Have you ever watched a movie set in a place you love, only to think, "That's not right!" For the next five minutes, all you can think about is how the filmmakers had the traffic going the wrong direction on your town's main street, past a governor's mansion that's actually located fifty miles away.
As an author, I never wanted to fall into that trap. A perfectly good story with riveting characters, one that has readers flipping pages as fast as possible, can come to a grinding halt when the reader finds an obvious error. To avoid that, I'm very careful when choosing the setting for each of my stories.
In Sticky Fingers, I created a fictional high school in a real town (Framingham, MA), that's not far from where I live. Before the book went to print, I double-checked every fact in the story, driving past each of the locations to ensure that the traffic flowed a certain way, that the views from inside stores matched up with what I wrote, and that the spelling of each street was correct.
I went one step further in both Scary Beautiful and Goddess Games. Because I needed weather, stores, and streets that suited each story, I made up the towns of Vista Verde and Juniper. However, I set them in my home state of Colorado, because I knew it'd be easy for me to describe everything from local plants and wildlife to the real towns located near my fictional settings with accuracy. Anyone from Colorado would recognize the "feel" of the two towns, even if they don't exist.
Finally, in the Royally Jacked series of books, I created an entire fictional country. You'd think a fake country would give a writer unlimited freedom; however, as with my fictional Colorado towns, I spent a lot of time ensuring that the "feel" of the country would resonate with readers. I set the country in Europe, where I lived for six years. Buildings, public transportation, and even the names of secondary characters all came directly from things I experienced while living in southern Germany. Best of all, I was able to incorporate the food! (Strudel, anyone? Gelato?)