One of the greatest challenges when writing fiction is getting the location just right. I usually have my English students write a short story for me every year and they wrestle with setting, too. I tell them to set their stories in a place and, more often than not, the setting is pretty much the town our school is set in, if they describe it at all.
I don't blame them because describing a place that you don't know well isn't easy. For my Jim Mitchell novels, I created the fictional city of Emerald Valley. If you live near where I do, you'll be able to discern which real places inspired my fictional ones. But what I've done is piece together parts of several cities to make a metaphorical quilt suitable for my needs. The downtown is from one city, but the high school is from another. The burger joint in one from a nearby down placed in my fictional hamlet.
The second novel, Undue Pressure, prominently featured a nearby college where I worked and I have friends still there. Walking the halls and smelling the roses (literally) helped me give the place an authentic feel because it is a real place, just with a different name. For the latest book, I walked all around my town's civic center to be able to write the opening scene with clarity. I like real details even if my town is made up.
Besides, as long as Emerald Valley is real to my readers, that's good enough for me.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.