Posts Categorized: Guest Post

30Authors: Julie Cantrell Recommends

September 11, 2016 Book Talk, Guest Post, Spotlight Author 2

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#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

Oh my dear friends are you in for a treat! I’ve been following Julie Cantrell’s writing career since I fell in love with Into the Free when it was shortlisted for the Inspy’s. Since then I’ve read all three of her books: Into the Free, When Mountains Move and The Feathered Bone. Julie weaves social justice issues throughout her novels. Into the Free {my review here} tackles child abuse and neglect along with parental depression in a time where these things were hidden under the proverbial rug. When Mountains Move is a testament to faith while dealing with breaking the abuse cycle, the aftermath of rape, and learning to trust . The Feathered Bone: human trafficking, emotional abuse, depression and again, faith that moves mountains.

When Allison at The Book Wheel asked me if I’d like to host Julie for #30Authors, I believe she might have heard me all the way across the country being all fan-girlish and shouting, “yes! yes! please!” Discovering the books favorite authors read and enjoy makes me feel like I’m getting an inside look. I hope you enjoy Julie’s review of Trials of the Earth as much as I did!

Julie Cantrell Recommends

trials of the earthWhen asked to review my “favorite recent read” for 30 Authors, I struggled to choose one title. An avid reader, I always find the task as impossible as naming my favorite child. There simply is no favorite. (Y’all can relate, can’t you?!)

Given the challenge, I snapped up some of the latest, greatest novels on my bedside table. I tore through the pages determined to find the perfect recommendation, but none shaped my soul the way some older releases had managed to do. Flustered, I turned to memoirs, my lifelong true love (truth be told).

As a last resort, I walked into a bookstore on the very day this review was due (ever the slacker). An eye-level book on the front shelf was Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman by Mary Mann Hamilton (Oh, to have that placement someday!). With its earth-toned landscape and contrasting stark-white silhouette, the cover called to me, and upon reading the description, I was hooked: “The powerful, only known first-person account of one woman’s struggles and triumphs taming the Mississippi Delta.”

“This is it,” I said to my friend who had been made aware of my hunt for the ideal book.

“Wanna look around a bit?” he suggested. “You might find something better.”

Two hours later, we returned to that front shelf and snagged Trials of the Earth, laughing as he claimed he would never doubt me again.

It was no surprise I selected this title. I’m a Louisiana native who lived in various parts of The States before relocating to Mississippi in 2004. My debut novel was set in the Delta and I am drawn to memoirs of strong women, particularly those who stray from expected social norms.

Mary’s story intrigued me for many reasons, so I read the preface and discovered it had been written in 1933 when a friend encouraged the narrator to pen her tale merely three years before her death. Unpublished for more than fifty years, the memoir eventually came to shelves through the University Press of Mississippi but was recently republished by Little, Brown and Company, finding its way to my hands and drawing a patter of my heart.

This story is a simple read, free of literary descriptions or detailed character development. In fact, the blunt plainness of the text is part of the appeal. It flows with an authentic, almost dry style that makes me want to peel the layers off and dig deeper into Mary’s heart. A tough survivor, she does not dwell on emotional details, even when she describes the loss of her father, brother, mother, sister, and four children. Life was hard. She accepted it as such and weathered each trauma with a grit reserved only for the most steadfast of spirits.

While I was interested in the day-to-day requirements necessary to navigate the countless perils of 19th-century Mississippi wilderness—particularly a scene in which the riverbanks began sloughing with rapid intensity forcing the homesteaders to frantically save their tent, raft, and gear from the encroaching waters as well as descriptive trials with mosquitoes, mill accidents, archaic medical practices, and a plethora of predators—it was Mary’s way of viewing the world that fascinated me most. I appreciate a book that allows me to experience life through a different lens, especially when that lens offers direct contrast to my way of seeing things. For example, while blatant prejudice was not displayed, it was clear from undertones that Mary considered “Negro” and Jewish people to be of little worth, and that she had a particular distaste for Baptists. These blanket criticisms were disturbing to read, but I appreciate that the history was preserved, revealing an uncensored portrayal of one woman’s mindset during that particular time period.

Equally interesting was Mary’s marriage. Time and again she wrote that she wasn’t sure if what she felt for her husband was “love.” In fact, she seemed to be co-dependent in the sense she was happiest when she felt needed, even if that required her husband to be ill, drunk, or broken. This was what Mary knew of love, and this is how she lived her life, serving and caring for the men and children while cooking for upwards to 120 boarders and millworkers and going through nearly “a barrel of flour” a day as the laborers cleared the land. She knew her strengths, and she was determined to provide for those under her care.

