One of the best books of the past few years was Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival, by Norman Ollestad. Ollestad was an eleven-year old boy when his plane crashed in the San Gabriel Mountains in 1979, losing his father in the crash – and the book is not only riveting tale of his survival, but of his own special relationship with his father. We reviewed it earlier this month, and the author kindly agreed to a Question & Answer with the Pursuitist.
PURSUITIST: In some ways, Crazy for the Storm is a difficult book to describe to people. It’s so many things on so many levels. How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard of it?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: For me CFTS is a book about my life of adventure with my father—the bond we developed through those adventures—and how his beautiful point of view on life ultimately saved my life.
PURSUITIST: The book’s core story is the relationship between you and your father. Could you have written the book in the same way if you did not have a child of your own? Was having a child an impetus to write about your past after such a long time?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: Without having a son myself I don’t believe I would have been able to write the book with such an immediate, in the moment, voice. The father’s p.o.v. would not be as strong if I myself was not a father, understanding firsthand the struggle and the impulses of my father.
PURSUITIST: A lot of people might think writing an autobiographical tale is easy, but if you look at your story, there’s not only the emotional elements involved (reliving the crash, your father’s death, etc.), but there’s an enormous amount of research involved. For you, what was the most difficult thing about writing the book?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: On one hand, writing what you know is the most effective way for most writers, but not necessarily the easiest. Aside from the emotional strain, the hardest part about this book was shaping all the adventures so that they were not merely episodic. I worked hard honing in on the core of those scenes—illuminating the heart of our relationship in those scenes.
PURSUITIST: Your father forced you out of your safe zone all his life. Of all the things he did, what is it today that you appreciate it most?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: My father’s most important gift was to teach me how to find the beauty inside the storm of life—he was a deft navigator.
PURSUITIST: As a result of writing the book, and its success, what has been the one thing that has come out of it that has surprised/pleased you most?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: Women and men, young and old seem to relate to the story on many levels—I did not expect that kind of far-reaching appeal.
PURSUITIST: At any point, did you come close to not writing the story? If so, why?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: I sort of forgot that it was an option for 20 years. I never lost touch of all those wild times with my father, but many years went by as a writer that I did not consider it a story necessarily worth telling.
PURSUITIST: In the book, you butt heads – physically, mentally and verbally – with your mother’s boyfriend. In the end, there seems to be some sort of understanding – maybe not a peace – but an understanding. How did that relationship unfold as your got older?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: I somehow instinctively understood that Nick wanted, beneath his rage, the best for me. We struggled for many years, but have now found a level ground on which to relate.
PURSUITIST: You had a tremendous amount of anger in the months after surviving the plane crash. How long did that anger last, and what helped you deal with that more than anything?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: I’m still processing it. Surfing and skiing have always given me an outlet for the pain and anger, and writing has helped transform all that toxic energy. Writing CFTS was a significant leap for me, giving voice to my life, my grief and anger, and has led to my biggest transformation.
PURSUITIST: Ultimately, what was the thing you wanted to convey with your story – what’s the experience you want a reader to walk away with after reading Crazy for the Storm?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: Essentially, I wanted to share my father’s unique zest for life, his charisma and willingness to engage. He rarely hid from challenges, and I believe his approach is a beautiful and deeply satisfying way to live.
PURSUITIST: You’ve written a fiction novel, Driftwood, and now this. What is next for you?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: Either another memoir about my adventures in love and life in my 20’s and possibly onward, or an autobiographical novel based on my transition into manhood and beyond.
PURSUITIST: What would your father have said of the success of your book?
NORMAN OLLESTAD: Way to go Ollestad. Fantastic! I knew you could do it.