Pretty Crooked is set in the Arizona town of Paradise Valley. The town is critical to the story in numerous ways. The story had to be set in a wealthy community (PV has a median home price of $1.74 million). I liked the Sonoran Desert setting for its dramatic possibilities, how it could create a sense of novelty and exoticism for Willa at first, and later, a sense of alienation and loneliness. Paradise Valley seemed to fit the bill on all fronts. Best of all, its name, of course, symbolizes Willa's feelings about the place when she first moves there.
As I sat down to write, there was just one problem: I live in Philadelphia. I'd only been to Arizona once, and most of that time was spent at a hotel attending conference meetings.
So how to conjure up a place you have never been? Research, research, research. I looked at photographs, weather patterns, travel books, nature blogs, horticultural websites, real estate listings, shopping sites, and Yelp. Google Maps came in handy when figuring out what things looked like from the perspective of a car driving down a particular road. YouTube had some amazing tourist videos that brought the area to life for me. And good old Wikipedia had the demographic and architectural information I needed. Where needed, I relied on good old-fashioned imagination.
Now, I have no idea if someone who lives in Paradise Valley will find this portrayal to be believable. But I do know that the setting remains an essential component of the finished novel–and it's almost, to use the cliche, a character in and of itself. Just as I might get really invested in my own character, I fell in love with this setting as I wrote the book, and hope to go there someday to see it in person. Ultimately, I just can't imagine Pretty Crooked taking place anywhere else.