First, I'd like to thank all those who responded. It's all part of the difficult navigation of one's first novel in print; all those little niggling questions that are never quite answered anywhere else. It gave me a lot to think about.
Here's the skinny. Even though I have a big publisher (St. Martin's) it doesn't mean I get the royal treatment. Far from it. Fortunately, I was well schooled ahead of time (well ahead of any contracts) that I would be doing a lot of the promotion myself. That's okay. In my former life, I was in advertising as a graphic designer. I know all about collateral (postcards, bookmarks, posters) and was learning about the other venues to get noticed (blogs, myspace, conferences, book groups: networking). So I put together my own marketing plan with the help of my critique group the Vicious Circle (outlining periodicals to send press releases to, online venues, other associations that might help promote, book groups, libraries, etc.) and designed my own bookmarks, postcards, and bookplates (which have come in quite handy for the conferences I've attended where I was on panels and had no book to sign!) When I discovered I had a publicist, I was kicking up my heels. Basically, I wanted to see how I could help him, knowing that I'd still probably do the majority of my own publicity. They won't do my bookmarks and posters but they will do some postcards and postage. Great! They won't foot the bill for a book launch but I will get a list of industry folks I should invite. Super! Now it's down to me and all my posse of great friends.
Some location ideas:
Wineries: Yes, the first place I thought of since I live near a wine country (Temecula, southern California). I even used to work at one of them. But I know that they charge for using their space, are reluctant to let you bring in outside food. That was going to be expensive, even if I let everyone buy their own wine. Still a possiblilty, though. Have to get in with a local bookstore to come to the event and sell them. It can be done.
Restaurant: Same as above. I'd rather spend the money on champagne and appetizers.
Bookstores: Best bet because even if they charge a fee for the time (I haven't actually checked this out yet) you are already at the right venue to have the books there. And I would chose one closer to the source of most book-buying--Los Angeles--and because that's where I come from and where my heart is. I already have a cousin who will play a harp of medieval fare for the event and some SCA knights to walk around in armor. Press releases to the local papers will go out. I'll keep you posted as to what gets done. I've got time. The launch will be the first or second week of November. Yup, Christmas spending.