Around the Writers’ Table: ’Tis the season for book talks all over the Island


It’s speaking season on the Vineyard, and Island-connected authors are stepping out. Terri Potts-Chattaway, Mark Chester, Thomas and Joyce Dresser, Richard Lewis Taylor, and Cynthia Riggs will all be discussing, discoursing, and dishing about their new books in the next few weeks. As will I.

Edgartown Books, Bunch of Grapes, and the Island libraries will be hosting author signings throughout the summer. The M.V. Author Series kicks off on July 11, and Islanders Write, which is sponsored by this newspaper, takes place on August 18 and 19. 

Talking about our books is part of the rollout routine for writers. It gives potential readers an opportunity to learn about the book, and authors a chance to wrangle up readers. Thomas Dresser has a long list of events this summer, and says he enjoys doing author talks because it helps him better understand what he’s trying to do with his writing. Dresser is a prolific author on Vineyard-centric topics, and has two new books out. Hard to imagine. It took me over a decade to finish up my novel, and it’s still surprising to me that I’m talking about it as something other than a work in progress. 

Coming up on June 29, Terri Potts-Chattaway will discuss her new book with her husband, Jay Chattaway, at the M.V. Film Center. Terri’s book, “Journey to the Inner Light: The Life and Musical Voyage of Jay Chattaway, ‘Star Trek,’ Jazz, and Film Composer” (Gatekeeper Press), is a biography of Jay — an Emmy-awardwinning film composer and an avid sailor. This event is an author talk with a cherry on top, and is described this way: “A behind-the-scenes look at creating film scores, with film clips from ‘Star Trek,’ National Geographic, and Stephen King’s ‘Silver Bullet.’” There’s also a wine reception and book signing. And yes, I already bought my ticket. I recently had an opportunity to ask Terri a few questions about her book.

Do you know if other authors have written biographies about their spouses?

As Jay’s wife, one of the challenges I faced when writing his biography was POV and voice. I met him when he was in his 40s. I wasn’t in the first half of his life. In my research, I found only one biography written by a spouse, “Sophisticated Giant,” about jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon (whom Jay worked with at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977), by his wife and manager, Maxine Gordon. Like me, Ms. Gordon also met her husband mid-career, and worked with him. I was encouraged by her success in conveying her husband’s story.

I’m assuming it was your idea to write about Jay’s life and work, and not his, and I’m wondering how you approached him with the idea, and what his response was.

I wanted to write a book, and was looking for an idea when I noticed Jay doing his umpteenth interview on the phone. That is when I realized Jay had a story everyone wanted to hear. I decided I should tell that story. When I first approached Jay with the idea, he was understandably hesitant. Jay has always been a man of privacy, a trait I deeply respect. It was only when our mutual friends expressed their enthusiasm for the project that he eventually agreed.

 How did you go about doing research for the book? 

Jay took me on a tour of his past, revisiting the places that shaped him. I had the privilege of interviewing more than 50 of his colleagues, family, and friends. Each conversation added a new layer to the story. I watched all of his films and television shows. Jay kept lots of memorabilia over the years, which was a wealth of information. And I can’t forget the hours and hours I spent interviewing and recording Jay.

Did you learn anything about Jay that surprised you?

There was so much new information, but what I learned about Jay that surprised me the most came when we were working together on “Star Trek.” I was used to watching Jay on the scoring stage. He was a classically trained and somewhat rigid conductor. But when we started recording jazz pieces, I saw a very different man, one who was grooving with the band. Most people know Jay from his “Star Trek” scores, but he has an extensive background in jazz. This piqued my interest, and is one thing I hope the audience will take away from reading “Journey to the Inner Light.”

Did you give him sections of the book to read while you were writing? 

I didn’t give him sections. Whenever I had a full draft or a revision of a full draft, I would ask him to read it and give notes.

 “Around the Writers’ Table” is a column about writers and writing on the Vineyard. Please email with your writing-related or book news.