"In the modern novel the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. In the fairy tale the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not..." G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton was wrong on one count. The "real" world in which we live seems absolutely unhinged. My personal escape into fantasy has been my way of bringing a little sanity to the asylum. I began Xámza as a series of nighttime stories that I told to my daughter. I wanted to weave a tale for her of a young heroine who, while adventurous and brave, was no boy in drag. She faced untold dangers, but refrained from using Chinese kickboxing, or supernatural death rays. Her powers of self-preservation would come from a deeper, more sublime source.

As I started putting the story to paper, I found myself entering into realms of myth and fantasy that took me far beyond the simple adventure tale I had initially embarked upon. Of course, the ground for the story made this easy. North Africa. It is a land that, in many ways, stands outside of time—where reality and myth are often as indistinguishable from one another as the edge of the desert is from the sky. It is a harsh land filled with sensuality and danger. And it remains as mysterious and unknown to the Western world as it was a thousand years ago. That is why the accompanying photographs are such an important part of the telling. They root the novel in actual people and places, and become central to the narrative.

North Africa is also a land rich in history. I have tried to bring some of that history to life in order to fulfill one other goal I set for myself—to make the story a bridge between Arabs and Jews. I have long been torn by the violence and hatred between our two peoples, and have spent many years writing and performing works of theatre about this seemingly endless conflict. If there is to be healing between us, it has to happen on multiple levels. The imaginative life is one of them. There is so much beauty in the Arab world that Western eyes have been closed to and so much possibility in the West that the Arab world has shut itself off from. It is my hope that Xámza in some small way helps to open a window of understanding between us.

Albert Louis Greenberg