By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI
The path that led Michael Ruhlman to Ann Hood began in 1988 at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont.
“I saw Ann, who had already established herself as a great writer, walking down a path, arm-in-arm, with two other novelists,” Mr. Ruhlman recalled. “At the time, I was an aspiring writer trying to ingratiate myself with as many novel and fiction writers as I could.”
So he decided to call out her name and tell her just that.
“I just sort of yelled ‘Ann Hood’ in her direction,” Mr. Ruhlman said. “I don’t know why I did it, I just did.”
Ms. Hood, who a year earlier had written her first novel, the best-selling “Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine,” turned toward Mr. Ruhlman with a puzzled look.
“Well, what do you want to do?” she asked after their brief and awkward introduction.
“I want to write fiction,” he replied.
She stared at him for a moment, and the pieces of her puzzled face began forming a bright smile. Then came a two-word prophecy.
“You will,” she told him before moving on.
They would return to their own paths that would not cross again for 20 years, though Mr. Ruhlman, now 53, continued to maintain what he called “a literary crush” on Ms. Hood, now 60.
“I didn’t know her to actually love her, but over the years, I fell in love with everything about her writing,” he said. “In the back of my mind, I always remembered how she inspired me on that path in Vermont.”
Two decades later, Ms. Hood and Mr. Ruhlman met again in Cleveland, at a 2008 weekend writers’ conference where both were scheduled to speak.
By then, Ms. Hood was married with two children and had written other best-selling books, as well as numerous short stories and magazine articles. She was also teaching creative writing courses while splitting time between homes in Providence, R.I., and Manhattan.
Mr. Ruhlman, a Duke graduate, had established himself as a nonfiction writer who collaborated with chefs to produce books like “The Making of a Chef” (1997) and “The Reach of a Chef” (2006).
As she waited for her turn to speak, Ms. Hood noticed what she described as “a very, very good-looking man” walking into the room.
“I said to my friend: ‘Who is that guy? He’s really cute,’” Ms. Hood recalled.
Ms. Hood, who did not recall meeting Mr. Ruhlman 20 years earlier, will never forget what happened next.
“The same cute guy I was asking about gets up in this crowded room filled with influential writers, and says, ‘I’m a little nervous today because Ann Hood is in the audience, and I’ve been in love with her since 1988.’”
Later, Mr. Ruhlman was signing one of his books when he looked up at the next person in line and saw Ms. Hood standing there.
“He kind of jumped up when he saw me,” she said. “I joked with him a bit, saying that, typically, I would usually know if someone had a crush on me for 20 years.”
Before their paths diverged once more, Mr. Ruhlman said to Ms. Hood, “The next time you’re in Cleveland, give me a call and I’ll cook dinner for you.”
Ms. Hood laughed.
“I knew I would never be in Cleveland again,” she said. “So we exchanged books and email addresses and said our goodbyes.”
But they managed to stay in touch, chatting on occasion via email and text, each learning a little bit more about the other with every press of a send button.
Ms. Hood, born in West Warwick, R.I., grew up with a passion for telling her own stories.
“When I was a kid, 12, 13 and 14 years old, living in my little tiny town in Rhode Island and dreaming of being a writer, I used to sit on my bed and listen to Simon and Garfunkel,” she said. “They had a song called ‘The Dangling Conversation’; it’s actually a very depressing song, but there’s a line in it that goes, ‘You read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost,’ and I used to think that someday I’m going to meet a guy who loves poetry like I do, and we are going to talk about Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.”
Along the way to reaching her goals, Ms. Hood made a few detours. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, she worked as a T.W.A. flight attendant from 1978 to 1986, living in Boston, St. Louis and New York.
“I went from asking people if they wanted beef or chicken for dinner to writing best-selling novels and attending the most incredible book parties ever,” said Ms. Hood, who was still at T.W.A. when she earned a master’s degree in American literature at New York University.
But her own story was not without tragedy. In 2002, her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, died from a virulent form of strep, driving Ms. Hood into a depression so dark that she could not write a sentence for a year.
