While in Ireland over a decade ago, I learned the phrase "soft morning". The Irish use it to describe a grey morning with just the slightest hint of rain. The rain floats down like snow flakes and everything is covered in a thin sheen of light. Even the streets are lovely. There is magic in an Irish rain. Somehow, under all those clouds, the sunlight seeps in through the mist, and the roses grow the size of dinner plates. It's like being lost in a Lewis Carroll novel. Did I mind it? Not at all.
Soft mornings are rare in the South. Usually our weather is all or nothing. The wind the past few days has been growling around the house, whipping the chimes into angry gongs. No whimsical breeze; no accompanying swirling mist.
My stories are all set in the South or in Ireland. Some of the Irish ones I'm trying to convert to Southern stories simply because that's where I'm at. I want my worlds to be as authentic as they can be (even if my characters are only using their home as a transition to another world). My struggle is constantly, do I write about what's outside my door or what's inside my head?
Write what you know. We've all been told that and I believe that there is infinite wisdom in that statement. If you don't know something, you can't write about it in a way that will make the setting solidify in your reader's minds. But, you see, I've been to those softly rolling green hills. I've walked in a soft morning mist, hiked several blocks to wander tombstones before the sleeping village (or my classmates) were awake. It may have been almost twelve years ago, but I can still see those places in my mind as if I was there yesterday. And, if ever I need a reference, I have a shopping bag full of photographs I can rummage through.
Write what you know or what your heart knows? I'm going to go with both. We need our worlds to be as real as they can be. I certainly don't want someone in Galway, Ireland to read a scene of mine and say, "No, that's not right at all!" Assimilation is the key to creating place. If your work is based firmly in an historical place and time, you should probably go there, or at least do so much research that a reader will think you've been there. If, however, you're creating a place that could be real, might be touchable, might be fantasy, then an amalgam of places will do.
I suppose that's why all my fantasy worlds are green and blushing with dinner plate sized roses. I write my fantasy worlds from the landscapes of my heart; I write my "real world" locations from where I'm currently planted.
What about you? Do you write from where you're from? Where you've been? Where you're going? Or do you pull everything together and create a world that can't be pinned down on a map? If so, do you draw those maps yourself?