This week marked the one-year anniversary since NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others died in a helicopter accident. He was a budding storyteller in his second career. Despite the tragic loss, Kobe continues to provide guidance to young people through the New York Times best-selling Epoca book series. He collaborated with Ivy Claire on Epoca: The River of Sands which is currently in bookstores.
NCYS: This is the second installment of the Epoca book series. What will we find in this book?
Well, this is really going to challenge Rovi and Pretia’s sense of self and heritage. We wanted to go beyond sports and delve into who these kids were beginning to be and how they might start to see the world.
NCYS: Pretia, the Princess of Epoca, is focused on the Junior Epic Games but realizes winning might not be as simple as being the best athlete she can be. What about this theme was important to you and Kobe?
Kobe was very interested in the fact that regardless of status (she’s royal) things are not going to be easy for her. He wanted people to understand that nothing comes easy for anyone even if the world assumes she’s been handed life on a silver platter. We were adamant about exploring the fact that many external forces come into play for an athlete and sometimes there’s more to competing than what happens on the field.
NCYS: What other prominent themes show up in The River of Sand?
There’s a major undercurrent of growth and acknowledging and discovering your own strength. This is a different journey for everyone. We also really wanted to address the different ways kids get frustrated and how they must learn to overcome their own frustrations. One character is always down on herself for a bad performance. Another shies away from working hard. A third is scared to give it her all. Once each character is made to see where he or she falls short, only then can they move forward. We also wanted to examine the fact that kids are often faced with difficult choices but are more capable of making those choices than adults allow.
NCYS: What can readers take away or learn from this book?
I want every kid, athlete or not, to understand that there will be difficulties and bumps in the road but embracing these instead of fearing them will help you succeed. We shouldn’t fear or shy from difficulties even though they may seem daunting. And more importantly, everyone is capable of personal greatness. How this manifests is different from person to person. But success is the right of each and every kid!
NCYS: At the time of Kobe’s tragic death, the book wasn’t yet completed. How did you finish the book without him especially while mourning your loss?
There was never any question that it had to be done. Right before he died, he and I had agreed on changes to the book and we were full steam ahead. I knew that I had his blessing for the material. And I also knew that there was no way he would have wanted this book to be put aside. I had to take some time for myself, of course. And then I had to think carefully about how to reshape the book in light of the tragedy. This book initially had a difficult ending. That seemed entirely inappropriate given Kobe’s death. I had to dig deep into myself and into our personal relationship and tease out the most important themes and messages and make sure these shone through. It was both cathartic and difficult.
NCYS: Initially, there were four Epoca books planned. Is this the final installment of EPOCA books? If so, why.
Right now, yes. I wrote every word of these books, Kobe was the heart, soul, and inspiration behind the project and it seems impossible without him.
NCYS: What role did Vanessa, Kobe’s wife, play in the book?
She jumped right in during what must have been the most painful period of her life. She knew that to honor Kobe’s legacy and his wishes she would need to get involved. She was super professional and savvy and helped us complete the series in two books instead of the planned four.
NCYS: Ivy, tell us about your background.
I’m an ex-professional squash player. I was a junior and collegiate champion as well as a member of the US Women’s National Team for many years. I also am a novelist and write books for adults.
NCYS: What was it like collaborating with Kobe?
It was great. We cracked the stories together. He brought so much imagination to the table—sometimes too much and he didn’t mind being told that. Then he let me do the writing and didn’t interfere which is quite unusual. He was a great team player and knew where he could help and when to let my strengths shine.
NCYS: What was the most surprising thing about working with Kobe?
His kindness and his imagination.
NCYS: How did Kobe approach storytelling?
He had a wonderful and wild imagination. He loved deep background. He was able to envision characters as fully formed people with parents and ancestors and legacies. It was remarkable. His mind reached forward and back and never stopped. He saw stories and fluid and three-dimensional which I loved. Everything went so far beyond what you saw on the page.
NCYS: The Tree of Ecrof was released in November 2019. The new book will be published almost one year later. Tell us about how it was written so quickly and what challenges you faced.
This is a pretty standard rollout for a series — a book a year. Kobe and I were a great team and I worked with a sensational editor, Noa Wheeler. We came up with a great story and were off to the races. The major challenge was that we had to rework the book after he died for various reasons, mainly to do with the fact that we wanted an uplifting ending that could satisfy the series.
NCYS: Where were you when you and how did you hear the tragic news?
I was in Los Angeles with my daughter eating lunch.
NCYS: Where do you think Kobe would have gone with his literary work?
We joked that we were writing a Game of Thrones epic for kids—dozens of books of over a thousand pages. He would tease me that we’d be working together until I was 70 because he has so many stories to tell. And I never doubted it.