Claremont, Calif. — A girl named Kristy phoned me and said she was writing a paper about writing for her class in school. She wanted to know whether she could come to my house and get some information from me.
I was about to say I was too busy writing to spend any time telling her about writing, when she said something that changed my mind.
She said she was writing her paper about me.
Of course I said to come over whenever she could and gave her directions about getting to my house. (Or ''our house,'' as I say when my wife is listening.) She lives not far away, in fact in the same town, and should have no trouble finding our meeting place. I told her to come right over that afternoon. It was as good a time as any.
From the confident, precise way she talked, I assumed she was in high school, probably in the senior year, and sending out letters of application to colleges of her choice.
She arrived in 15 minutes. Her mother was with her, since Kristy was a little too young to drive. I was taken aback, but did not take affront, to find her a little girl, a very pretty little girl, who told me she was 10 years old.
While her mother sat in the living room and read a book she had brought along , Kristy followed me to my study, or my ''wordshop,'' as I call it.
As soon as we sat down, she prepared a tape recorder and got out a pad of lined paper on which she had apparently written questions to ask me. I noticed she also had with her an instant print camera.
Wasting no time, she turned on the tape recorder and started her questions. The first question was ''How old were you when your first book was published?''
''Twenty-nine,'' I said.
''I've written a novel,'' she said. ''It hasn't been published yet. It's thirty pages.''
I congratulated her on making such an early start and hoped she would continue. Then she went on with her questions.
''How long does it take you to write a book?''
''My first book,'' I said, ''was a biography of a minor English poet. It took me six years, including a year in England on a fellowship.
''But I wrote one book, ''The Year Santa Went Modern,'' in six days. Usually it takes me about two years, but it depends on whether the book comes from imagination or involves reading and research.
''Also a good deal of time is spent waiting to hear from my editor and making changes, which I hope are improvements, in what I have written.''
''How much money do you get from a book?''
I don't remember what answer I gave to this one. But I dodged it some way.
''What's the best subject to write about?'' she asked.
''About yourself,'' I said. ''Or your family or friends. People are interested in people.''
The questions kept coming. Kristy had to change the tape in the recorder, and when the second one was used up, she had to resort to taking notes on her memo pad.
I was so impressed with her questions and her use of the recorder (something I don't possess), that I was a little surprised she didn't write her notes in shorthand.
''Do you type?'' I asked this 10-year-old.
''No,'' she said, ''but I'm going to learn how. I'm getting a typewriter on my birthday. I'll be 11 then.''
After almost an hour of questioning, we adjourned to the living room. Kristy then went into a session of picture-taking with her instant print camera. (Something else I don't own.)
She took a photo of me alone, standing by the two-and-a-half shelves of books I have written and holding one of my books so the title could be seen. (That was her idea, really, and not mine.) Then she had her mother take a photo of Kristy and me.
Since the photos developed quickly, I had a chance to see them. I found them excellent - especially the one Kristy took. If she doesn't become a writer, maybe she will become a photographer.