Author and Wilton High School senior Saniya Shah shows off her book. Credit: Jarret Liotta / GOOD Morning Wilton

Wilton has a rich history of fostering writers, and three new books prove the tradition continues. Read about recent literary releases from Wilton residents Saniya Shah, Susan Shultz and Amy Elkins.

Susan Shultz’s second book of her poetry, “Broken Places”
“Maya’s Big Feelings: Stressed for the Test” by Amy Elkins Dickerson
On Touching Stars by Saniya Shah

Local Teen Author Creates a Lesbian RomCom for Everyone to Enjoy

by Jarret Liotta

It’s not unusual for a fiction writer to recognize a literary genre that’s been ignored by other authors, and target their writing toward the topic. But that ability is much less typical when you’re talking about a 15-year-old author.

Saniya Shah, now 17 and a rising senior at Wilton High School, wrote her first novel largely because she didn’t see many quality romantic comedies written with lesbian women as the central characters.

“For me, the reason I actually decided to write a lesbian RomCom is because there are not enough lesbian RomComs in the canon,” she said.

Though Saniya identifies as straight, as a prolific reader she recognized a need — and a value — in creating something that highlights and normalizes lesbian relationships while also giving readers across the spectrum a fun, engaging and meaningful book.

“It was a feminist thing,” she said. “I read a lot and … there are so many more gay books that are far more famous and far more reputed, than lesbian books.”

Her mother, Dhara Shah, is both proud and impressed.

“I must say that it’s very bold of her, (but) we do find her to be very bold, very clear about what she feels, how she wants to support that community,” she said, adding that Saniya’s writing is both “very skillful” and “very expressive.”

Saniya’s book On Touching Stars tells the story of Nora, a successful young writer living in Manhattan, whose sister foists a new roommate on her whom she’s never met.

As the two slowly find friendship, they also come to see how they’ve had very different experiences as members of the LGBQT+ community. Nora grew up in a somewhat broad-minded part of Connecticut, while her new roommate, Skye, is the product of a more intolerant and challenging Texas childhood.

Saniya’s friend and classmate Marianna Ramirez was amazed. She’d heard about the book for some time, and even saw early chapters in English class, but now having read the completed work, she strongly recommended it.

“I think most would have a heart attack, or at least some sort of Richter-scale level 6-shock when they find out On Touching Stars was written by a high school junior,” Ramirez raved. “The characters came out feeling like old friends. The settings were fleshed out and as bright as dawn. The plot was often frustrating, but beautiful, and (I) ended the book with the bittersweet feeling of satisfaction and regret that you end every book with.”

With a range of scenes and interwoven story points, the book shares the women’s journey as they ultimately become involved and make discoveries about themselves and their different experiences going into adulthood.

“I think if you fall in love with someone, you fall in love with someone,” Saniya said. “That’s just how it is.”

She said she’s grateful to know people who are gay and lesbian, noting that not only does she see diversity as enriching, she believes everyone — whether they know it or not — has people in their lives who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and can only benefit from gaining more understanding of others’ life experiences.

That’s why featuring those people from a cultural standpoint, Saniya said, is important.

On Touching Stars, which took Saniya two-and-a-half years to write, actually originated as a dream. 

“I had a dream — these two women were dancing and I just knew it was at their wedding and I woke up and I had this full-blown idea,” she said.

Though she’s written poetry and some short pieces, she knew this was the story to embark on for a full-length novel, which she finally completed in May after many drafts and much rewriting.

“I am still amazed that my friend wrote a book,” said Saniya’s classmate Stephanie Tang. “It’s not very common for a 17-year-old to publish a book.” She added that she found the book to be “humorous and genuine.”

Saniya researched how to self-publish the book, and found someone to create a book jacket. “It was like a trial-and-error process,” she said, creating close to 40 different versions of the book before it was ready to go live through Amazon. 

Saniya’s father, Tushar Shah, was not surprised that his daughter was able to navigate such an intense project.

“She possesses a remarkable determination, and once she sets her mind on something, she perseveres until she accomplishes it,” he said, adding how proud he was that she chose to tackle a challenging topic for her first book at such a young age.

With a busy year ahead — including serving as co-editor-in-chief of her school’s paper, The Forum, continuing her busy commitment with the Debate Club, and also playing bassoon with the school band — Saniya won’t be spending quite as much time focused on fiction writing.

Instead, she’ll concentrate on marketing the book on social media beginning this year, while simultaneously working much of the next year on college plans. She intends to study law after she graduates from Wilton.

