Kevin Killeen, a KMOX reporter and UMSL alumnus, spots his new novel in the store window before a signing at the Webster Groves Book Shop. (Photo by August Jennewein.)

Kevin Killeen’s first novel centered on life in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, but his second novel is in a slightly more exotic locale — the beach town of Grand Haven, Mich.

Killeen, a University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus and reporter for KMOX (1120 AM), has just released “Try to Kiss a Girl,” the story of 11-year-old Patrick Cantwell escaping the oppressive heat of St. Louis in the summer for the breezy shores of Lake Michigan. Previous vacation obsessions like catching a fish are out. This year, he makes a bet with a new-found vacation friend to see which one can kiss a girl by the end of the week.

The story was inspired by Killeen’s childhood vacations to Grand Haven and takes place in 1969, against the backdrop of the moon landing and the Vietnam War. He describes it as “a nostalgic look back at the station wagon era.”

“I had all these memories of Michigan and the adventures that we had there,” Killeen said. “The loose parental supervision. The cottages, sleeping with the windows open at night, sneaking out.”

Killeen graduated from UMSL in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication. While at the university, he worked at KWMU (90.7 FM). After graduation, he worked at several radio stations and did a stint in public relations, before landing a reporting job at KMOX in 1995. Those first few years at one of St. Louis’ largest news radio stations involved early mornings, but now Killeen has more leeway to do the reporting projects that interest him.

In addition to success in journalism, Killeen also maintained an interest in writing fiction. He took fiction-writing classes at UMSL during his student years and after graduation. His first novel, “Never Hug a Nun,” was the product of a course he took in 1993 with author Dave Carkeet. At the time, he tried to get the novel published, but couldn’t find anyone interested.

Carkeet called Killeen 20 years later, informing him that he should consider submitting the manuscript. Killeen was surprised and touched by his former professor’s memory and encouragement.

“How many professors call you up 20 years after they retire and still have follow up with you?” Killeen said. “It was so considerate.”

“Never Hug a Nun” caught the attention of publisher Kristina Blank Makansi due to Killeen’s ability to be funny, serious and sophisticated at the same time. Makansi is the editor and publisher of Blank Slate Press, a publishing house based in St. Louis.

“The genius is that Kevin creates what you would think is the lighthearted joy of being in Patrick’s world but there’s also real stuff going on that he has to face,” Makansi said. It’s a very honest and fun way of stepping into child’s world.”

Even though Killeen’s protagonist is a boy on the cusp of adolescence, “Try to Kiss a Girl” is written for an adult audience.

“In the book, the family tries to make a manmade paradise out of a seven-day vacation, but a seven-day vacation also mirrors a seven-decade life,” Killeen said. “At the beginning of the trip you think it’s going to last forever, but all of a sudden it’s Wednesday and you’re 40. Then it’s Thursday and you’re 50 and by Friday you’re just packing the car to go home.”

Having two novels published is the dream of many authors, but success has not changed much about Killeen’s daily life.

“You still have to take out the garbage,” Killeen said. “I still drive a car with rust on the door, and I still worry about how to keep squirrels from getting in the attic.”

When he’s not working for KMOX or working on fiction, Killeen lives in the St. Louis area with his wife Nancy, and their children Katie, Kevin, Jack and Emily.

The UMSL Experience

Rachel Webb

Rachel Webb