Have you ever written (or read) a character that becomes so real, they are like a best friend? And, like a best friend, you want to know who they are, how they became who they are, and where they grew up? I've found that writing a character like that actually transforms the area where they "live." Let me give you an example.
When I wrote my two-book time-travel series Finding Travis and Being Travis, I was very familiar with Fort Verde, the location where Travis lives in the present and spirals down to in the past. The fort is the best-preserved Indian-War-era fort in Arizona, and is comprehensive in its scope, being both fascinating and educational. As I was researching my books, I was given full access and roamed at will to take pictures and make sure I was describing the fort authentically in my stories.
But a funny thing happened when I was done with the books. After that, every time I went to the fort, I thought, "Travis was here. Travis walked here, worked here, went through his dark night of the soul here." It put the fort in an entirely new light for me.
Now I'm deep into a paranormal mystery series where the main characters are a female ex-cop (Lacey) and a male Navajo medium (Sam). Together they solve murders by talking with the victims, and they release trapped souls. Although the series is based in Los Angeles, Sam was born and raised on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona. He still has family there, and occasionally he and Lacey go back there to visit and to solve mysteries. Very often his traditional Navajo mythology and magic come into play.
Recently I made a trip to Monument Valley, the quintessential representation of Navajo land. The high desert there is harsh, unforgiving, and stunningly beautiful. Knowing Sam as I do, it's easy to see how this land shaped him, and still shapes him, as he delves deeper into his ancestors' ways. As I toured the valley and gazed at the buttes, the arches, the ever-changing sky that goes on forever, I imagined Sam growing up with this as his back yard. As his foundation. And it's easy to understand where his very natural but very deep spirituality arises from.