Author Daniela Petrova on the influences behind her NYC-set debut

"Her Daughter's Mother" by Daniela Petrova is out June 18.
"Her Daughter’s Mother" by Daniela Petrova is out June 18. Photo Credit: The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, Gift of Brian and Spencer Zahn

What if you saw the woman who is supposed to be your anonymous egg donor on the train uptown? And then just kept following her?

Such is the case for Lana, one of the protagonists of Daniela Petrova’s debut, “Her Daughter’s Mother" (out June 18). The domestic suspense novel follows the newly impregnated (and newly dumped) art curator as she bonds with her donor, Katya, a Columbia senior who mysteriously goes missing shortly after she and Lana go dancing.

amNewYork spoke with the TriBeCa author, 46, about her first novel, New York in fiction and why an airplane may be the best place to write.

How did you think of the plot for “Her Daughter’s Mother”?

I went through infertility with my ex-husband and we tried almost everything to get pregnant. Eventually, we decided to try an egg donor cycle. It was unsuccessful, but out of it the idea for this book was born.

What was the process of fictionalizing a life experience with new characters?

I started writing the book in the third person and felt really stuck. I knew the plot wasn’t working, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I put the manuscript down for a few years while I was going through a difficult time in my personal life. When I picked it up a few years later, I decided that the right way to tell this story was to give voice to the three main characters: the mother carrying the baby, the woman whose genes the baby will inherit and the father. Once I started writing from those characters’ point of view it came together. The characters took over the story and really dictated the direction in which the story went.

How did you write a novel being told through three points of view and two timelines?

It was hard, especially once I started revising. A small change meant I had to rewrite the whole book, everything would fall out of place. Especially with a suspense novel. I would rewrite and realize I was giving info way too early as I moved chapters around. It’s a very difficult structure. I spent a lot more time thinking about where each scene and each chapter should go than actually writing revisions. It felt like a complicated chess game with myself and my characters, so the suspense would be in the right places.

How did you decide which parts of New York to focus on and fictionalize in the novel?

I moved to New York 24 years ago at the age of 22 [from Bulgaria] and fell in love with the city. I was fortunate to work in the library at The Met — it was my first job, if you don’t count working as a cleaning lady. I fell in love with the museum and of course had to set some of my story there. I went to Columbia for my undergraduate education and love that neighborhood. Working on my novel was a way of reliving my experiences and the joy I experienced in these iconic New York locations.

The Center for Fiction's bookstore.
The Center for Fiction’s bookstore. Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Where do you like to write?

I write mostly at home. I recently started going to the Center for Fiction, which is amazing. Most of the first draft of this novel was written in their old location. Now I absolutely love the new Brooklyn location. I’ve done a lot of work on planes — somehow I can focus and I get very motivated. I feel like I’m in a capsule and have all this time. There’s nothing else you need to take care of, you’re free to focus on what you love.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on my next novel. It’s also domestic suspense, largely based on my experience as an immigrant in New York. When I came here, I didn’t know anyone and found a really interesting premise for a young immigrant bride who comes to NYC and finds herself a virtual prisoner to her new husband. I have a title, but that’s all I can share right now.

What are you reading now?

I just picked up “My Sister, the Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite. I can’t put it down, I love this book. The writing, the scenes, I’m savoring each sentence. I’m in love.


Daniela Petrova reads from "Her Daughter’s Mother" on June 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Shakespeare & Co. | 939 Lexington Ave.