The author of the classic New York gay bar—scene novel Dancer from the Dance (1977) returns with Grief, and a narrator facing his 50s alone.

How does Grief fit in with your earlier work?

It's really a continuation of my work as it stood. Though it harks back most directly to The Beauty of Men [published in 1996, with a 47-year-old protagonist who also has a mother in Florida], this book is about a different stage in the life of a gay man.

The sorrow of Grief seems not just over the loss of the narrator's mother, or over the history of gay life over the last 20 years, but over the loss of intimacy.

I never was able to define the whole mood of the book or the grief—the source of the grief. I wrote the book crawling though a cave; I didn't know where I was going with it. But I kept going because the things the narrator was saying rang true to me. For such a short book, I'm embarrassed to tell you, it took five years. Certainly the protagonist wants intimacy. The relationship he has with his landlord, sitting there in that house—that twilight zone of tension between the two of them... he's living with someone, why isn't there intimacy? That's surely a big part of the book.

If the essays of Ground Zero, written at the beginning of AIDS, were reprinted tomorrow, what would you say in a preface?

I reread that book three years ago or so, and I was struck with how many of those pieces were elegies, really, for individual people. And those are as valid today as they were then. Some of the others seem sometimes nervous, sometimes grave attempts to come to terms with the doom one felt. That it was all over in the worst way, and that we were going to be hampered and constrained for the rest of our lives. Now, because people have incorporated living with AIDS and HIV in so many amazingly blasé ways, things are a little different. I would want to say so.

Why was it so hard to get an author photo from Hyperion?

I never wanted photos from the beginning. It's just a privacy issue. When Dancer came out, I thought: "I'm a gay man, I've written a gay book, I'm living in New York. If I go out to the baths or to the bars I don't want people to say, "Oh, that's so-and-so." Writing is being anonymous, it's being the voyeur. I need the cover.