If you would love to go and hear authors speak at some type of awesome conference where you rub elbows with editors and agents and cool authors, perhaps there is even hob-nobbing (I wouldn't know, never having been to said conference), but can't find the time/cash/time/babysitter or whatever, do not despair!
You can learn TONS of stuff from other authors just by reading their books.
In the last few months, I have noticed that several books I read (most are YA arcs from ALA, but not all) did some cool things with setting. Basically, these authors wrote their settings so strongly and with such voice, that the settings exist as almost characters themselves.
We have some real, actual places:
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins uses Paris, lovely Paris as the third wheel in her teen romance. Hmm, let me see....Etienne or Paris? Which would I choose? (Luckily, I don't have to!) Actually, Paris isn't the third wheel so much as a magical cupid's arrow that draws everything together. You can NOT read this book and NOT want to go to Paris. Like right now.
Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard allows the badlands of Wyoming free reign throughout her compelling novel about the electric friendship between two very different girls. The desolate beauty of the badlands is ever present. Unpredictable. Extreme. And the town the story takes place in, Washokey, well, I dare you to find a town with a funner name to say.
And then there are those writers who create their own place:
From the small:
In the Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roeker, the prep school is called Pemberly Brown. Seriously. What a great name. Already the place is infused with personality just by the cool hoity-toityness of the name. Ivy covered and pretentious, what more would you expect from Pemberly Brown?
To the medium sized:
Swampsea, the town in Frannie Billingsley's Chime, is just about the weirdest, strangest, most Gothicly eerie town I have ever, EVER read about. It defies description, just promise me you'll read it. There are stories that you can move from one place to another and it wouldn't really matter. Chime is not one of those stories. Swampsea is Chime.
To the vast:
Across the Universe by Beth Revis has a setting which is both big and small. The big being the universe and all that (and Beth didn't really create the universe) but she did imagine a fantastic ship called the Godspeed. First off, the name is amazing (it's a pattern with me and names, I think), secondly she describes everything in such detail that you can really, truly see it. And again, without the Godspeed, there would be no story.
Blogger's note: All of the books above are teen books, which I recommend for teens and up. But if you are not a teen or above and are reading this, do not despair! Lessons from Middle Grade writers coming soon!