She began coping with the pain through long knitting sessions and expressed her grief the best way she knew how — through her powerful prose.
In 2006, Ms. Hood wrote about her daughter’s death in a Modern Love column for The New York Times.
Mr. Ruhlman recalled breaking down in tears when he read the column. “I cannot imagine losing a child and the pain and suffering that goes along with that,” said Mr. Ruhlman, a native of Cleveland who raised a daughter and a son there with his wife.
In fall 2014, another of Ms. Hood’s books, “An Italian Wife,” had just been published. In an attempt to help promote it, Ms. Hood’s publicist asked her if she knew of any food writer who might be willing to take Ms. Hood out to an Italian restaurant to interview her about her Italian roots and her grandmother’s cooking.
She asked Mr. Ruhlman, who gladly accepted.
She was living in Providence at that time — three years after Grace’s death, Ms. Hood and her husband had adopted a daughter, Annabelle — and he was still in Cleveland. But they discovered they had studio apartments in Manhattan that were a block apart.
They met at a West Village restaurant, where the interview did not go exactly as hoped — in fact, it was better.
“The food was terrible and the place was noisy, but the company was delightful,” Ms. Hood said. “We knew that we were kindred spirits that first night.”
Indeed, when Ms. Hood asked Mr. Ruhlman if he could recite any poem verbatim, he chose “Fire and Ice” by Frost.
“It was literally a dream come true,” said Ms. Hood, her voice beginning to crack. “A feeling just rushed over me, like I was hit by a tsunami.”
Later that week, Ms. Hood was giving a reading at the Italian American Museum in Little Italy, and Mr. Ruhlman returned to take her out to another restaurant for a do-over of the interview.
The morning after, Ms. Hood left a phone message for Mr. Ruhlman in which she recited Dickinson’s “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.”
That served “to sort of fulfill the prophecy,” Mr. Ruhlman said. “I began to feel as if I had known her my whole life.”
The next week, Mr. Ruhlman had his first work of fiction — a collection of novellas called “In Short Measures,” sold to a publisher, bringing to fruition Ms. Hood’s prophecy.
And now he was living out yet another dream: being friends with his longtime literary crush.
By spring 2016, both Ms. Hood and Mr. Ruhlman were divorced. On Dec. 9, Ms. Hood’s birthday, Mr. Ruhlman asked her to marry him, “sooner, rather than later,” he said.
“We knew what we had from the start, so why wait?” he said. “We have both lost close friends, some of them in their 50s, so we know that life can be too short — we shouldn’t allow ourselves to believe that it is still early morning, when’s it’s actually late in the afternoon.”
They were married on April 20 on an overcast day at Abingdon Square in Manhattan, with a few relatives and friends on hand.
Laura Lippman, the crime-writing novelist and a longtime friend of Ms. Hood, became a Universal Life minister to officiate. She told those assembled, “This is an occasion born of a particular postponement, of years lived and miles spanned, only to circle back to that path in Vermont where a man called a woman’s name and she turned and responded to his greeting.”
Ms. Hood read “Master Speed” by Frost.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away.
Her daughter, Annabelle, read Dickinson’s “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers.”
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops —
After the ceremony, Mr. Ruhlman took Ms. Hood by the hand and they traveled their first path together as husband and wife, making their way through the city streets, past construction workers and honking horns on their way to the reception at Barbuto, a restaurant several blocks away.
Following behind were their guests, including Ms. Hood’s mother, Gloria Hood; her son, Sam; and Annabelle. Mr. Ruhlman was trailed by his mother, Carole Ruhlman; and son, James.
Mr. Ruhlman said of Ms. Hood: “I get the sense that from the moment I was born, I started knowing her. There is the platonic notion of love in which Plato postulated that one soul is separated from the other at birth and they each spend the rest of their lives searching for the other half.
“Well, if that’s true,” he said, “then I’ve finally found the soul I’ve been searching for.”