Mary was a hard worker, a practical minded housekeeper, and a family matriarch who took great pride in keeping up appearances. She didn’t mind if her husband drank too much, as long as he did it in the privacy of their own home. It seemed she was imprisoned at times by her own insecurities and felt most free when the family left the constraints of mainstream society to camp in the backwoods of the Mississippi swamplands. There she could be most herself, without as much worry about what other townsfolk thought of her. This speaks volumes about the pressures women felt both then, and now, as a result of social expectations.

Ultimately, this story is one that shines a positive light on a woman who accepted a different kind of normal. She was never afraid to stand up for herself or for those she loved, exhibiting a fierceness that saved her own life and the lives of countless others, no doubt. By following her husband into the rough country, Mary Mann Hamilton thrived, leaving a legacy for her descendants and continuing to give the family heirs reason to exalt her today.

A spunky, brave, and resilient pioneer, Mary Mann Hamilton gives us a window into a world that is at once distant and near, unique yet universal, ancient yet timeless. But above all else, she tells the story of one woman’s will to endure life’s greatest hurts, and that, my friends, is a story to which we can all relate.

Here’s to Mary Mann Hamilton and the women who came before us. Let’s share a toast to the strong ones.

Happy Reading!

julie

About the Author

Julie CantrellJulie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free, a debut novel that earned both the Christy Award Book of the Year (2013) and the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. The sequel, When Mountains Move, was named a 2013 Best Read by LifeWay, was shortlisted for several awards, and won the 2014 Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. Her third novel, The Feathered Bone, released January 2016, earning a starred review by Library Journal.

Learn more about Julie on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

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Guest Post: Collage of Words by Tori Eversmann and a Giveaway

December 7, 2015 Guest Post, Spotlight Author 0

When I asked Tori to share a few authors who inspire her work never did I expect such a beautiful piece honoring those writers. This is more a love letter to writer inspiration rather than ‘just a guest post.’  Thank you, Tori, for sharing your admiration of authors and the inspiration you’ve gained from their writings. I’m honored to host you on The Novel Life.

Join me, Lovely Reader, in welcoming Tori Eversmann, author of The Immortals.

the immortals

Cover created by 2 Muddy Labs

Matt and I recently went to a lecture on the collage art medium given by our artist-friend Bruce Helander. Bruce is arguably the most recognized and successful collage artist in the country so we listened intently. To be honest, I’d never given much thought to the diversity of the collage medium other than the works of Man Ray or Andy Warhol’s iconic “Marilyn Diptych”. Collage allows artists to interact with existing materials – anything from newsprint and magazines to maps, tickets and propaganda and photographs – to rip them apart and then reassemble them, creating visually dynamic hybrids. Collage artists are the original up-cyclers, where old products are given more use, not less, of everyday things. Every one-sixteenth of an inch of canvas is scrutinized and thoughtfully played out. The more Bruce spoke about the medium, the more I realized that writing is similar to collage – creating words on words, editing, collecting, reusing, rehabbing; where inspiration comes from everything, and the writer and her muse perform a beautiful ballet with a full symphony orchestra.

When I consider writers who up-cycle words and inspire me, the list is long, but three immediately come to mind: Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and John Updike. Like the collages of Nancy Spero, Raoul Hausmann, and Henri Matisse, these authors reclaim words in a texture that speaks to me.

Stephen King is a staple in the horror novel genre. Almost from word one, the reader is hooked until the last period in the book. I devoured The Shining, Salem’s Lot, and Cujo like dark, gooey fudge. For years after reading Pet Cemetery and IT I looked under my bed and stared down at the shower drain to ensure that an eldritch shape-shifter wouldn’t drag me down to the sewer. The movie versions never quite lived up to the books, but I dutifully went to the theater anytime a new Stephen King premiered. With precision I remember my first semester freshman year at Skidmore College when my English lit professor asked the class who their favorite author was. Without hesitation I gleefully shouted out, “Stephen King. I’ve read most of his books!” The rest of the class recited more adroit answers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tolstoy, and Victor Hugo as the stunned professor looked at me like I had just slipped off my old shoes and let my foot odor out into the room. I blushed at my perceived literary obtuseness and stared at the tips of my shoes while the skin on my cheeks burned holes down to the bone. It wasn’t until I began writing my own novel that I truly understood why my freshman answer may have seemed embarrassing to me at the time, but I certainly wasn’t wrong. Stephen King is a crackerjack storyteller; and, reading a story by an expert raconteur is one the primary benefits of reading. Often enough I have been in the beginning or middle of a book with a deft plot and then find myself staring for several minutes at a tiny water spot on the ceiling wondering if we have a hole in our roof and not caring if I ever turn another page in said-book again. Not when I read Stephen King. Not by a long shot. No matter how scared, I kept reading even when I knew that demonic shape-shifter was waiting for me in the gutter.

