I’ve done nothing professionally since I was 22 except work for a newspaper. Nearly 40 years later, that’s what I still do — and I’m not sure I could do anything else.When I was 9 and watched Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, I thought that might be a pretty cool job. But after watching the critics torch Tony Romo after he threw for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns and single-handedly almost beat the Denver Broncos recently, maybe not.When you work at a newspaper, you get to be around a lot of smart people every day. You get to be “in the know” about almost everything going on, and — until Facebook and Twitter — you decide what the public knows. You can do things that help the community by pointing out problems and offering solutions.But I wouldn’t know if my job is more fun than any other because I’ve never done anything else, and the prospect, frankly, would be a little scary.That’s why I’m so amazed when someone I know gives it all up to follow a dream. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to quit my career and try to create a new me.But Julie Heaberlin did seven years ago, and now she’s a successful novelist with two published books and another two on the way.Julie was the assistant managing editor for features at the Star-Telegram when I took over as executive editor in 1996, and she is one of the most brilliant, creative features editors I have ever known. In fact, the only two who would give her competition in that area would be the two women who succeeded her: Catherine Mallette, who now works for the The Baltimore Sun, and Stephanie Allmon, who is currently in charge of features here.I heard a football analyst say the other day that football fans of the Indianapolis Colts were incredibly lucky because they enjoyed the brilliance of quarterback Peyton Manning for 15 years, and now they get to enjoy the brilliance of Andrew Luck for the next 15.That’s the way I look at the Star-Telegram’s print and digital audience — they’ve enjoyed about a 20-year reign of brilliance from our features staff, and these three are a big reason.When Julie decided to quit the paper at 44 and try her hand at being an author, she had been a successful journalist and editor at The Dallas Morning News, The Detroit News and the Star-Telegram. But with health problems continuing to nag her — she has a hereditary electrical issue with her heart and had a pacemaker implanted when she was 27 — she decided to ditch the stressful daily grind of a newspaper and try her hand at writing thrillers.Her husband, Steve Kaskovich, is deputy managing editor in charge of business news at the Star-Telegram, so she had a good financial backstop, but their family income was still going to drop 50 percent if she wasn’t successful.And this was about the time that the publishing business — both newspapers and books — took a huge financial nosedive. So this was definitely a scary situation. But Julie sat down and started writing. And writing some more. And rewriting. And getting rejected. And getting re-rejected. For 31/2 years she did this, with no guarantee she would ever sell one of her books. Talk about brave!And finally, it happened. She found a great agent who believed in her. The second manuscript she wrote, Lie Still, finally sold to Random House, which also decided to reconsider her first effort, Playing Dead, and bought that, too.Now that her first two books are out and have sold well, Random House has also bought her third effort, Black-Eyed Susans, and an untitled fourth book.And maybe the best news of all is that since she left, her heart problems seem to have gone away.
Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7704 Twitter: @jimelvis