We’re here with another interview with a newer member of our community. The title of this column is “Lower Decks,” hearkening back to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode titled “Lower Decks,” in which junior officers aboard the Enterprise-D speculate on the reasons for recent unusual actions taken by the command crew near the Cardassian border.
This month’s interview is with the writer behind Ensign Maria Alvarez playing a Human female Operations officer assigned to the USS Arrow.
Taybrim: Tell us a little about the writer behind the character — where in the world do you hail from?
Alvarez: First off, thank you for reaching out! It’s a pleasure to give back to this community however I’m able.
I live in Colorado, where I work in tech. I really feel writing here has been a way to explore and express a creative side I don’t always get to flex at my job, and I’ve been really enjoying that aspect of it. I have loads of other hobbies, including games, hiking, and music.
What duty post are you playing, and how did you choose it?
So Maria is an operations officer, and that duty post is a combination of what I, the writer, feel comfortable writing, and what I have pictured in my head as the sort of job she’d gravitate towards.
Operations is sort of a curious duty posting, perhaps the most generalist and nebulous space-job aside from ‘mission specialist’. The best two examples in canon are Data and O’Brien, and the second one is really in engineering. The cool thing is that it lets me define a very unique role for Maria, and explore a side of trek we haven’t seen much on screen.
From the start, I wanted to write someone that approaches problems differently than the average officer. So, instead of being a crack engineer (which is already a little too close to what I do in real life), I decided to make Maria a little lax when paying attention to those pesky details and more interested in the big picture of how stuff works together. This led me to giving her an interest in logistics and supply. Next I decided if she were an unconventional officer, she’s probably getting in trouble a lot, so she’ll need to get really good at law and interpreting it in a different way than usual so she can get herself out of trouble. I continued in this way, trying to build out a sensible, if disconnected tapestry of skill sets that fit her personality. From there, I realized operations was by far the most sensible choice with the flexibility it offered, and fortunately there was a slot on the Arrow to fill this niche.
Honestly, now that I’ve gotten into the operations role, it’s hard to imagine playing another posting where there’s more rules, but that might just be my taste in writing. I know some writers struggle with too much freedom, and that’s not a bad thing – just different. I’ve really enjoyed writing a sort of midfielder who’s good at a lot of things, but great at very few. Someone who gets to be the eyes and ears of the ship. She’s eventually going to grow into the role that simply greases the whole ship along, and kind of have her work slip into the background a little (when it isn’t preposterous shenanigans). Of course there will be rerouting power, amplifying sensors, so on and so forth, but honestly I take joy in some of the little things in the trek universe, and I feel this posting lets me explore that.
What’s been your favorite part of being with the community so far?
Do I have to pick one? Ha – there’s a lot to recommend this community for, but if I had to pick, it has to be simply how welcoming, open, supportive, and genuinely friendly everyone has been. I’ve especially enjoyed the OOC camaraderie on the Discord server, and how eager everyone is to help if you get yourself stuck into a writing jam.
If I got one more, I’d say this: so many people have been so open to piecing together real stories that are surprisingly effective. I was a bit skeptical when I first joined as to what I’d find in the other characters around Maria, but I’ve been absolutely thrilled by some of the character work and the stories I’ve had an opportunity to craft with other writers. I tend to set a high bar for myself, and it’s fabulous to have that challenged and pushed even further until I end up writing (and reading) something that’s fresh and surprising and entertaining.
Are there elements of real life that you especially enjoy incorporating into your simming?
I’m not sure how many people here know this about me, but Maria and I actually share a pretty important piece of personal history. I wrote her as growing up with very intense dance training, and continuing that all the way through a master’s degree with a brief career before she made a dramatic switch to join up with Starfleet. Personally, I’m a terrible dancer, but I do have an advanced degree in classical piano (totaling roughly 20 years of lessons), which probably has you scratching your head about why I’m in tech. Suffice it to say, it’s a bit of a story you can ask me about sometime. Not unlike Maria – though she’s not likely to tell you the truth about it.
Anyway, I haven’t had much of a chance to incorporate too much of the many, many ideas I have tumbling around my head on this point, so a lot of it is still pretty close to my chest. I will say this, though: I’ve met very few people in my life outside of the arts that I feel truly understand the total dedication of mind, body, and soul it takes to succeed in performing arts, and the toll that comes with it. The way it permeates every fiber of your being, and affects every decision. It becomes a living, breathing piece of your identity, and it’s no small thing to leave it behind. She carries that piece of past with her in all kinds of weird and subtle ways, even if she doesn’t realize it – like how I sometimes find myself doing. In a way, I’m hoping when it’s time to write the big arcs exploring that aspect of her, I’ll be exploring some thoughts and feelings about myself too.
What inspirations did you have in creating your character?
So, so many inspirations. The most direct Trek inspiration was Beckett Mariner from Lower Decks. She opened up a whole new dimension in my head of what a Starfleet officer even could be… I wasn’t limited to stoic duty-driven officers whose noble actions and moral high ground saved the day! Of course, there’s definitely a streak of that nobility in Maria, but I loved the idea of making a quippy, flawed, and slightly off-the-wall officer that drove her superiors nuts with her ‘creative’ solutions. It’s been so much more fun creating drama that way.
I definitely have inspiration from other media as well. I’ve stolen ideas from Community, Parks and Rec, the Office, just to name a few sitcoms – I had a crewmate turn me on to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and that’s steadily becoming something new to draw from. I also draw plenty from much more serious material as well, and some stuff that’s written on paper too. Actually one of the most interesting things has been deciding on some of the influences Maria has. It’s Star Trek tradition to bake in some more philosophical and artistic pieces that can be brought up by the character at some point, and I’m looking forward to doing this. For example, I have it in my head that the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges will come up for one reason or another, as well as Milgram’s study and book on Obedience to Authority. All in good time.
There’s been one other particularly interesting, rather unexpected, source of inspiration on top of all of that: music. I know I’m not the only writer on 118 to routinely set a mood for my writing with music in the background, but it’s taken on a special importance given the musicality of Maria’s personality and her background. Since she’s a dancer from Argentina, the obvious first place to look was tango, but I ended up digging quite a bit further. Some of the more interesting discoveries I’ve made include contemporary Uruguayan and Argentinian composers and musicians, most of whom have made their way into my rotation. It’s been pretty interesting to look back and see how some of the music ended up influencing the scenes I wrote.
And lastly, as I already touched on, I have a lot of real-life inspirations I draw from. Maria shares a first name with one of my best friends from college (who I still stay in close touch with). Her relationship with her parents is a highly dramatized version of another college friend’s tense family situation. Some of her personality traits are drawn from my older sister.
It all makes for an interesting blend that’s turned her into a character I really love writing. I get excited thinking about the next time I get to write her, which is a huge success for me. It’s a little weird: sometimes I feel like she’s taken on a life of her own – I’ll find myself working on something in real life and wonder how Maria might act.
Thanks for your time, Ensign Alvarez!