On a far less scary note, Anne Lamott once wrote, “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh.” To me, Anne Lamott is one of the wittiest, most-talented writers I’ve encountered. She does not hold back, not for a moment. Wild horses couldn’t keep her from spitting out honest phrases that cut right to the heart of the matter. If I am one-percent as clever as she is, I’d consider it a win for me. Her self-effacing writings have me laughing out loud even when it’s on a depressing topic such as alcoholism or politics in the United States. Like architects Gaudi or Wright, her full dimensional style leaves an imprint on the brain that, while salient, is also unique. I’d love to claim these words as mine, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” Anne Lamott feels like my good friend even though I’ve never met her: I enjoy being with her books because her prose is like a passport granting me access into the shallow underbelly we all try to hide, yet she celebrates with ruthless honesty. Forgive me for being trite but my copy of Bird by Bird is dog-eared and cherished since I never tire of reading about Lamott’s father, brother and the bird term paper due the next day. Sometimes when I don’t want to go on writing or am struggling to think of an ending, I think I hear Kenneth Lamott, Anne’s father, whispering to me, “Bird by bird, Tori. Bird by bird.”

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And, of course, I must mention an author whose fictional characters embody exceptional flaws and such bad judgment that I wonder if they’d ever been told simply, “no”. The summer between my junior and senior years of college, I read the Rabbit quartet, in order, Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest John Updike’s seminal series about a man, who lives on impulse and appetite, trying to escape his life and who, when we first meet him, lives, in all places, Mount Judge. Updike’s velvety language snared me although the story is quite sad and controversial. But what I loved even more was that Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is completely imperfect. He’s a likeable liar, a bit of an unreliable narrator. I don’t think I’d pick up the Rabbit series now, but as an angst-filled twenty-one year-old English major, I couldn’t get enough of John Updike and his dialectical theology theme (e.g., God’s relationship to humanity embodies both grace and judgment). To me, Updike’s words epitomize the collage medium. How adept he was to create such an opus that I kept reading – by what he called, in the preface to his The Early Stories, “giving the mundane its beautiful due” – that I would be remiss if I didn’t think of Updike as one of my main inspirations.

tori eversman

Photo Credit: Michael I. Price

I could write a term paper on writers who’ve inspired me because I am loathe to leave out Anne Rice, Shakespeare, Barbara Kingsolver, and yes Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tolstoy, and Hugo. Not to omit also, the talented pool of new literary fiction writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Jhumpa Lahiri. However, I will never be them, nor they me. Perhaps it is best also to be inspired by my own life and collect my own stories thus creating a series of Tori Eversmann collages. A friend of mine who recently finished reading my novel, The Immortals, wrote me this:

“A Dostoevsky quote comes to mind as I reflect on your [protagonist] Calli. ‘Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.’  I believe you have both a great intelligence and a deep heart and hope that you’ve left the sadness behind.”

What a compliment to me as a new author. Maybe one day I’ll inspire someone after she’s read some up-cycled words I make into a collage.

To learn more about Tori’s fascinating background visit her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Complete the form below for a chance to win a copy of The Immortals by Tori Eversmann. Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on December 14th, 2015. One winner will be selected using random.org generator. Good luck!

the immortals

Cover created by 2 Muddy Labs

When we first meet Calli Coleman, a classically trained musician from a well-connected Baltimore family, it is the summer of 2005 and the United States has been at war in Iraq for two years. She has been uprooted from the hometown she adores and abruptly lands in the role of Army wife in provincial Sackets Harbor, New York outside of Fort Drum. Naïve to all things military, Calli has no idea what’s in store for her when Luke’s infantry unit deploys to the Iraq War to an area CNN dubs “The Triangle of Death”. Left back in New York with their three-year-old daughter Audrey, black Labrador Satchmo, and a fat cat named Charlemagne, Calli has a steep learning curve as she tumbles into a complicated social hierarchy where she finds her well-heeled childhood does her more harm than good. Desperately missing her friends and family and amid the impertinent Army wives, unlikely friendships evolve with Josie, Rachel, and Daphne. Seemingly as different from one another as can be, and certainly unlike her dynamic, jet-setting best friend Eula, these women will nonetheless come together for courage, support, and to embark upon the deeply emotional roller coaster ride of being an Army wife.

