Mikhaeyla Kopievsky has just released her debut novel Resistance, first in the Divided Elements series. I was delighted to get the opportunity to settle in with a cocktail and interview this exciting new author. Join me to find out more about her and her intriguing dystopian world.
@imyril: Congratulations on making your debut! I was really intrigued by the world of Otpor and the themes in Resistance and I’m looking forward to hearing more about them – but first, tell us a bit about yourself – who is Mikhaeyla Kopievsky?
@Mikhaeyla: I was going to give a general run down of who I am – debut author and mother; lover of all things philosophical, sociological and political; travel junkie, global citizen fierce feminist, Supernatural binge watcher, etc, etc – but so much of Resistance is about breaking away from the ‘circles’ we draw around ourselves to define us vs other, I became reticent to fall into that same trap 🙂
It might be more fitting to present the dichotomies of Mikhaeyla Kopievsky? A lover of sleep who fights its onset every night; a long-time patron of the arts and passionate cricket and NRL fan (go Tigers); a new mother who parents both her literal child and inner child; a new author who has been writing since she was in primary school; a soul who simultaneously is in love with and despairing at the world.
@imyril: Yes, but what do you eat for breakfast? What music do you like to listen to? What do you do when you’re not writing?
@Mikhaeyla: I’m terrible at eating breakfast! I know, I know – it’s the most important meal of the day – but I’m lucky if I grab a muesli bar in the morning and scarf it down in between tapping on the keyboard. I do occasionally let loose on the weekend, though – and love Eggs Benedict. I’m famous (amongst friends and family) for my poached eggs – I once went through almost an entire carton of eggs to perfect the technique – so it’s always on the menu when people are visiting or we’re feeling indulgent. I also love a good yum cha! For several years, whilst I was in Sydney, it was the staple of Saturday brunches. Even now, my husband and I will try to sneak in a visit to the best yum cha in Sydney (forget the paper reviews, it’s Imperial Peking at Blakehurst).
My music taste is eclectic – at any given time you can find me listening to (at various volume levels) Faith No More, Duke Ellington, Black Keys, Bon Iver, Dance Hall Crashers, Soundgarden, Chet Faker, Twenty One Pilots, Rollins Band, Arctic Monkeys, Lorde, Pearl Jam, Alt J, Blind Melon, White Stripes, Rancid, Veruca Salt, Tool, Weezer – I’ll stop there, or I never will! I will mention, though, that my current high-rotation song addiction is Adore by Amy Shark – everyone should immediately go and find it so they can have it as the soundtrack to this interview 🙂
When I’m not writing, my day job involves policy analysis in environmental regulation, which is interesting and incredibly challenging. My home time is split between dreaming about new characters and stories, working on the Divided Elements sequel, playing with blocks and puzzles and squishable plush toys with my little man, and maintaining a 100 acre farm and the angus steers that roam it. Weekends are a little more fun – the volume on the stereo goes up, there’s dancing in the sunshine under the sprinkler, sneaking off to fish’n’chip lunches by the bay, bonfire nights with friends, and market treasure hunts in Newcastle.
@imyril: What got you interested in writing speculative fiction?
@Mikhaeyla: I’ve always loved speculative fiction – or, to be more accurate, speculative narratives (I’m a huge fan of spec fic movies and tv series). I think the answer lies in the ability of the genre to appeal to the dominant sides of my personality – the dreamer, the political animal, the optimist and the academic. I love that speculative fiction is past-tethered and future-oriented. That it challenges and entertains. And that it clearly presents the problem but only hints at the solution – inviting the reader/viewer to draw similarities and trajectories in their own ‘real world’.
@imyril: Okay, let’s talk Resistance. I enjoyed the book and – even better – I found it was thought-provoking, and that I liked it better the more I thought about it. But I’ll try to contain myself and keep my questions sensible and spoiler-free! A quick re-cap about the book:
In a future post-apocalyptic Paris, a rebellion threatens to upset the city’s perfectly-structured balance and plunge its citizens into anarchy.
Two generations after the Execution of Kane 148 and Otpor’s return to Orthodoxy, forbidden murals are appearing on crumbling concrete walls – calling citizens to action. Calling for Resistance.
