Instead of writing fiction, he stole people’s lives.
He did this often, and was proficient enough at doing this secretly that he was never accused of doing it. He wrote under a pseudonym and never gave oral interviews, agreeing only to correspond with reporters via email. His friends all thought that he wrote on a freelance basis for various online advertising companies. His editor was a unique, quirky kind of fellow, and thought that the aura of mystery of the author could be used to promote his books, which ended up being true.
But he didn’t actually write fiction. He stole people’s lives.
It wasn’t easy. If he’d ever need to defend himself in court, he would stand up proudly and explain just how difficult the task was. It required hours of watching, of following, of listening to the most boring conversation. It took a year, two, sometimes three, because even though every person’s life is interesting, there need to be events in it that merit writing about. Sometimes he wished he could do something active to cause a disruption in a character’s life, but he was too scared to. It would be too much like inventing, like creating a fiction, and that was something he simply didn’t do.
The people whose lives he stole somehow never noticed it. When they read his books – not all of them did, but some – they merely thought that it was eerie, how close the story was to their lives. But they weren’t objective, and so they didn’t recognize themselves entirely in the nasty, harsh light of the truth that he presented.
It really wasn’t a problem. He knew that his methods were different than other writers’, but he didn’t mind. He sometimes worried that by stealing people’s lives he was, in a sense, depriving them of something essential. He was terrified of meeting his characters in the street years after writing their lives down, and discovering that they’d turned into empty shells of what they’d once been.
He was lonely, the thief of lives, because he never allowed himself to lead a very interesting life of his own. He was much too scared that someone like him would come along and steal it.