My latest novel has four main settings. I am familiar with each, and I try to let my readers feel each location. Authenticity is such a beautiful asset to any novel. My settings are:
Downtown Denver. I have worked there for more than six years, and I know the details of the exact location where my action takes place. I also drove to the location and researched small details.
Suburban area north of Seattle. I selected the town of Mukilteo because I stayed there and thought it was one of the lovely parts of the Puget Sound area. I put my protagonist in a pretty upscale area of a beautiful Pacific Northwest location.
San Francisco Bay Area. I use Candlestick Park, where I have been about 40 times, and the northern Napa Valley town of Angwin, which I know from my working days in nearby Santa Rosa. There are little details about Angwin I will use to bolster reasons why one specific supporting character chose that exact spot.
Los Angeles and areas of the San Fernando Valley. I know these areas from my younger days. The L.A. neighborhood is just over the hill from Dodger Stadium, on the seam between L.A. proper and Glendale. The San Fernando Valley area was where my aunt and uncle and their family lived, and I know the boulevards and side streets. Of course, I never saw any of the action I have take place in these neighborhoods, but that is the advantage of fiction. As author Jeffery Deaver says about his days as a journalist, you have to use only facts in that job, and what's the fun in that?
I am not going to get very literary here. I think the best writers use areas where they know the slope of the hills, the twist of roads, the smells on the streets at supper time, and the main characteristics of the people who live there. That authenticity translates to their works, and they simply weave in story line to make the fabric of a novel. John Hart's best works are set in the North Carolina towns where he grew up. Joe Lansdale's best works are set in east Texas. I am just following their lead.
Now I am plotting out my next novel. I will start it on a Southern California beach and end it _ well, I am just beginning my outline and I haven't decided where just yet. I know WHAT will happen, just not where. The only thing I can say it will be a life-or-death situation, but that's the life of an author of thrillers. I can't wait to sit down and create it all.