Ben Mezrich’s latest book, “The 37th Parallel,” tracks the UFO-hunting adventures of Chuck Zukowski, a microchip engineer and former sheriff’s deputy in El Paso County, Colo. Zukowski has spent nearly three decades investigating a series of anomalies across the region, most all of which take place near a latitude known as the 37th Parallel. Many of the strange incidents involve mutilated livestock, and Zukowski works to uncover what forces might be behind it all.
Published by Simon and Schuster, “The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway,” is set to be released Sept. 6 and comes from the prolific local author best known for “Bringing Down the House” and “The Accidental Billionaires,” upon which the films “21” and “The Social Network” were based. Mezrich and Zukowski will visit Brookline Booksmith on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. to talk about the new book.
Q. What drew you to Chuck Zukowski’s investigation of cattle mutilation?
A. It intrigued me because it turns out this phenomenon was much bigger than I thought it was. It dates back 50 years, involves 10,000 cattle — mostly cows and horses found lying on their left side, missing an eye, missing a lung, completely drained of blood. And there’s never been any answer to what’s going on.
Q. Zukowski has claimed that there’s more physical evidence of UFOs having existed than Jesus. Where does religion fit into this discussion?
A. Religion seems to be able to handle almost anything. Every day, science disproves something in religion, and religion finds a way to make it fit. If you believe in God and that something created the universe, there’s no reason why you can’t also believe in UFOs and alien civilizations. You just have to shift the story a bit to encompass a much bigger universe.
Q. What was one of the main challenges you faced while working on the book?
A. The biggest thing with this was not seeing it as something bizarre and a joke, but instead treating it as a real subject. . . . “Real” journalists can’t cover this topic. “Real” professors can’t study this topic. “Real” scientists can’t look at the materials and say, “Is this a UFO or is this not a UFO?” And so I think that’s part of what this book is about: the idea that it’s impossible to write about seriously.
Q. Your style of narrative nonfiction has attracted criticism in the past due to the use of re-created dialogue and dramatized scenes. With the inherently controversial topic of “The 37th Parallel” in mind, how would you respond to those critics?
A. I welcome the controversy. I think people should look into it. The goal is to get people talking about it, and to get people to understand that there is a lot of data and evidence that no one’s looking at. If people want to look at it from whatever angle they want to look at it from, I think that’s great.
Q. You mentioned that a producer is already attached to this work. What’s it like to write a book with a future film in mind?
A. I do things a little bit differently than most writers. Once a story is something that I want to write, I hang out with the main characters, I do a whole bunch of research, I write a proposal. That proposal I sell as a movie and a book. . . . There’s this real synergy now between the book business and the movie business, and most great movies come from either books or comic books at this point. Very few movies are just movies and haven’t been a book first. . . . Right now, I believe I have four or five movies at major studios in development, which is kind of a wild situation.Interview was edited and condensed. Sonia Rao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.