webster Groves Book Shop, owner Ann Foy put out a small dish of lightly-salted peanuts for customers to enjoy during this cough and flu season.  Foy awarded the prize to a couple who had driven the farthest — all the way from Belleville, Illinois — a free pencil marked “Webster Groves Book Shop.”

When the day was done, almost a hundred copies of the book had been sold.

“That’s pretty good,” Foy said.

Killeen thanked the management, then walked home in a cold, overcast mist.  Feeling a little queezey from all the attention, and the expired Gatorade he drank,  Killeen watched with interest as a red fire engine with sirens blaring rifled down Main Street.

His first thought was that if life were a novel, he would arrive home to find his own house had burned down from the Christmas tree he left on.   But it turned out to be some distant, unknown calamity affecting someone else.

“God help those who are in trouble,” he mumbled — a prayer the nuns had forced the students to say whenever they heard sirens. NHAN - table top sign - v 3-1

At home he found his family was all gone, except his 15-year old son Jack playing a soldier video game.  The last video game the author played was an Atari space invaders game in the 1970s.  The space invaders always won.

He sat down in a chair listening to the machine gun fire from the TV in the next room, and wondered what all the people who bought the book would think about it after they read it.

Killeen is scheduled to do a reading from the book and sign more copies at the newly-rennovated Central Library on Olive Street in Downtown St. Louis on Tuesday, Dec 11 at 6:30 p.m..

The book is available at the Webster Groves Book Shop, Left Bank Books, Subterranean Books,, and soon at St. Louis area Barnes and Noble locations.  


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UPDATE: Never Hug a Nun Goes to the Printer

AN ALL NEW ARRANGEMENT of words from the English language, Never Hug a Nun will be held together with a good-smelling glue binding. Written in a style reminiscent of the fine print on a box of Chiclets, this debut novel is easy to digest and contains numbered pages and chapter markings so readers can tell where they are.

Departing from routine of so many novels being “too good to put down,” Never Hug a Nun can be put down as fast as three bags of groceries you just carried in with a full bladder.  It’s nourishing pages will refresh readers and prepare them to face life, the way a boy of ten is prepared to dash upstairs when Mom asks for help unloading the dishwasher.

Leafing through the completed manuscript, we find a typical passage showing how the youth of yesterday, uncorrupted by video games and gadgets, learned to make their own fun in a wholesome, constructive way:

“So, they wandered up to the tracks.  They stole tomatoes from the gardens along the tracks and threw them at Bi-State buses.  It was a moment of perfect happiness to watch the tomatoes leave their fingertips, arch off the bridge, and goosh against the bus windows splattering red pulp and seeds down the side.  If they were lucky, the bus would stop and the passengers would climb out and chase them.  But most of the time, the buses just kept going.”

 It was obviously a more moral time, but also a time of when boys knew how to sit still in class and study:

“He looked back at the girl.  Ebby was sitting in the desk next to his, writing her name on a piece of paper – in cursive.  Wow.  He and the other first-graders only knew how to print.  But it was not her penmanship that made him shiver as if he had just swallowed cough syrup.  Maybe it was her black hair streaked with light brown, her smart eyes intent on her cursive letters, her no-good-for-sports stick arms, her plaid jumper and green socks in brown tassel shoes.  Despite the way he always felt like burping around other girls, his mind ran away with her to the golf course.  He was with her on the fairway by the railroad tracks, holding her fingertips, dancing with her in big wide circles.  It was the new thing and it was breathtaking.”

AS READERS WILL RECALL, there was no more powerful feeling than the new thing —  that unprecedented jolt when a warehouse full of never-before-used endorphins  dumped into the bloodstream of a boy or girl on a spring day.

The book also contains some sentences that early reviewers have hinted rise almost to the level of literature:

“Gross, what stinks?” he blurted out.

There may be some other examples, but that’s for the reader to discover.

Now that the book is completely edited and spel-checked, it’s gone to the printer and nothing can stop the presses, except for an unpaid printing deposit. We hope you enjoy fine literature in your home and will give Never Hug a Nun a try.  It’s the kind of book that people will talk about at cocktail parties, and then they’ll laugh and you’ll get a full view of their dental work.

Blank Slate Press is proud to release Never Hug a Nun, a feral cat of a book that has been scratching at the back door all summer, eager to run along the fence line looking for slow mice or strangers who might stoop over and understand it and love it.

If you know anyone like that, please contact the authorities.


Kevin Killeen

P.S. The book is due out in late November, and can be wadded up to fit in most Christmas stockings.  To find out more and reserve your copy, please click here.

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