For a novelist whose publisher's home has just been firebombed in protest at a book that has not even appeared, Sherry Jones was in defiant mood.
"Nobody has read this book and yet they're outraged," said the author of The Jewel of Medina, a romantic and sometimes racy historical novel about the Prophet Mohammed and his child bride Aisha. "So I'm delighted that finally my words are going to be able to talk for themselves."
Ms Jones was speaking to The Sunday Telegraph in a hotel next to New York's chaotic and bustling Time Square, after flying in from her home in Washington state to publicise the US launch of the novel on Monday.
The American release date was rushed forward after reports that the British edition might be dropped following last Saturday's arson attack on the London home of Martin Rynja, owner of Gibson Square publishing house.
"That would be very disappointing," said Ms Jones, a first-time author. "I would urge the British public to stand up for your right to freedom of speech and not be bullied. We can't allow a small minority to dictate to the majority what we can read, write, think, say."
Ms Jones, 47, a liberal feminist, journalist and divorced mother of a 14-year-old daughter, has produced a story of love and intrigue about Mohammed, Aisha, his harem and women's empowerment after studying Islamic history in the library. With subject matter like that, the book was always going to be controversial - but not, she had believed, explosive.
Now, however, The Jewel of Medina has joined Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, the Danish newspaper cartoons of Mohammed and Submission, the short film that cost its Dutch director Theo van Gogh his life, in the list of works that have incited a violent backlash for their depiction of Islamic themes.
The novel was originally scheduled to be released in August by Random House, which had paid Ms Jones $100,000 for a two-book deal. But the publishing behemoth abruptly abandoned its plans in May because it feared "acts of violence by a small, radical segment".
Ms Jones is scornful of such "self-censorship", which was taken without a single threat even being received. She believes it has not only endangered America's cherished traditions of free speech, but also stoked a climate of fear and intimidation.
"Random House have not censored me because my book is still being published," she said. "But they did censor themselves because of their fears that the book might offend some Muslims.
"It is a sad and dangerous precedent. We seem to live in a culture of fear and I think that's threatening the future of freedom of speech in the West."
In a strange twist to this particular showdown, the denunciation that prompted the Random House re-think originated not from a militant Islamic preacher but from an American academic to whom it was submitted for a review.
According to a leaked internal Random House email, Denise Spellberg, a University of Texas professor of Islamic history, condemned it for turning "sacred history" into "soft-core pornography". Not surprisingly, her comments were seized upon by Islamic websites and soon demands were circulating for publication to be blocked.
The critique dumbfounded Ms Jones. "My sweet little historical novel, my epic love story, my bridge-building book about Islam. How was it suddenly an issue of national security?" she asked, dismay clear in her voice.
The terror attacks of September 11 and the subsequent conflict in Afghanistan aroused her interest in Islam and the role of women in the Muslim world, she explained.
"I discovered the story of Aisha and I was entranced. Here was this young girl given away by her father to an older man, whose destiny was controlled by men, but who was able to rise above this and become this highly accomplished woman.
"She was a political advisor, a warrior and the favourite of 12 wives and concubines of one of the most charismatic men in history. She had a formidable wit, was highly resourceful, generous and compassionate.
"I also learned that Mohammed honoured his wives and had women in his inner circle. And contrary to the image some have in the West of Islam as a religion of violence, I believe that Mohammed was a pacifist who fought back in self-defence when he came under attack for his religious beliefs and voicing the word of God.
"People in the West don't know this and I was thrilled to be able to bring it to life. And most of all, I was obsessed with telling the epic love story of Aisha and Mohammed."
The book, as Ms Jones makes clear, is historical fiction, based around real events and battles, but with motivations, dialogue and feelings supplied by the author. With chilling historic resonance, the firebombing at Mr Rynja's home took place 20 years to the day after the publication of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie sparked riots and death threats. On Friday, three men were remanded into custody in connection with the attack.
Mr Rushdie, who went into hiding after Iran's Supreme Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, has criticised Random House, now his own publishers, for its decision to abandon the project. "This is censorship by fear and it sets a very bad precedent indeed," he said.
Gibson Square is now understood to have postponed publication of The Jewel of Medina in Britain following the attack, to Ms Jones' disappointment. But Beaufort Books, a small independent New York publisher which stepped in to replace Random House, has taken the opposite position in response to the attack, moving the release date forward from mid-October to tomorrow.
"By bringing forward the publication and giving people the chance actually to read the book, we believe we will reduce the risks," said Eric Kampmann, Beaufort's president.
Some other critics have criticised Ms Jones' prose style, and her description of Aisha's first night with Mohammed has attracted considerable attention. "I really can't believe this all started with Denise Spellberg alleging my book was pornographic," said Ms Jones. "I'm a feminist and don't write porn. I have a teenage daughter and I want her friends to be able to read this and be inspired by Aisha's story."
But she remains undaunted, and her second novel, The Battle of the Camel, is already complete. This covers the great historical schism in Islam that created its rival Sunni and Shia strands, and features the widowed Aisha leading troops into battle on a camel against the forces of Ali, Mohammed's nephew. The subject is just as controversial as Mohammed's love life - and the reaction is likely to be just as heated.