Steamboat writer finds catharsis in his first novel
February 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs resident Johnny "Musemason" Mason has found a new way to bare his soul, and it's not through song, as the longtime local musician has done in the past.
Instead, Mason has turned to words, using writing to peer into his past, examine his relationships and grapple with the 30 years he has spent struggling with mental illness.
"It's not the average mystery reader that will appreciate this book," said Mason about his first novel, a dark but often humorous detective story that delves deep into spiritual and esoteric thought.
As a cathartic exercise in sharing his life stories, writing the book made Mason feel "just wonderful."
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Mason electronically published the book, "A Gypsy Affair," last week.
The book is available for purchase on eReaders such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, iBook and Sony Reader.
Based on real-life personalities and events, but thrust under a fictional lens, the book explores Mason's past relationships with good friends and fellow musicians who supported and thwarted him.
Part of the novel is set in Steamboat, where several of the characters spent time in real life.
At the heart of the story is Phil Conjoy, based on a person who lived in Steamboat from 2000 to 2004. Mason first met the real-life Conjoy when he was just 14, as both were involved with theater and music in their home state of Texas.
Mason brought him to Steamboat to produce an album for him, a time during which Conjoy lived at the Euzoa Bible Church, where he was religiously born again and led the music program at the church.
Mason said Conjoy loved dogs and children, was a black belt in karate and was generally a colorful character that was "larger than life."
"Phil was a genius, a musical genius," Mason said. "He wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs. When he was living at Euzoa, even though he wasn't the music minister, he became that. But he was also a beautiful con artist.
"He's still my best friend. Everyone loves Phil; it doesn't matter who you are."
Onto this vibrant, mysterious and lovable character, Mason projected many of his own personal discoveries, including the spiritual realizations that have brought him relief from his own struggle with bipolar disorder.
The man Conjoy is based on died almost a decade ago, and as the novel unfolds, it's Conjoy's mysterious death that Detective Gyp Sandoz — also based on a real person — sets out to investigate.
"The crux of the book is this," Mason said. "It's a study in personalities. Gyp's personality, Phil's personality … but deeper than that, it's trying to answer some very basic fundamental questions about human existence, which I don't really succeed in doing. But I think I get close."
Dave Bullock, a Texas resident whose personality is the inspiration for a character in the book, also was good friends with Phil Conjoy and Mason (who shows up in the novel as John) when the men were in their teens.
Bullock said he's thrilled to see his longtime friend's flair for wordplay manifest itself on electronic pages.
"I think it's been a good exercise for John to sort of excise some demons in the process," Bullock said about the book.
"There's a lot of humor in there, but there's also a lot of our background and our shared experiences.
"And having known John when were kids, I'm now understanding where he was coming from."
Mason said he's not sure how readers will receive the work: whether they'll be entertained on a literary level or captured by the musings on the human psyche.
But to Mason, who is now wholly devoted to working on an autobiographical book about mental illness, his writing is a form of therapeutic expression.
"I feel great," Mason said. "It's very healing. Transformational, too. It's incredible. It's the Holy Spirit that heals you, but you have to cooperate."
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or e-mail ninglis@SteamboatToday.com
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