Michele Weldon, whose book Act Like You’re Having a Good Time is the winner of Story Circle Network’s 2021 Gilda Award, began her writing career at the young age of ten when she inherited her sister’s homemade publication, The Juvenile Journal.
“I dove full force into writing, typing, and producing the monthly newsletter of two to four pages. I copied the newsletter on a hectograph machine . . . involving carbon paper and a gelled surface,” she recalled. Michele had fifty subscribers for the monthly newsletter—all relatives and neighbors coerced by her parents to subscribe. She charged fifty cents a year.
She retired when she was twelve . . . so she could spend more time dancing with boys. But it was a short retirement. At the age of thirteen, she was writing teen features for the local newspaper. “I was paid twenty-five dollars for each article, which was a fortune in 1971.”
From that beginning, Michele went on to a forty-year award-winning journalism career and to become the author of six nonfiction books. She majored in journalism at Northwestern University, where she was an editor for the school newspaper, and at which she later taught journalism classes.
“I got my first job in journalism at a magazine in 1979 and have been writing for newspapers, magazines, and digital sites, as well as writing books, since then,” says Michelle.
Act Like You’re Having a Good Time is the author’s sixth book. The title, she explains, came from what her father would say if she or her five siblings dared to refuse to do anything he or her mother asked them to do. Michele remembers, “It’s not about faking it; it’s about finding the joy in everything.”
Michele had always wanted to publish a book of essays, as she believes she’s an essayist at heart. But she initially thought it would just involve gathering all her favorites from over the years. She quickly learned otherwise. “An agent told me that I could include some favorites, but that my book must be eighty percent new work at least. ‘Why would someone pay for your writing when they can just google you?’ he pointed out. So, I worked for a few years on essays that I would put together in a collection about this phase in life when it is the third act, the ending notes. I did not want to be morose; I wanted to have moments of humor and laughter. So, I wrote about my experience growing up, which had many funny moments, then also revelations along the way. It was important to me to have a book that would make people smile.”
One piece of advice about being a writer that has been of great benefit, Michele says, came from her early days as a university student. “I had a very strict—but likeable—journalism professor my freshman year, Richard Hainey. He would lock the door to the classroom just one or two minutes after 1:00 p.m. for his 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. introductory class called “Basic Writing” that met once a week for ten weeks. You could not make up a class. If you missed it, you were already down ten percent. You could be standing outside if you arrived late, and he would not let you in. His mantra was, ‘It’s the 10:00 p.m. news, not the 10:05 p.m. news.’ It taught me to always meet a deadline, to always be on time. It also taught me as a writer that stalling or claiming writer’s block is not an option. As I would tell my writing workshop students, ‘Just get it out of your body and onto the paper or the screen. You can always fix it later.’”
Because she writes personal stories and memoir, Michele says people ask if there is anything she would not write about. Her answer is “Yes.” She does not write about family or friends unless they give permission. “I do not have the right or authority to write anyone else’s story . . . I do not write for vengeance.” This refers to her book, I Closed My Eyes, which is about being in an abusive marriage. It has now been translated into seven languages. “I write truth. And while I do not have the right to tell someone else’s story, I absolutely own my truth and what I live. And I write about that. I have a right to write.”
Michele says she “adored” watching Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live” when she was in high school and college, and that receiving an award with Gilda’s name on it is quite special. “Gilda’s memoir, It’s Always Something, is a phrase to live by.”