Paul Carr may live in Hillcrest, but then again, he may not. He grew up in Arkansas, but he won't say where. What we do know is he earned a B.A. in physics from Hendrix, played in a handful of mid-'90s bands and two years ago started a quirky neighborhood blog called Forbidden Hillcrest. And Arkansas Times readers love Forbidden Hillcrest so much that it came in first runner-up in our Best of Arkansas reader's poll.
AT: Let's start with something that could be either simple or loaded. Who are you?
Carr: There are a couple of things I want to avoid. One is where I grew up. I have to keep that a mystery for reasons I won't go into. There are some fairly questionable people out there, now that we get beyond Hillcrest with the stories. We do a lot of stories that aren't really in Hillcrest, like some of these strange West Little Rock neighborhoods where the people are kind of, well, do you follow some of these dramas on the Forbidden Hillcrest Facebook page, like where the boyfriend was shooting at the girlfriend from two different vehicles? It was real Jerry Springer stuff. Everybody that wasn't a fugitive or in jail got on the page and started commenting within a few hours.
AT: You mean these commenters were actually involved in that situation?
Carr: Well, the one who was being shot at got on there ... she liked 2,700 things on Facebook, and Forbidden Hillcrest wasn't one of them, but these days you don't have to like something to comment.
AT: Why did you start Forbidden Hillcrest? And do you actually live in Hillcrest?
Carr: I either live there now, or I have lived there in the past. Originally I wanted to learn about the technicalities of blogging, and I just starting making up these ridiculous stories about Hillcrest, and I had so much fun doing it, I kept cranking them out. I think I did five the first day. There was a lot of buzz right off the bat, because people related to it. There wasn't any reporting. It wasn't a journalism site at all.
AT: When and why did you start incorporating more actual news?
Carr: It's kind of evolved. First it was fiction, then it was about exploring, then it was about history, then it was about crime. We had this big story back in November of 2010 about the catnapper. And I was all about that story, but that confused it, because it was very similar to the Pug Strangler [an earlier Forbidden Hillcrest story], which was not true. The reason I started doing true stories is, I would come across things that were just as interesting as anything I made up, and people like true stories better than made-up stories. And there's a lot of crime, but not a lot of crime reporting, so there's a hole in the market there. Even if it's small, if it's in somebody's block, they care a lot about it.
AT: Sometimes it's difficult to know what's true and what isn't on Forbidden Hillcrest. Is this intentional?
Carr: It isn't intentional. The catnapper was reported by all the papers and TV channels. ... Now, if I make up a story, I make it so ridiculous that you don't have to ask. Now it's straight journalism. I do post fiction on the site, but it should be clear to a reasonable person that it's fiction. The Children's Vigilante Network is not real.
AT: What about the Italian UFO Cult?
Carr: Everybody thinks that's phony. That's a 100 percent true story.
AT: Do you remember the first true story you wrote?
Carr: Yeah, I saw this woman fall into a manhole.
AT: I read that. I didn't believe it.
Carr: No one believes it! I don't know why I bother writing true stories when no one believes them! It happened just like I said, she was talking on her cell phone. ... I think that was before I told people when it was true. I don't blame people for being confused. I used to have a truth meter where I would pretty much just say if it's true. Did you see the one about CALS, the creatures that lived in the downtown library?
AT: Is it the one where you're describing the homeless people that hang out in the library?
AT: Your description seems pretty classist.
Carr: I prefaced that by saying this story is 20 to 60 percent true or something like that. Clearly I took some liberties with that. Was I speaking about the homeless or was I speaking about some fiction that I created? I mean, clearly it was just an over-the-top exaggeration.
AT: You talk about "shambling bearded madmen, degenerated woodland people, badly soiled lunatics." It could be considered Ginsberg-esque, or it could be considered straight-up offensive.
Carr: Well it was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. That's about as classist as you can get.
AT: That post or the whole blog?