The murals will change the utopian lives of all citizens. But, for Anaiya 234, they will change who she is.
A Peacekeeper of the uncompromising Fire Element, Anaiya free-runs through city’s precincts to enforce the Orthodoxy without hesitation or mercy. Her selection for a high-risk mission gives Otpor the chance it needs to bring down the Resistance and Anaiya the opportunity she craves to erase a shameful legacy.
But the mission demands an impossible sacrifice – her identity.
@imyril: I have a lifelong love of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels (I grew up on John Wyndham and I’ve never looked back). It was really refreshing to read one with a European setting, and where there was a less clear-cut sense of right and wrong that usual. What do you see as the core themes of Resistance?
@Mikhaeyla: For me, there are three core themes of Resistance.
- Loyalty as a tool of power. In Resistance, there is no collective other than the Element. Citizen of Otpor are exclusively referred to as Elementals (speaking of citizens as persons is inherently Heterodox), there are no collective nouns for male and female, the conditioning and specialisation of Elementals removes any threat of cross-Element sympathies or commonalities, as does the eradication of family units via artificial procreation. This all works to maintain the purity of loyalty to the Element and, by extension, the Orthodoxy.
- Self vs Other is a powerful behaviour modifier. I’ve always been fascinated (and depressed) by this idea. Evolutionary psychology tells us that humans are an inherently social and cooperative species – we learned early the power of safety in numbers. It also tells us, however, that our genetic code makes us more likely to favour the selfish gene – the continuation of genetics that are related (and that present as similar) to our own. This manifests in the constant desire of humans to separate society into familiar vs threatening. Ignorance and xenophobia are nothing new – but that makes it no less depressing to see and hear the constant stream of us vs them rhetoric (and the deplorable actions it supports).
- Denial of individuality and ascendancy of Groupthink. For me, this is the key. The desire to belong is so strong for humans (no doubt because of the evolutionary forces in play) that is often be detrimental – there are a number of significant studies that show individuals will deny their usual morality compass and behavioural instincts if it means they will not be seen as different (a la Groupthink), which invariably leads to irrational or dysfunctional decision-making.
@imyril: Do you see Otpor as utopian or dystopian?
@Mikhaeyla: Aha! The trick question! This is what I loved about writing Resistance as a ‘dystopian’ novel – working within the tropes means that readers come prepped with a lot of literary ‘baggage’. They expect the simplistic forms. My ambition with this novel was to get readers asking this exact same question and to (hopefully) show that the question itself is the wrong one. That asking it would be the equivalent of asking whether the age we live in now is utopian or dystopian. Hopefully, Resistance triggers readers to start thinking about what makes a world functional or dysfunctional, what criteria makes for a utopian or dystopian existence, and whether the two extremes are Platonic ideals – perfect only in theory and impossible to be seen in reality – or whether they are necessarily symbiotic rather than mutually exclusive.
@imyril: It worked for me – I’ve been mulling over this question ever since I finished! Now – I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about world-building, so if you don’t mind I’d love to talk about the setting and society in a bit more detail. Why did you pick Paris?
@Mikhaeyla: So many reasons – because it has a history of revolution and rebellion; because its ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity have been corrupted into an almost authoritarian rule against individual expression (e.g. the Burkini ban); because who can forget Antoinette’s ‘let them eat cake’?; because geographically it lends itself to an isolated and self-contained city-state; because it (like so many other countries these days) struggles with the devastating impacts of a heavy handed approach to us vs them.
@imyril: We see and hear about the Border Walls regularly during the novel, and get a glimpse of the Wasteland outside. It feels very self-contained, and I’m curious – is that just the close focus of the narrative, or is Otpor entirely isolated? Is there a world beyond Otpor?
@Mikhaeyla: Otpor is entirely isolated. The Wall and the Wasteland are a very real barrier between it and whatever else exists outside and beyond. As to what does exist out there… well, that would be telling.
@imyril: Reading Resistance, it felt like not all Elements were created equal and I was curious to know if this was a class structure or just a product of the narrative focus. For example, we only saw Earth in working class roles (and often associated with drunkenness and violence). Can you tell us a little more about the broader social framework of Otpor? Are there high status Earth Elementals?
