When I start contemplating a book, the first thing that comes to mind is the setting. The location is as much of a character as the hero or heroine. Or perhaps I should say it is an extension of the characters. The yin to their yangs as it were.
My contemporaries are usually set in L.A., mainly because I live here and don't have the research issues. But also because I love the concept of gloss of Southern California and revealing a dark underbelly hidden from everyone's eyes. Okay, so the dark underbelly I'm revealing is imaginary, but I like the juxtaposition of a bright, sunny world unaware of an ominous shadow below the surface, waiting to erupt and tear the hell out of everything.
I also like putting a character into a setting they are familiar with, a place well within their comfort zone and twisting it, throwing the character off balance and watching what they do when confronted with the bizarre. I find very few of us are truly adventurous. We like our homes, we like the comfort of knowing our surroundings. How disturbing is it when they've got a street closed and we have to take an unfamiliar detour to get home? Or you realize your favorite checker at the grocery store has left? Heck, I get antsy if I have to park in an area of the parking lot I've never parked in before. While all of these are small and hardly worthy of Prozac, I like to blow them up. Maybe the heroine finds out her favorite checker is really a demon from Hell bent on sucking out the souls of all the baggers and she is the only one who can stop her. Or the road home has been blocked by the arrival of a 300 foot fire breathing banana slug. I like to take the expected and shred it.
In historicals I love to take a beautiful, pastoral landscape and fill it with beautiful people then throw in something so evil it reveals the rottenness underneath. It puts my characters in a tailspin and unravels all they ever believed in. The exterior remains gorgeous and pristine but underneath the elegance is dark world where the lovely people are truly ugly.
Do you use settings and locations in a similar manner or are they a more of a backdrop for your story?