Reader’s Guide

The Drowning Shark | Stormy Sweitzer & Will Swanepoel

the drowning shark

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There’s nothing typical about fifteen-year-old Sierra Rouge. Nothing at all.

From the time she could walk, Sierra has traveled the world with her mother, a former CIA operative and chief instigator at (the fictional) Metik Ventures, an organization that invests in social innovation projects and individual change makers around the globe. As her mother’s sidekick, Sierra often helped to shut down the groups whose corruption and greed got in the way of Metik’s investments’ success.

Schooled in the cultures she’s lived in, savvy to the ways of slippery adults, and trained by her mother in skills such as jiu jitsu, surveillance, breaking and entering, and high-speed driving, Sierra is able to take on just about anything the world throws at her.

But, when her mother dies unexpectedly in a car accident, Sierra’s life is turned upside down. Mourning the loss of her mother, she travels to South Africa to live with the celebrity chef father she barely knows, accompanied by a cousin who’s never left the United States before, and facing a life that is totally different from the one she grew up in.

While trying to find a new sense of normal, Sierra suddenly finds herself the target of a tracksuit-wearing bad guy, falling smack-dab in the middle of efforts to stop a shark poaching operation, and trying to navigate the very-foreign-to-her social life of an average teen.

As challenging as her circumstances are, Sierra’s instincts and years of training kick in and she embarks on an adventure to find out who is after her, how to work with new friends to bring down the shark poachers, and what it means to be a normal teen when she is anything but. Sierra’s skills, beliefs, and relationships are put to the test in the process. And, she learns that there may be more to her mother’s death–and life–than she realized.

A fast-paced adventure, The Drowning Shark is the story of one girl’s quest to discover answers and the role she will play in saving the sharks, the people she cares for, and even herself.


Life and creative partners, Stormy Sweitzer and Will Swanepoel, have written the first of a series of books focusing on the topics they care about: social change, compassion for the world around us, and a good dose of international adventure.

They created Me’tik Ventures and the Sierra Rouge adventure novel series to inspire young people–through educational media that also entertains–to become curious about and to make a positive impact on the lives of other people, as well as the places and creatures the learn about.

They make their home in Salt Lake City, UT and wherever their travels take them.


Q: How did you come up with Sierra Rouge?

A: The short answer: during a game of “what if” we played to keep ourselves entertained during a drive back from camping in Southern Utah. Back then, she was named Alex.

The long answer is better left to a blog post; you can read that here.


Q: Where did the idea for The Drowning Shark story come from?

A: Several years ago, we took some friends on a trip with us to South Africa to visit Will’s home country. Because we had guests, we decided to do things we don’t normally do there, including some we were reluctant to try: like cage diving to view great white sharks. In the process we saw some sharks so close up that we had goosebumps on top of goosebumps. It was thrilling and awe-inspiring. And, when we learned about shark finning and how it is endangering these magnificent creatures and many other species of sharks, we realized that was the topic we had to write about. Many of our experiences on that trip, and prior ones, made appearances in the story.


Q: The Drowning Shark includes characters and places from around the world–Venezuela, South Africa, Russia, France, etc. What prompted you to choose these specific locations?

A: Will is from South Africa. Stormy spent a few years in Venezuela, Russia and other formerly Soviet countries. France is just for fun. These places are also important, because many of the issues we talk about in The Drowning Shark and in future adventures take place around the world. This book and future books will continue to reflect the places we’ve researched, lived in, and explored in our travels.


Q: Your book covers some complex issues and what some might call a bit of a downer topic: animal cruelty. How do you keep your story from becoming too sad or dour?

A: There is so much going on these days that can make us feel overwhelmed, powerless, and, frankly, apathetic. We decided we want to tackle one challenging issue at a time, and do it in a way that makes readers feel hopeful, curious about the world around them, and empowered to make change. An entertaining story, international adventure, action, and relatable characters trying to do good in the world (and some that are not)…these are all ways we’ve found to make a potentially “downer” issue something that readers are not just willing to read about, but excited to learn about. And, maybe it even inspires them to do something about it.


Q: Most people think that being married has enough challenges to last a lifetime. Why did you decide you also wanted to be collaborative partners? How do you make it work?

