Many people struggle with what to do with their lives, attempting to reconcile their childhood dreams with their desire for a career. But Dr. Leah Scheier is proof that doing it all is still possible, even if that dream takes you halfway across the world.
Growing up in Baltimore, the daughter of Russian immigrants, Scheier was constantly surrounded by the arts and was raised in an environment that encouraged her creativity.
“We were raised in a Renaissance background,” she recalled of her youth, where she and her four sisters were surrounded by music and literature. “My parents were constantly pushing books into my hands and supported me any time I tried to pick up a bigger book.”
From here, a dream would form.
“When I was a child, I wanted to be an author for children, but when I had to make a career choice I didn’t have any ideas blossoming in my head, so maybe it wasn’t the career path after all,” Scheier explained.
As such, she decided to work in medicine. She studied to become a doctor and did her residency in pediatrics. She met her husband, who was also studying medicine, and the two moved to Atlanta to start a family.
Moving to Israel
Moving to Israel was actually something Scheier had never planned. It was all her husband’s dream.
“It was his lifelong dream, and I was not convinced it was what I wanted to do at all. In fact, I didn’t even consider it,” Scheier said. “When he finished his residency, my oldest daughter was 12, and Nefesh B’Nefesh was offering grants for doctors. So I said that if we were going to do this, we had to do it now because the kids were getting older. So I ended up being the one pushing to make aliyah and move to Israel.”
Becoming a writer, fulfilling the dream
But before she made aliyah, an opportunity soon presented itself for Scheier to make her own dream come true and become a writer.
“Once I finished my residency, I started working part time at a pediatric practice. For the first time, I had time for a hobby after the kids were in bed. I was restless to try and do something creative.”
Like many aspiring authors, Scheier’s first foray ended up being rooted in something more familiar. In other words, it was pure fan fiction.
“I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan and there’s a ton of fan fiction about it already, so I started writing what I considered to be Sherlock Holmes fan fiction featuring a 16-year-old girl who thinks she’s Holmes’s daughter,” Scheier said. “I didn’t expect to do anything with it, but my husband said, ‘Why don’t you try to get it published?’”
So she started submitting to agents and soon enough, she caught the attention of Disney, and the rest was history. After substantial rewriting to make what was a fan fiction about a 16-year-old written for adults into an installment of the then-budding Young Adult genre, Scheier got the offer from Disney-Hyperion in 2008, right before she made aliyah.
Then in 2012, though now residing in Modi’in, Dr. Scheier finally became a published novelist, as her first book, Secret Letters, hit shelves.
It was an incredible achievement, but it wouldn’t stop there.
OVER THE following years, Scheier released several more novels. In 2015, she published Your Voice Is All I Hear through the publisher Source Books. Her next novel, Rules of Rain, was published in 2017. Both novels stood out for their emphasis and sensitive focus on mental health and mental illness, such as schizophrenia, as well as people on the autistic spectrum.
Her fourth and most recent book, The Last Words We Said, was released by Simon & Schuster in 2021.
Like its predecessors, it focused on themes of mental health, this time focusing more on tragedy.
But for Scheier, it was also a lot closer to home.
“The Last Words We Said is the one closest to my heart,” she explained. “It’s set in the Modern Orthodox community in Atlanta, where my kids grew up. It’s about a girl who’s in denial because her boyfriend went missing and has this terrible guilt but can’t share it with anyone.”
“It’s set in the Modern Orthodox community in Atlanta, where my kids grew up. It’s about a girl who’s in denial because her boyfriend went missing and has this terrible guilt but can’t share it with anyone.”Dr. Leah Scheier
The fact that it took place in a community she was so familiar with undoubtedly helps in the novel’s careful, accurate and sensitive adaptation of the setting, providing Modern Orthodox Jewish American teenagers some positive representation that isn’t always found in the genre.
And speaking of her kids, The Last Words We Said was also a bit of a family collaboration for the Scheiers.
“In The Last Words We Said, one of the characters sings a song, and I actually commissioned it from my daughter,” Scheier explained. Her daughter, who goes by the name Avaya professionally, is a gifted artist in the realm of music, which she uploads to YouTube and Spotify.
For this book, Avaya wrote the song “Last Words,” a song meant to convey the thoughts and feelings of the character. The result was exactly that.
“Bridging music and creative writing together was really exciting,” Scheier recalled.
And clearly, she isn’t alone in thinking highly of this last book, which has met with considerable acclaim. The Last Words We Said won the prestigious Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Young Adult Literature and was recently named Alma’s best YA of the year.
With her latest book being such a success, what comes next?
“I don’t think there’s a new book coming out soon,” Scheier said. After all, she is still practicing medicine, and she just finished working to promote and publicize her last book. However, that doesn’t mean she’s out of ideas, although she isn’t giving too much detail at this stage.
“I’m working on a piece, but I’m not sure what direction it’s going in,” Scheier said.
Regardless of her direction and how long it takes to write it, if it’s anything like her last four books, whatever comes next will be more than worth the wait. ■
DR. LEAH SCHEIER FROM BALTIMORE TO ATLANTA TO MODI’IN, 2008