Right now I'm reading a book called Good Grief by Lolly Winston. It's a pretty good book about a woman who is widowed and how she goes through the stages of grief. It sounds like a sob story, but it's actually pretty funny (and it manages to do that without being tasteless).
Then I read a passage where the main character fantasizes about moving to Santa Fe, and she talks about lying under a palm tree in the yard of a stucco house. She got the stucco right, but the palm tree could have been avoided with a little research. Santa Fe is not like Phoenix. It is 7,000 feet above sea level, and snow-capped peaks dominate the horizon. Knowing this, one could infer that palm trees are unlikely to grow here. Pinon and juniper trees, yes, and the closest thing you'll find to a palm tree is a yucca plant. It doesn't surprise me that New Mexico is commonly assumed to look either like L.A. or southern Arizona, since many people in this country don't even know it's a state of the union. But if I'll be writing about a place I haven't been to, I at least do Google searches and image searches to get an idea of the climate, what it looks like, and what grows there. I don't want the locals to laugh at me for writing something like:
"They walked along the streets in downtown Toronto, where many fancy little shops were at every turn. Not far off, waves caressed the sandy beach of Lake Ontario as tropical breezes made the palm fronds gently wave. Seagulls flew overhead as tanned tourists waxed their surfboards. All of a sudden, a coconut fell on Ted's skull, knocking him unconscious."
"In Atlanta, Peachtree Avenue was barely accessible, as it was a harsh winter. It was passable only by dogsled in the darkness of a winter where the sun never rose above the frozen white horizon. Atlanta rested well within the Arctic Circle, along the same latitude as Barrow, Alaska. Polar bears had to be chased off the runways of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport by unlucky parka-clad tarmac workers who often got eaten by the hungry beasts. Tragically, the melting of ice in the nearby Arctic Ocean threatened the tundra supporting Atlanta and its very infrastructure."