@Mikhaeyla: I think this is more reflective of Anaiya’s (subjective) perspective, rather than an actual class structure. As a Fire Elemental, she looks down on Elements she sees as inferior (which is pretty much the rest of them), and she does have a particular disdain for Earth Elementals. That said, the Earth Element, like other Elements, has its own hierarchy of power and privilege as you would expect in a capitalist-type economy. So while you have your Earth grunts who do the heavy lifting and hard labour, you also have managers of warehouses and industrial sectors, and senior roles where physical strength and simple thinking are valued.
@imyril: Anaiya, really changes – her responses, what she becomes aware of, even the language she uses to describe the world – as she gets reconditioned. How do you approach writing characters with the complexity of innate, suppressed and imposed traits?
@Mikhaeyla: By spending a lot of time with them! Resistance had a long gestation period – over two years! – so I had plenty of time to become acquainted with Anaiya and the two worlds she would inhabit. More specifically, I would identify and define the three or four core drivers/motivations of behaviour that would frame character decisions, actions, thoughts and perceptions. These would be at the forefront of my mind when writing – and I would try to make them as tangible as possible, so that I could move my own mind into that space and see how someone like Ani would respond.
It’s funny, I used to regret leaving it so late to release my debut novel, but now I am grateful for it. I have had so many incredible life experiences – I have years of challenging, enlightening, reforming situations to reflect upon and a cavalcade of friends, enemies and acquaintances to draw on. Being able to use these as supports for my writing has been invaluable.
@imyril: What can we expect from you in the future?
@Mikhaeyla: I’m currently drafting the sequel. You will see different perspectives, but likely still from Anaiya’s perspective (although I have toyed with the idea of changing the POV, so who knows? Things can change dramatically from first drafts to final products). I think that even if Book 2 remains in Anaiya’s perspective, the personality shift she has gone through has made her much more perceptive to nuances and emotional details, which will allow greater insight into other characters. She will also be more present at interactions that happened ‘off camera’ in Resistance, so expect to see more of the inner workings of relationships between other core characters.
@imyril: I found Resistance a very cinematic novel, with really strong visuals. Would you like to see it on a big screen?
@Mikhaeyla: As someone who loves speculative fiction movies, I would be thrilled if Resistance ever had the opportunity to transition to the big screen. But, with so much of the story revolving around personal struggle and inner conflict, it would be a challenging project for any director. It would be easy to reduce the story to what happens on the surface, but what I love about this story is all that you find when you peel back the layers.
@imyril: Are you working on any other projects or is it all about Divided Elements?
@Mikhaeyla: I have so many writing projects that I am champing at the bit to get into! I am, however, being very conscientious and letting them sit in the naughty corner until the Divided Elements series in completed (which is just added motivation for me to finish!). Two works in progress are particularly tempting – a post-apocalyptic urban sci-fi set in Tasmania and a supernatural YA battle between good and evil (and the grey space in-between – because I love moral ambiguity!). They occasionally get some thinking/dreaming time and I’m very much looking forward to letting them off the leash!
@imyril: Okay, it’s time to wind down at the bar – as the characters of Resistance so often do! Let’s close on the big one: what’s your favourite cocktail?
@Mikhaeyla: Oooh, tough choice. Always a mojito when I’m watching summer cricket in Australia. Long Island Iced Teas for beating over-confident boys in pool competitions. Hendricks G&Ts for watching the sun set over the property. And Jaydeedioxies (a favourite in Air izakayas) for working up the courage to talk to boys like Seth.
@imyril: Thank you so much for being our debut interview here at There’s always room for one more. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
@Mikhaeyla: Thanks so much for having me and letting me ‘nerd’ out over the inspirations for Resistance!
Resistance is available now in paperback and ebook. You are all cordially invited to join in the official launch event on Saturday night (unless you’re in Australia – in which case grab some poached eggs and join Mikhaeyla for breakfast). Mikhaeyla will be reading an excerpt and taking (more!) questions, along with behind-the-scenes discussion about cover art and exploration of the key themes with some special guests.