This is going to be a strange update, but I wanted to talk about something that’s been on my mind for a while.
When I first started writing these stories back in 2017, I honestly didn’t expect that anyone else would ever want to read them. And that was totally okay, because I enjoyed writing them just for the sake of writing them.
I’d been crafting stories--some shorter, some longer--since I first learned how to write. In elementary school, I had scattered pages of homemade superhero comics crumpled up at the bottom of my bookbag at all times. In junior high, I started keeping looseleaf pages of epic adventures in three ring binders. In high school, I had an account with a fanfiction website. The one thing all of my stories had in common was that I never shared them with the public. Sometimes I’d force my friends to read them. On a few occasions, my closest friends helped me to develop short stories, plays, movie scripts, and even a few comics. But we never really did anything with them outside of our tiny circle.
Mostly, this was a self-sabotage kind of thing on my part. I’d keep my creative works close to the vest in fear that they wouldn’t be received well. I convinced myself not to release anything that wasn’t the very best it could be. And after all these years, a couple fires, a few dead hard drives and one public server crash, the only thing that remains of most of these creations is the scattered fragments of memories in my mind. (But, you know, they probably weren’t that good anyway, right?)
When “Tales from the Gas Station” took off, I was not prepared for everything the popularity entailed. At no point in my life have I ever been “popular” in a traditional sense. I’m a chronic wallflower. I like to listen and enjoy company in a very passive manner. People would be forgiven for thinking I’m anti-social (even though I promise I’m not). So when “Tales” rose to notoriety, I was ill-equipped for the sudden rush of readers, narrators, and other interested third-parties who suddenly wanted a piece of my time. I was terrified, but also thrilled.
In 2017, I received fan mail for the first time in my life. I didn’t know how to react. Some veterans in the industry offered me a little advice--which could be summed up as follows: “You’re not going to be able to respond to everyone.”
Challenge accepted, I thought. And I sat down at my computer and responded to every single one of these awesome people who took the time out of their day to reach out and try to form a connection. Everyone who told me how my stories made a difference or helped them through a rough period or made them laugh a little bit during a long commute, I wanted to thank them all.
And then, very shortly after my first bit of fan mail, I started getting my first hate mail. Logically, I knew I shouldn’t let such a small percentage of mean voices have such a high impact on my mental state. But this is the internet, and hate mail has evolved into an art form. It took a while for me to get to a place where I can just report, ignore, and move on. Those people didn’t deserve a response, but everyone else did. Even though it was getting more and more difficult to stay on top of responding.
Sometimes, I’d take a few days off from technology, and when I returned there was a boatload of messages waiting for me. Which, even now, I’m ecstatic to find. I love reading messages. I love hearing what people have to say about the world, the characters, or whatever else is on their mind. Sometimes people will just send me a funny joke or meme they think I’ll appreciate. Sometimes they have a story to share, not related to the gas station. I cherish these messages now the same way I did way back in 2017. What I didn’t cherish, though, was how long it would take me to respond. And at some point, messages ended up getting moved to a “respond to this” folder and pushed to another day when I could dedicate the time and attention they deserved to be responded to properly.
I ended up getting connected in a few other places online. I formed an Instagram account to connect to all the brilliant artists in this community. I formed a Facebook account because I pretty much had to. I even formed a Twitter handle because… why not, right? Each extra strand of connectivity came with another means of access. So many people still don’t know I have a blog, and their only way of reaching out to me is through Youtube messages or Reddit or Deviantart. Some choose to communicate through written letters to my PO Box. Right now, I have more channels of communication than I would have ever thought possible only five years ago.
And still, I have read every single message that has ever been sent to me. But at some point along the way, my response rate started to dip. I kept telling myself that “some day” I’d catch up with everything. Even though some of those flagged messages were from months ago. And some of them were probably pretty important. Heck, a certain author who is quite popular in the horror literature community reached out and asked if I would be open to discussing a possible collaboration. I was stoked, but I knew I needed to form a “proper” response, and I had about a hundred other messages to respond to first, so I put in on the backburner for a few days so I could catch up… and at this point it’s been a couple years since he sent that message and too much time has passed for it not to be super awkward if I wrote him back now.
I’ve been trying really hard lately to do some catching up. According to Facebook metrics, I’ve now responded to about half of all the messages sent to me through the TFTGS FB page. That’s not counting emails, handwritten letters, or reddit (which now has two different message options: DM’s or Chat).
I guess my point is this: If you sent me a message at any point in time, THANK YOU. I love getting messages. Please don’t read this post as me complaining about all of your letters and DMs because it is honestly one of my very favorite things about this job. And please, by all means, continue reaching out to me if there's ever anything on your mind. If I haven’t responded, it’s not a judgment or indictment of you or your words. I want to respond. And maybe I will if I can ever find a whole bunch of free time, but due to the sheer number of messages I get, it’s difficult. I’m trying. I promise. And I appreciate every single one of you.