When she finishes her current book, she won't write again until Jan. 8, 1992. On that day, at 7:30 in the morning, she will drive to an unimposing little office building and the ceremony will begin.

Like a bride, she will be dressed in her most beautiful clothes. She will climb three flights of stairs to her workplace, shedding mundane thoughts and daily worries with each step she takes.She will open the door to her office, see the fresh flowers waiting for her, glance at the telephone to which no one has the number except her husband. She will pour herself some mango tea.

She will place a book by Pablo Neruda under her word processor, "So that his poetry will impregnate the software." And thus Isabel Allende will begin her next novel.

It was on Jan. 8, 1981, that she began her first book. She honors that day. She honors the power of words.

"I am arrogant and pretentious," says Allende. "I think that with my words I can make a change."

Speaking in Salt Lake City this week, and seeming more approachable than arrogant, Allende makes it clear that she has no choice but words. She abhors the other popular methods of changing the world - dictatorships or military solutions. What is left for her but to write?

The Chilean-born author describes her first fiction as "an overwhelming need to find roots, to get back everything I had lost."

She left Chile after the 1973 coup, when the president - and Allende's uncle and godfather, Salvador Allende - was assassinated. She says it took her several months to understand the violence around her, to see that the country of her childhood was truly gone, to feel the danger and to leave.

While living with her husband and two children in Venezuela, Allende learned that her 100-year-old grandfather - her mother's father, and the man with whom she and her mother lived while she was growing up - was about to die.

She sat down to write him a letter. "I wanted to tell him, I wanted to tell myself, that people don't die. That you only die if you are forgotten." She could keep him alive, she knew. She could keep the memories of people, of a country. What she wrote wasn't a letter, but her first novel, "House of Spirits."

She didn't know that a story had been growing inside her. "I didn't realize how pregnant I was," she says, until she began to type.

Next came "Of Love and Shadows." Then "Eva Luna." And just this year, a collection of short stories, "The Stories of Eva Luna." Her novels have been widely translated, critically acclaimed, and have sold well.

"My translations must improve my books tremendously." She says, laughing, that her books sell better in Scandinavia than in Latin America.

She remarried ("Gringos make better lovers," she says) and moved to California several years ago, to the horror of her publishers. What would happen to the romance, to the magic realism,to the terror and torture in her writing?

They need not have worried. Allende is still surrounded by strong characters. "Everybody's life has heroic dimensions," she says. "There is nothing like a common person or a dull life."

What no one realizes, Allende says, is that though the setting in the Eva Luna stories seem Latin, everything she writes of happened here. She says, "I've lived in California for three years and I haven't met any normal people."

One of her favorite stories is a tale by Eduardo Galianano in which thieves break into an old man's home and steal his treasure chest. They flee and open it and find not gold inside but love letters, collected over a lifetime. Because they are romantics themselves the robbers decide to return the man's letters - one at a time.

"Every Monday he would wait for a new letter. He was crazed with joy," says Allende, smiling joyfully herself.

"To me it's a great metaphor for writing. Writers are like those good thieves," she says. "They take worn- out events and make new illusions. They give life to the tired soul. Everybody has a hidden treasure. Something forgotten. Unopened.

"My craft is to find the treasure."