By the time former West Tisbury resident Lisa Taddeo returns to the Island for the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival on the first weekend of August, she will have traveled more than just the miles associated with an international book tour. To write Three Women, published by Avid Reader Press, a new imprint of Simon & Schuster, Ms. Taddeo drove across the U.S. six times and moved to cities as far west as San Francisco, as friendly as Maryland’s Pocomoke City, and as far away from her New York city life as she could get.

Her quest during those eight years? To take the pulse of sexuality in contemporary America by writing about female desire.

Three Women follows the real lives of three women who shared with Ms. Taddeo their raw and intimate thoughts about the joys and frustrations of their erotic desires — and the complexities that accompany these thoughts and feelings. Ms. Taddeo dives deep into the minds of Maggie, a North Dakotan who claims to have had a relationship with her married English teacher while still a high school student; Sloane, a beautiful restaurant owner whose husband enjoys watching her have sex with other men, and Lina, a frustrated wife and mother who reconnects with a teenage boyfriend she has long idealized.

Maggie, Sloane and Lina’s stories are book-ended by the author’s recollections about desire as experienced by her mother in an age when a woman’s compliance was assumed.

To research the stories told through narrative journalism, the writer cast a wide net to find people willing to talk with her. She asked lawyers, therapists and police officers for recommendations; posted flyers at gas stations, universities, churches, hair salons, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, post offices and truck stops; read local newspapers (which is how she found Maggie), and started a women’s discussion group in Indiana (which is where she met Lina).

“The hardest thing,” Ms. Taddeo said in a recent interview with the Gazette, “was walking up to people in a bar. What do you say? ‘Hi, I’m writing a book about sex. Do you want to talk?’ The first couple of times were horrifying. And the next day would be the same. I thought it was impossible. Now that it’s over, I look back and am retrospectively amazed. But in the moment, I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Lisa Taddeo will take part in the Martha's Vineyard Book Festival on August 3 and 4.

Of the hundreds of people that Ms. Taddeo spoke with during her research and writing, 25 were women she spoke with at length over weeks, months and even years. Her first draft included 700,000 words of stories from 15 women. The three included in the book were chosen through a collaborative process between the writer and her editor, Jofie Ferrari-Adler. Structuring the material involved a wall of rotating index cards on which Ms. Taddeo had labeled the major events of each woman’s story arc.

“We wanted to find places where the narratives would interweave but stop and the next one would be an organic transition,” she said of the process. “When I look at what remains, I am happy, but my mind is boggled by how much I did that got cut. It’s like the people you dated have taught you specific things even if they’re not the person you marry.”

In 2010, when Ms. Taddeo first expressed an interest in writing about desire, Mr. Ferrari-Adler approached her with the idea of updating Gay Talese’s study of the sexual revolution (Thy Neighbor’s Wife) with a woman’s perspective. Ms. Taddeo knew she wanted to encompass the function of sex but focus on all-consuming desire as experienced by women.

“I knew I wanted to write about emotion,” she said. “You can write about sex for a couple of pages or you can watch a Real Sex episode on HBO and think, cool, I didn’t know people do that. But if people are not going to be deep and honest with you about the way they feel, then the actual acts themselves aren’t going to be interesting for more than a couple of pages or a half hour.”

The result is a book full of emotional honesty that is painful, sometimes shocking, eerie with familiarity, and thoroughly compelling. Ms. Taddeo’s descriptions of the emotions and physical sensations associated with sex, lust and desire, offer rare insights into what many women long for but are afraid of acknowledging or asking for.

The subjects of desire, power and conflict between men and women are not new to Ms. Taddeo. Characters in her Pushcart Prize-winning short stories 42 and A Suburban Weekend grapple with knowing and owning their own desires. These subjects are also found in her nonfiction writings, such as Rachel Uchitel is Not a Madam, a New York magazine examination of high-end nightclubs and contemporary sexual economy, as well as articles and essays for Esquire, Travel Savvy, Elle, The New York Observer, and many others.

Magazine journalism has been Ms. Taddeo’s professional mainstay since she graduated from Rutgers University in her home state of New Jersey. Her love of reading and writing was nurtured in a house where her parents were avid readers.

“I have a strong memory of looking at books, even before I could read,” Ms. Taddeo recalls. “I would take a book and intersperse words of my own for literally every single word in the book. I couldn’t read but that’s how I could tell my own story.”

At age 12, she proved to her father that she could earn money as a writer by winning a $1,000 award prize from the National Library of Poetry. Neither parent lived to see Ms. Taddeo’s success: her father was killed in a car crash when Ms. Taddeo was 23 and her mother died of cancer five years later.

Despite the acclaim for her narrative journalism, she feels more comfortable writing fiction. Her debut novel will be available next year, followed by a book of short stories.

The hectic pace of book promotion, writing and meeting with TV and film executives now interested in her work has left Ms. Taddeo struggling to juggle time to write, hold professional obligations, and spend time with her daughter, four-year-old Fox Buttercup Taddeo-Waite. Fox was born at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital during the three years that Ms. Taddeo and her husband, Jackson Waite, lived on the Island. Among the pleasures she recalls from those years were spending hours at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Edgartown Books. She also recalls the mixed blessing of having to move off-Island during the seasonal housing shuffle — a situation that she was able to put to good use in order to spend time in Newport, R.I. in further discussion with Sloane.

The 10 years of research and writing for Three Women has come at a cost, Ms. Taddeo said. “I went into a lot of debt and I’m still paying it back. I had a good advance. It was considerably gone by the fifth or sixth years, even though I was still writing articles. But I invested in this book financially and emotionally without really thinking I was going to get a return. I didn’t know what else to do but finish it.”

There are plenty of people who are glad that she did. Three Women received endorsements from Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert and Gwyneth Paltrow. Katie Couric led an author talk at a Brooklyn bookstore.

Perhaps the most gratified will be the silent readers who see themselves reflected in the book’s pages. The frankness and open expression of female desire are aligned with current support for women to own their feelings and experiences in a way not possible before now.

Ms. Taddeo recognizes that the book would have had a different reception if published before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

“#MeToo is a lot about what women don’t want,” she said. “There’s not a lot about what women do want. For me, it’s been a good timing. I hope it opens up doors so that more women can talk about what they specifically want. People are opening up more than when I first started talking to them. Eight years ago, people asked ‘why do you want to know?’ Now, people say ‘Yeah! We should be talking about this.’

The Martha's Vineyard Book Festival takes place August 2-4. Visit for more information.