As the new First Officer aboard the USS Excalibur-A, Lt Commander Benjamin Livingston stands poised for a commanding role. But what brought him this far? What drives him? Learn that, and more, from the following interview by Newsies Reporter T’Mihn Ah’mihghan.
T’MIHN:: Firstly I wish to congratulate you on your promotion as Excalibur’s Executive Officer. Just in case new members missed previous interviews with you, can you share how you came across Starbase 118?
BEN: I happened upon Starbase 118 while trying to learn more about the StarTrek universe. I’d been aware of Star Trek ever since catching the final scenes of The Wrath of Khan on television as a child, but I never took the time to watch it until I was an adult. When I rediscovered the original series, I wanted to learn more about Star Trek, and I stumbled across Starbase 118 doing some google searches. I’d never encountered a simming community before, but once I learned what it was, it didn’t take much to convince me to sign up. (My thanks go out to the publicity team!)
T’MIHN: That is true. Publicity Team snagged a great writer. What inspirations do you use to breathe life into your primary, secondary and other characters that new or experienced SIMmers can
take home with them? Any particular books, or real life people?
BEN: Much of Ben Livingston comes from my own experiences. For instance, Ben’s love of tea (and unwavering drive to design the perfect mug) is something we share. His background as a design engineer at a corporation is based on my own experiences. Even so, the source of much of my writing is external. When I catch something of interest in the news, I use my writing here as a way of dissecting the issue. The same goes for personal interactions. I love the idea of writing as a sounding board – or a thought experiment – by which we can better understand our own world.
I owe a lot to books, as well. At the moment, I seem to draw on them mostly for style. I’m always interested in an author’s use of pacing, sentence structure, and voice to tell a story effectively. In writing conversation, what do authors choose to include, what do they omit, and what do they indirectly describe?
When writing for side characters, I usually use them to serve either the plot or the character development of Ben or his shipmates. The occasional exception comes when I want to write something, but it doesn’t fit for Ben.
T’MIHN: Those are excellent questions as oneself in relation to characters. Just a little bit of a sidestep into non Star Trek items. How do you juggle real life and the demands being an XO with its various in character and out of character responsibilities?
BEN: Although I’m still getting situated as XO, I think that for me, work-sim-life balance starts with my wife. She’s not a simmer or a Trek fan, but open dialogue about what it is and why I enjoy it makes this a hobby that we both respect and that I can make the time for. It probably helps that she’s an English teacher, so she spends her days trying to get teenagers to write! The other thing is making this a commitment to myself. With a hobby, it’s easy to drop it in the face of a filling schedule, but I recognize that there are people on the other side waiting for responses. That’s a big motivation.
T’MIHN: Balance at times can be difficult, but rewarding. How did you get to this point, from Ensign to XO?
BEN: Ben started as an ensign in the Science department aboard Starbase 118. A role in Science didn’t fit perfectly with the character concept I had in mind, but it turned out to provide some good conflict and room for growth. Talking to my Commanding Officer facilitated a move to Engineering, which allowed me to develop Ben as an engineer. His specialty differed from the Chief Engineer’s, which made it easier to maintain a more realistic domain of knowledge and kept us from stepping on one another’s toes.
I always tried to give a fair representation of what keeping a ship running might be like. By the time I was a Lieutenant, though, I was putting more time into exploring personal interactions and getting to know fellow officers IC than into sims about the actual engineering. I still love a good technical sim, though, and I hope to write one again before too long.
I’ve also been able to participate in some of the other activities throughout the fleet. I strongly recommend trying the writing challenge, and I’ve also enjoyed helping out with the Academy. It’s a great way to help the fleet while getting the chance to hone my writing skills and the way I interact with other writers.
T’MIHN: What makes Excalibur unique in your opinion?
BEN: The personalities aboard Excalibur are what make it stand out to me. Every character (and I mean “character”!) – primary or otherwise – has a distinct personality. And while you can often predict a character’s general response, there are always little quirks you didn’t expect, just like in real life. The writers of Excalibur are all skilled in breathing life into their characters.
The other part of Excalibur that I think is very special is that we all take time to develop our characters personal lives. Whether it’s shore leave or down time during a mission, the sims that show the personal time of characters is where I think our writing really shines. Those everyday moments can really give insight into who the character is and what makes them tick.
T’MIHN: She is a very newly commissioned ship. Is it easier or harder to command a new ship verses an older one?
BEN: As an engineer, I found old ships interesting – they’ve had the chance to acquire quirks, develop faulty subsystems, and generally need repair. However, I have found that being aboard a new ship is a wonderful opportunity to get creative. What new technology has Starfleet incorporated? How are the interfaces different? What bugs were missed during testing? Surprises still pop up, they’re just different than aboard an older ship. Both old and new have their perks – and I really enjoy being aboard Excalibur!
T’MIHN: That is most important-enjoying yourself. What goals short or long range have you for Excalibur and her crew?
BEN: In the short term, I think the most important thing is to keep putting out the high-quality sims that keep us all engaged. For myself, I’d like to get to know each of the writers (and characters) even better. For the longer term, I am developing some ideas, but the important thing is that Fleet Captain Nicholotti and I be working in the same direction and with the same expectations. So that discussion has to come first.
T’MIHN: To top it off, have you any advice for new and veteran simmers?
BEN: Something I’d like to take on as a challenge for myself – and encourage everyone to do, as well – is to step outside of the types of sims to which we are accustomed. Explore a new space. For instance, I’ve never written a sim from the perspective of minor PNPCs observing the events around them. I’ve seen this done very effectively, and I’d love to give it a try. Identifying something that we haven’t tried before can one of the most difficult parts, but I think it encourages continued growth as a writer.
T’MIHN: That is the challenge of the hobby itself, challenging each other and yourself. Thank you Ben for your interview and the advice that I’m sure new and old simmers can utilize. I know I have learned something new this day.