It would be as early as 2 a.m. on a school night when Caillou Pettis would finally peel his eyes away from yet another horror fiction novel. He’d lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. Sometimes scared straight. Other times, inspired to write his own horror anthology.
“I kind of wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember,” says Pettis, who was born and raised in Airdrie.
“When I was younger, I used to read a lot of the young-adult style horror books. Like Goosebumps, Fear Street and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Those books were crazy to me, but they were also very easy to read. I always kind of thought it would be cool if one day I could write a story like that.”
Over the years, Pettis took inspiration from everywhere. Random pictures on the internet, people he met on the street and strange things that happened to him while growing up.
Eventually Pettis locked himself to a desk for four months to write While You Sleep. It was released in March 2022, and is available on Amazon and Kobo.
He describes it as 10 pulse-racing stories all set in the fictional city of Newryst — one of the most terrifying places known to mankind.
“I wanted to create a diverse selection of stories. So for example one is about sleep paralysis, one is about this kid who wakes up in this room and he has no idea how he got there and has to find clues to get out,” says Pettis.
From film critic to author
The first-time author has always had a foot in the entertainment industry.
In 2012 Pettis created a YouTube channel reviewing movies, toys and video games. He’s also produced content for other YouTube channels boasting more than 10 million subscribers and one billion video views.
“I had always really liked watching movies, but I started watching videos of people analyzing movies – talking about what made movies so great and different aspects of filmmaking. I thought ‘well I could do that,’” Pettis says.
“Movies I had been watching my whole life were different. Even books, I started looking at how they were composed. I felt really strongly that I could be a voice people would want to hear from.”
Pettis began writing movie reviews when he was 16 years old, eventually starting his own website, cailloupettismoviereviews.com, and becoming an official movie reviewer for Rotten Tomatoes.
His work has also appeared on IndieWire, Awards Radar and Gold Derby.
More than Stephen King
Pettis says one of the reasons horror and thriller content has always interested him is just how diverse the genre can be.
“There are so many things you can do,” says Pettis.
“Like psychological horror, a gore or slasher kind of thing – and that’s something I tried to do with my book, different types of horror. There’s a lot of potential for fresh and interesting ideas with horror.”
Pettis has already started work on a second book set within the same universe as While You Sleep, but he says it’s not necessarily a sequel.
Instead, it’ll be filled with different characters and different stories in Newryst.
“I am hoping that after reading the book people will have an appreciation for horror. Because it’s not all Stephen King. It’s not just about making your heart beat fast,” says Pettis.
“It can help us better understand ourselves and how we would react to situations. It can also even help us understand the world around us. Even if you have to sleep with the lights on sometimes.”