I’ve wanted to be a writer and editor for as long as I can remember. The itch got especially bad when Sassy came out in the late ’80s. I wasn’t even allowed to read it for the first couple of years, but when I turned 12, my mom finally let me get a subscription. Sure, I was reading all of the other teen magazines of the time, too, but this one… this one spoke to me.
It wasn’t until Jane Pratt’s second magazine, Jane, launched in fall of 1997, when I was a brand new college freshman, that I realized I could start taking steps toward trying to work for Jane herself/itself. I decided to major in creative writing with a focus on essays, and I had every intention of applying for a Jane internship my senior year.
But the spring 2001 internship applications for The Late Show With David Letterman were due first, and they picked me for their talent department even though I wanted to be in the writing department. I couldn’t say no to such a coveted internship, even if it wasn’t exactly what I planned, so I scrapped my internship application for Jane.
I still wanted to be a writer and editor, though, and as a couple years went by with me having no idea how to pitch articles or apply for magazine jobs, I was getting frustrated and started regretting not doing an editorial internship.
That’s when I realized I had a pretty interesting story to tell that would work well in Jane magazine’s “It Happened To Me” column.
For those of you who may be too young to remember the magazine, “It Happened To Me” started out as a monthly column in Sassy and then Jane, featuring a reader-submitted story in each issue. Well, I was a reader, and I had a hell of a story.
While I was in college, I had been attacked verbally or physically by three different men. First was the freshman-year boyfriend who fractured my wrist; then there was the ex-Marine frat guy working in my sorority house’s kitchen who regularly shouted comments about either my big boobs or my “big Jewish nose,” and then there was my rapist.
Although those experiences alone were enough to write about, it’s what happened to the guys shortly after what they did to me that made the Jane editors take notice.
First, the wrist-twister was rejected from the academic program he’d so desperately wanted to get into; then, the Jewish-nose joker had his own nose bitten off by a dog at a party; and finally, a candle tipped over in the bedroom next to my rapist's and he lost everything when his frat house burned down. Even though I don’t believe in karma in the slightest, the angle was obvious.
I was thrilled when I heard they’d chosen my story to run in the April 2003 issue. I would finally have more than just my college newspaper column to claim as a byline! I felt validated and hopeful that I really could become a writer, and I was beyond excited that my first nationally published piece was going to be in my favorite magazine.
Except there was one problem: It wouldn’t run with my name.
I understood that we’d have to change the names of the men in the story; I even wrote it having already changed their names. But for the sake of being extra-safe, the editors decided to give me a pen name. In fact, Jane reportedly chose the name herself.
Finally seeing the article in print was bittersweet. There was my story, with my words. Well, most of them -- they had to shorten it a bit to fit the page (ah, print), and they made a few edits that surprised me. (I totally didn’t say “schnoz.”) But not seeing my own name kind of tarnished the experience a little at the time.
I was hoping to use the article as the star of my then-empty portfolio, but it didn’t even have my name on it; I was worried that editors wouldn’t believe it was my work. I was so proud that my story was published, but my ego wanted people to know my name: Marci Zitner. (OK, so I don't go by Zitner anymore, but still.)
I was also hoping it might open the door to writing more articles for Jane or getting an editorial assistant job there, but it turned out most of the writing was done in-house, and there just wasn't a position open.
But it wasn't a total loss. That same year, in an attempt to get my foot in the door at any magazine at all, I decided to auction myself as an editorial assistant on eBay; I sent the listing to my new contacts at Jane, and they, amused by my little stunt, forwarded it to their friends and colleagues. It ultimately launched my online editorial career...but that's an "It Happened To Me" for another time.
A decade passed before I actually met Jane during a job interview, and one of the first things out of my mouth was that I wrote the April 2003 "It Happened To Me." She didn't doubt for one second that I was THE Linda Thompson.