A: We have a long history of working together on business ideas and personal projects. Not always smoothly, mind you. But, we do work well together when we try. The fact that we have such different backgrounds, interests, and skill sets helps.

Typically, we brainstorm the big picture and characters together first. Then each of us takes the lead on different parts of the process. For example, Will drafts the initial book outline and plots out the action scenes; Stormy develops the story and characters further as she writes. We talk frequently and review each other’s work during the entire process to make sure we’re on the same page or to adjust things when we’re not. It’s more work than writing by ourselves, but we have fun and end up with, we think, a richer story than we could write on our own.


Q: Sometimes people refer to the process of writing a book like having a child. Do you think of your book or characters in this way?

A: Absolutely! Not only did it take years for the idea to develop, but our main character, Sierra Rouge, feels like our child. She has characteristics that you would find in both of us (her literary parents). We worry about her, have serious discussions about who she should hang out with and the activities she is involved in, and what boundaries we want to set for her. We also have differences of opinion about these things.

In the end, Sierra is her own person. And, as much as we want to be good parents and both challenge her and keep her safe, she has a mind of her own. As “parents” and writers, we sometimes have to step back and let Sierra grow in her own way.


Q: The end of book suggests that Sierra Rouge is headed to Vietnam. What can we expect from Sierra in the next book?

A: In The Drowning Shark, Sierra was forced to explore who she is now that her mother is gone from her life. In book two, she will continue to discover things about herself, to test her abilities, and she may need to consider whether she really wants to follow in her mother’s foot steps, after all. As for the subject matter, you can rest assured that Sierra will get to the bottom of yet another issue affecting animals and the natural world.


Q: When will we get to read book two?

A: Hopefully, by the end of 2016.

Discussion Questions For Book Groups, Classes, and Young Readers

What did you think of the Sierra Rouge character? What role(s) did she play in The Drowning Shark?

From what you read about Sierra’s mother in the book, in what ways are Sierra and her mother similar; in what ways are they different?

How does Sierra (herself, beliefs, her relationships with other people, etc.) change throughout the book?

Sierra’s mom is from the US of Mexican heritage, her father is French, and Sierra, herself, grew up in a variety of different countries. How do you think this makes it easier or more difficult for Sierra to make friends? To get used to a new place? To know who she is?

Sharks are often portrayed as dangerous, man-eating predators. According to the Shark Research Institute, 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year. On average, the number of humans attacked by sharks is less than 100 each year worldwide.

  • When you think of sharks, what words and images come to mind? Where do they come from (books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, the news?)
  • How did this book change what you think about sharks, if at all?

In the book, the authors highlight different ways that characters choose to address a problem they care about: shark finning.  What pros and cons do you think exist for each approach?  Is there room for all of these approaches?

  • Shark Watch:  Lobbying the Government to put in tougher laws and protections to stop fishermen from finning.
  • Tam:  Social Media Campaign to educate the public about shark finning and its impact
  • Burt: Local Activism to find and reveal what is happening behind closed doors and expose it to the public.
  • John/Jack and Metik: Intervention at the highest levels to stop the people that make the trade of shark fins possible.
  • Freddy and his chef colleagues: Educating consumers by not serving shark fin soup in their restaurants and explaining to customers why they should not eat it.

Which character did you most relate to? What form of taking action to help the sharks most appealed to you? Why?

What social or environmental issues do you care about? Why are they important to you?

In the book, Sierra remembers her mother’s words, “Changing the world takes action, and action involves taking risk.” What do you think the statement means? What kinds of risks do you think are involved in taking world-changing actions like the ones you are interested in taking? What rewards are there to taking such action?

In what ways do you think art and literature can be used as forms of activism? How can you use your talents and words to create awareness of a problem you care about or to inspire people to change?


Sharkopedia from Discovery Channel

Shark Education Teacher Handouts from the Shark Research Association

Shark Education from Shark Savers

Sharks Are In Trouble Facts from Shark Savers

Shark Girl video shorts from the Smithsonian Channel

Virtual Chats for Classes & Book Clubs

If you would like to schedule an author chat for your students or book club, please reach out. We can discuss the questions to the left, respond to your questions, and even talk about the research, collaboration, and writing process.

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