Carr: Well I was talking about that post, but actually, the whole blog was inspired by a trip to New York in July 2010. I was stalking H.P. Lovecraft's history. He lived there briefly, in Brooklyn, and wrote about it, and one day I just went off wandering through Red Hook. It's not a very good story, even Lovecraft didn't like it, but it's called The Horror of Red Hook. But I liked it. He mentioned specific addresses, so I used that in Forbidden Hillcrest. If you tell your little bullshit story and you mention real crossroads or whatever, I think it makes the story juicier.
AT: OK, so what's your deal with H.P. Lovecraft?
Carr: We share obsessions.
AT: Do you care to elaborate?
Carr: I don't know how to answer that question. I wish that I could.
(He writes the question on his notebook, in case he wants to take a shot at it later.)
AT: Sometimes you scoop the papers. How do you get your information?
Carr: We basically have a giant amateur news group spread all over the city. Somebody sees something, they tell me about it immediately. Everyone thinks I'm on the scanner all the time. I'm pretty much never on the scanner. A big resource for me, the thing that has made my site a go-to for many people, I would respond to people's questions. I would help them get information on things.
>AT: You still have a day job, right?
Carr: I work from home. I'm in finance. I arrange bridge loans.
AT: How much time does Forbidden Hillcrest take on a daily basis?
Carr: Well, I spend way too much time reading the Facebook comments. Otherwise, I can do it in about an hour a day. Facebook runs the site. I seldom post on the blog.
AT: Do you think you'll always keep the blog going?
Carr: Yeah, for sure. You can have more in-depth stuff on there.
AT: What kind of traffic does Forbidden Hillcrest get?
Carr: The Facebook site averages 18,000 different people a week. The way it works on the blog, I have to drive traffic there, or it will only get about 100 visitors a day. I can send about 3,000 viewers to it.
AT: Who do you consider your target demographic?
Carr: I'm writing for the north half of Little Rock, basically the band between the river and 630, I guess. People I understand, maybe. Except for West Little Rock. I don't really understand the McMansion people. ... Little Rock is, you can point to different cultural realities geographically. Hillcrest and surrounding areas are basically a bunch of Hendrix graduates, kind of hyper-liberal, hyper-educated professional types.
AT: Do people ever get upset, like the guy you label the "gnome?"
Carr: That's a good question. Yeah, it's pissed off a lot of people. I don't want to be unfair to anybody. I'd rather not show everybody's warts. If I wouldn't want it done to me, I try not to do it to anybody else.
AT: Would you be okay with somebody taking your picture and making fun of what you look like in a public forum?
Carr: I'm not sure that I would be (laughs). Maybe I couldn't help myself. Actually I was told he wasn't upset. He knows he looks like that. It's on purpose.
AT: Was the pug strangler based on somebody?
Carr: No. Everybody thought it was based on Alan [Disaster.] If it was, it was purely unconscious. ... Back when I had a small audience, I would be a little jerkier than I would be now. You kind of think, well no one's going to see this, so I'd just do it.
AT: Sometimes the Forbidden Hillcrest Facebook page reads like a bunch of scared white people just egging each other on.
Carr: My comments aren't like that.
AT: You called the people who live in Valley View "feral beings foraging for food," and when a reader said we share the blame, we should get off on our cell phones when we drive, you said we should stay on our cell phones and just drive faster. It's sarcasm, but it could be taken, well ... it's just disturbing.
Carr: Well, all of those things, I actually believe. 'Feral beings,' I think that's an accurate description. It's not a race thing. We've got plenty of white feral humans.
AT: Is it a class thing?
Carr: It's definitely a cultural thing. I think all these issues people blame on race aren't really race issues at all, they're cultural issues.
AT: You know people justified segregation as a cultural thing.
Carr: People post on it [Forbidden Hillcrest Facebook], and they end up making it a race thing. I don't like that at all. It's really alienating. It's just wrong to make people feel like they're not welcome on a site like this. But I don't like to delete comments either.
AT: What are your future plans for Forbidden Hillcrest?
Carr: I don't want to open up another story here, because I won't be able to answer a lot of questions on it, but I'm really bored with the crime writing. I don't really know where else to go with Forbidden Hillcrest. I need to write more ridiculous stories. It just keeps evolving. Do you know anything about Nox Signum? I think I hid all those stories about Nox Signum. That's the new thing, the new direction. Nox Signum is my cult.