“I’m not going into literature necessarily, so it never occurred to me that I would be a writer,” she said.

Both paperback and Kindle versions of the book, along with more information, can be found online.

Sharing Her Poetry Helps Susan Shultz Put Broken Places Back Together and Heal

Author Susan Shultz Credit: contributed / Susan Shultz

Wilton resident Susan Shultz is a journalist by profession but in her off-time she likes to explore other writing genres, most notably poetry and horror fiction. She has just published her second book of poetry titled Broken Places that’s a deep dive into her most personal and vulnerable feelings.

The title of this collection, Broken Places, on its own hints at what lies beneath.

“My first book of poetry was very light and skimmed the surface of my deeper work. That’s why I called it Skipping Rocks. This one is more open and vulnerable. It examines broken places in a variety of ways — broken hearts, a broken pitcher, a fellow broken soul. I didn’t just open my heart here —  I cracked it open for the readers. I also wanted people to understand it hits tougher topics, so they wouldn’t be surprised,” Shultz said. 

Susan Shultz’s second book of poetry, Broken Places

How people relate to her work is very important to Shultz. She hopes that readers will recognize their own experiences in poems she’s written about events in her life.

“It’s hard to share that your life isn’t always perfect — a lot of times when you look at social media it seems that everyone has everything together. I certainly don’t and I hope people who read this book can understand some of how I feel, and maybe feel less alone being imperfect. If one person feels that way reading it, I will be glad I published it,” Shultz said.

The poems in it draw from decades of her experiences.

“This book is very much an analogy to my personality. It’s got humor and sarcasm as much as it has darkness and loss. There’s one poem about me shopping in the grocery store and hearing one of my favorite songs from the 80s and the juxtaposition of the person I was then to the person I am now by interspersing the lyrics. A few people have told me they really relate to it. And naturally, I was inspired while shopping in the grocery store,” Shultz said.

From the everyday experiences to the more moving and deeply felt scenarios, Shultz finds sharing her work to be healing.

“My initial inspiration as a teenager was a profound loss of my best friend, and [poetry] helped heal me a bit. Once that muscle was flexed it was like it opened the doorway into writing it about all different kinds of things. I’ve written poetry all my life, but I’ve always been a bit afraid to share it. I’ve gone through some personal changes, including dealing with a loved one struggling with Alzheimer’s. I realize how important it is to share what’s in your heart when you can,” she said.

Poetry is her favorite writing genre. “It’s the one I’ve been doing the longest. But I just love to write as much as I can. I’m actually extremely shy, and writing is the easiest way I have found to connect with others – especially those who are important to me.

Broken Places is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Wilton Child Psychotherapist’s Picture Book to Help Kids Cope with School-Related Anxiety and Stress

Amy Elkins Dickerson Credit: contributed

Wilton child psychotherapist Amy Elkins Dickerson works with many children who struggle with stress and anxiety related to school tests and other expectations. She knows that not every family can access professionals like her who can help.

Her new picture book, Maya’s Big Feelings: Stressed for the Test, uses a sweet yellow labrador retriever stand-in to represent what those children might be experiencing. Maya struggles with some big feelings on the morning before a big math test and her mama provides some tools to talk back to the negative self-talk making Maya feel stressed and teaches Maya how to calm her body down before the test starts.

Not only does the book model for kids how to feel more confident and manage anxiety related to school, but it also has a note for grown-ups about helping children identify, express and cope with their emotions.

“Maya’s Big Feelings: Stressed for the Test” by Amy Elkins Dickerson

“I wrote this book with the hopes that all elementary school-aged children, not just kids in therapy, will have access to tools that can help them manage their school-related stress and anxiety,” she said. 

With back-to-school right around the corner, she believes parents can consider her book as one more essential on the school supply list.

“I hope that the elementary school-aged kids that read this book will learn ways to identify, express and cope with their school-related stress and anxiety. I am also hoping that this book will serve as a resource for parents so that they will have some tools the next time that their child experiences stress or anxiety,” Dickerson said.

For a first-time author, Dickerson said writing the book was easy, given that she talks to kids and parents about feelings and mental health strategies every day in her New Canaan-based practice.

“The hard part was learning how to create a manuscript, find an illustrator, and get my book ready for publishing. It has been a learning experience that has been both empowering and rewarding,” she said.

As for her main character, there is a ‘real’ Maya — Dickerson’s own beloved pup, Maya.

Maya’s Big Feelings: Stressed for the Test is available on Amazon.