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Top Five Authors Who Inspire My Work with Author, Lori Roy

June 17, 2015 Guest Post, Spotlight Author 3

So thrilled to have author Lori Roy joining us here today.  Lori Roy is the best-selling author of Bent Road, Until She Comes Home and most recently, Let Me Die in His Footsteps {reviewed here}.  I’m always fascinated to learn more about the author behind the book and Ms. Roy is no exception!  Though purely in Roy’s writing voice, Let Me Die in his Footsteps reveals ghostly whispers of the authors noted below.


 

Lori RoyThis is always a tough list to make and would certainly change depending on what I’m writing at the time. But for the purposes of identifying those authors who inspired my most recent novel, I would narrow it down to these five …

John Steinbeck

I’ve always been a fan of John Steinbeck. THE GRAPES OF WRATH and EAST OF EDEN are two books I will pick up and read from when I’m in need of a little inspiration or a “jump start.” There is something in the cadence and the voice that sinks in and helps set my own work in motion. In particular, there is a quote from EAST OF EDEN that is written on a 3×5 notecard and taped to the side of my computer that is a daily inspiration.
An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion. John Steinbeck – EAST OF EDEN

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Flannery O’Connor

A few years ago, my son, who was in high school at the time, came home and asked me to buy a certain collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories as he needed it for one of his classes. I walked into my office, pulled the book from a shelf and handed it to him. He couldn’t understand why I would willingly read something he was being required to read. “It’s really good stuff,” I told him. Surprisingly enough, the book survived that semester, and he returned it to me at the end of the year. I reread many of the stories from that collection as I was writing LET ME DIE IN HIS FOOTSTEPS. The book now has notes in its margins, scribbled in pencil by my son, which makes it all the more inspirational.

let me die in his footstepsToni Morrison

THE BLUEST EYE is the book that taught me about voice. I once heard Ms. Morrison read from the novel, and the music of the language told as much of the story as the words themselves. By reading her work, I also continue to learn about the impact point-of-view can have on plot and character.

Pat Conroy

THE PRINCE OF TIDES has always been one of my favorites, and it’s one of the books I’ll open up and read from at random when I’m struggling to get started. This is also a book that taught me a great deal about the impact a setting can have on a story. When given due attention, a setting becomes as active as any one of the novel’s characters. Pat Conroy is also another author who helped define voice for me.

Zora Neale Hurston

One of the first pieces of advice I received when I began writing was to write the book you want to read. Zora Neale Hurston is a tremendous example of this philosophy. She was not only a gifted writer but also a courageous one, and her work has been a constant source of inspiration to me over the years.


To learn more about Lori visit her Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Making Memories: Don’t Try Too Hard

December 4, 2014 Guest Post, Spotlight Author 1

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Guest Post by Susan Newman, PhD and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day


 

Holidays—and every day–are great opportunities to pile on the memories. With very little effort, and often no effort at all, so many memories create themselves.

Yet most of us, whether we are parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, get caught up in the idea of presenting picture perfect celebrations, events or activities. We hope to turn them into cherished remembrances of the day and of us. That trap wastes adults’ time and energy, and can take away a lot of the fun for the children.

The strange thing about any get-together or event—Christmas dinner with all the relatives or a child’s birthday party—generally isn’t how beautiful the tree or birthday cake looked. What children and those in attendance remember is the dog in the corner quietly chewing on someone’s brand new slipper or the birthday cake that was lopsided or had a strange color frosting because someone added too many drops of food coloring to the icing mix.

Whether it is Valentine’s Day or Halloween, the mishaps or quirky things that happen are more likely to be stored in the children’s and whole family’s memory bank to be recalled and laughed about for years to come.

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Nonetheless, certain rituals and traditions play a role in creating positive recollections. They too, are a major part of growing up: the mistletoe hanging over the doorway (and the kisses that go with it), for instance. You might put candy kisses next to your child’s cereal bowl on Valentine’s Day or bring home cupcakes with shamrocks in the frosting every St. Patrick’s Day every year. Or, save and bring out holiday decorations made each year in school or together at home. When children are young adults, they will still want to see the ornaments they made in second grade or carry on the tradition of decorating gingerbread houses.

As I discuss in Little Things Long Remembered, whether you have five minutes, half an hour, or the whole afternoon, when trying to build memories go for the simple, the mundane. Don’t try too hard. Choose games your children love and you like well enough to play often; make it a point to sit down without electronic devices and play. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about your kids when you do. Reserve one night a week for a few hours to be together as a family—call it family game night or movie night. Invite other relatives to join you.

