I love Wisconsin. I know it's because I grew up there and now that I live in California I miss Wisconsin even more.
I spent my first 24 years in Madison, a good size city in the south eastern part of the state. We were surrounded by lakes, green, snow, ice, and lots of layers of clothing during the grey season (which was around six months.) I celebrated many days with minor frostbite on my toes, and huddled in the basement hoping the thunderstorms wouldn't become tornadoes.
When I talk to friends that have never been to Wisconsin, they often pictures farms, cows, and overalls. Quite understandable, it is after all the dairy state. But Madison doesn't fit that description. It is the capital of the state, with a Washington D.C. capital replica in the center of the city. It also has an enormous university (go Badgers!) If you grow up on the West side of Madison, it was a no-no to go to the East side of Madison, and visa-versa. Can you hear the West Side Story music in your head?
So, why do I sit here and reminisce? Because I miss it. But also because I've incorporated Madison into my novel. Three-quarters of my entire book is set there. I get to dive into my memories and explore a place that shaped who I am today. It brings my childhood to the surface which helps me remember what it feels like to be a teenager in love, in pain, lost, and angry.
The masters say to write what you know, including setting. The more I tap into where I'm from, the stronger my characters become, and their setting becomes a character in of itself.