AT: Are you the leader of this cult?
Carr: It's the fun thing I'm working on. I can talk to you off the record on it, but it's something I have to do a lot of media management on. But that's the future of Forbidden Hillcrest.
AT: Is it going to be open to everybody? What will happen to fans of Forbidden Hillcrest, when it's Nox Signum?
Carr: Well, Forbidden Hillcrest will keep doing what it's doing. You can forget about the Nox Signum thing. I used to write Forbidden Hillcrest stories on it, but everyone thought it was totally made up. Which it is, but it's a made up thing that's real.
AT: What's happening with your other site, Station X-ray?
Carr: It became a very technology-burdened project. I'm still working on it, but I'm procrastinating severely. [Ultimately, Carr plans for Station X-ray to be an interactive map tracking police and fire calls.]
AT: How would you describe Forbidden Hillcrest?
Carr: Underworld news.
AT: What about the other Facebook pages you've created, like the Valley Heights Apartments Facebook group?
Carr: The reason I made it secret is because I didn't want people reading our comments, because it's just a fumbling effort. I'm not a civic leader, I'm just a facilitator of communications for those who would like to be civilly active. I started it so people would have a place to talk about the subject. Problem is, when I got in there, nobody was doing any kind of leadership in there. We had a city leader in there, we had a couple of reporters who were scaring everybody to death. Max was in there, everybody's afraid to say anything in front of him, and so it clammed up. Not a lot really went on there, except as a way to disseminate information to people who were interested in the subject. The goal was to come up with a solution to the crime that was coming out of that apartment. There's a lot of readers in Kingwood, which is the neighborhood by there.
AT: You created it as a platform because your readers were interested?
Carr: Yeah. It was a big deal, a crime wave that reached Hillcrest. Their last crime was at Rosalia's. It was a group of four residents, I think only two of them were from Valley Heights. Valley Heights averages one police call a day. People in Kingwood are at the end of their rope. A lot of them are just one step from moving to Conway. And the high profile crime wave of commercial burglary those guys did, it made a big stir, actually I think, because of Forbidden Hillcrest. I was the only one covering it for a few days, and then everybody else picked it up. By the way, Valley Heights is something I never even think about anymore. I did my part by starting that and walked away from it.
When the catnapper thing happened a while back, I created a Facebook page for those who were upset about their cats getting stolen. I created a forum for everybody to meet and exchange information, and it became a big deal. I accidentally deleted the original one, but that was where all the lunatics got together. Basically it was a mob, and they all met on my page. There was a huge amount of hysteria in those days. Every cat that went missing was blamed on the catnapper. He was caught red-handed taking two cats. He was a real life boogey-man and in our imaginations, we built it up into something a lot bigger than we should. Anyhow, there was a mob that escaped from my Facebook page. They were the craziest people in Hillcrest. They banded together and roved through the neighborhood, terrorizing homeless camps. The TV news guys were following them around, trying to get pictures of the catnapper posse. I ended up having a great deal of conflict with them myself.
AT: You never went out with them?
Carr: No. But they met in this forum I created. Initially I tried to help with their work, but their work quickly became madness. So I banned them from the forum, and they can't access Forbidden Hillcrest anymore.
AT: Do you consider yourself a journalist?
Carr: I think I'm becoming a journalist. I didn't start off one. I've never had any training or background in it. Never really wanted to be a journalist. Never really wanted to be a blogger, either. Blogger's like the worst thing you can be, right?
AT: Do you think your content is objective?
Carr: It's reported objectively. I write lyrically. Sometimes that makes it look not objective ...
AT: That post on the hobo camp full of "stolen" goods was objective?
Carr: Keep in mind, that was one of the first non-totally made up stories I ever did. I haven't gone back and re-read that. Maybe it's cringe-worthy now. I can't remember. If I rewrote that hobo bridge story it'd be different now. You'd probably like it better now.
Wonderful alternate learning opportunity for our youth who are facing touch circumstances.