A happy memory could be of an aunt or uncle who bakes bread or makes pizza with nieces and nephews once a month. It is the repetition that turns the most ordinary event into something special and an important part of a child’s life. A recent study from Harvard confirmed my longtime belief and my own findings that the simple, mundane and ordinary — not dazzling, over-the-top trips or hugely expensive gadgets — are what people remember most fondly. Small parcels of time well spent shape long-lasting memories that are the backbone of family unity and the glue that holds families together.

In other words, the ordinary frequently becomes extraordinary…and that is something all of us need to keep in mind when we are trying too hard for perfection. You don’t know exactly which “little thing” will have the most impact and be what children look for and ultimately remember. So try many, relax, and see what sticks. You will be pleasantly surprised.


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Susan Newman is a social psychologist and parenting expert focusing on issues related to raising children and family relationships. She is a contributor to Psychology Today magazine where she writes about parenting and is the author of 15 books on family concerns, most recently,  Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day.   For more information or to connect with Susan visit her website | Twitter | Facebook

 

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Pop Culture Vigilantes

February 26, 2014 Guest Post, Spotlight Author 1

The Fixer by T.E. Woods definitely had me entranced so I’m thrilled to welcome Ms. Woods to The Novel Life sharing her thoughts on vigilantes and justice.  Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

T.E. Woods

Photo Credit: C&N Commercial Photography

I get questioned about the moral implications of making a vigilante the central, hopefully likeable, hero of my books. Now, I do not advocate anyone disrespecting the rule of law. I’m a middle-aged mom who appreciates an ordered society.  Still, it’s difficult to ignore our love of characters doing bad in the name of good.  Whether real-life or fiction, we love our well-intentioned outlaws. This is not a new phenomenon. The tales of Robin Hood goes back centuries. He was a crook who help up coaches travelling the roads of medieval England. But legend has it he gave the money to poor folks so we give him a pass.  Hell, Guy Fawkes blew up buildings. The myth he did it to call attention to the plight of the oppressed makes it okay to put his face on t-shirts. Dexter’s a psychopath who kills at will. But since he targets serial killers we cuddle right up, overlook his love of sharp objects, and root for him to remain undetected.

Real-life vigilantes run the gamut. Anchoring the saintly side is someone like Rosa Parks, bless her I-Can’t-Take-This-Anymore soul.  She willfully broke the law when she refused to move to the back of the bus and we love her for it.  Weighing in on the evil side are those night riders of the KKK who had no problem grabbing anyone fitting their bad-guy criteria and stringing him up from the nearest tree.  But what about those vigilantes in the middle? Can Curtis Silwa and his red-capped Guardian Angels restrain someone they alone determine is violating a neighborhood’s peace and security? What urban commuter didn’t sympathize with Bernard Goetz when he pulled his weapon on teenagers looking to mug him on a New York subway? And if you really want to get an argument started, bring up George Zimmerman’s name in a group of folks you don’t know. Then sit back and enjoy the fireworks. We like our vigilantes when their justifications coincide with our particular notions of right and wrong and revile them when they don’t.

Does that make us all potential vigilantes?

The entertainment industry knows the value of an unfettered justice fighter. I’m not talking about super-heroes here. What’s the big deal about facing evil-doers if you can fly or bend steel with your bare hands? Give us a flawed human taking on society’s corruption armed with nothing but their own sense of injustice and you’ve hit a blockbusting nerve. Zorro? Batman? Take away the costumes and gadgets and they’re mere mortals acting in a way we might wish we would, even if it means taking the law into their own hands.

Dirty Harry

We really love our vigilantes with a badge…so long as they’re fictional. Cops stepping aside from the very system they’re sworn to serve in order to answer a higher calling of fairness is box-office gold. Who didn’t smile when Dirty Harry pointed that Magnum and asked the punk if he felt lucky? Who doesn’t believe Raylan Givens is justified every time he shoots first and looks sheepishly at his commanding officer later?

Justice is a drive all humans crave. In a world that cruelly teaches us life isn’t fair, we’ll keep creating stories that allow us to pretend it can be.

To learn more about T.E. Woods and her books visit her on Facebook | Twitter | Website

From my work with abused children and their families I can completely understand the want for vigilante justice and how at times it seems like such a better option than going through the justice system.  Yes, I’ve certainly thought about it like in the case of Anna but my faith in the system is much stronger AND I was a little outgunned and outmatched 😉

What are your thoughts on vigilante justice?  

Should we become a society that encourages this type of “get even” or

shun those who take the law into their own hands?

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