Charles Spicer at St. Martin's Press just paid a six-figure advance to preempt a book that suggests that the Duchess of Windsor (aka Wallis Simpson) was not the gold-digger she has often been portrayed as, but a strong and sympathetic woman. The author is Carolly Erickson, who is said to have unearthed new documentation on the duchess. The agent was Russ Galen at Scovil Chichak & Galen.... Ecco's Julia Serebrinsky preempted U.S. rights in A Blade of Grass, a first novel by a South African expatriate, Lewis DeSoto, which tells of the power struggles in the country during the time of apartheid; she got the rights from Harper Canada, where Phyllis Bruce had bought world rights from Hilary McMahon at Westwood Creative.... Bantam Dell president Irwyn Applebaum paid in the mid six figures for three new mysteries by Victor Gischler, whose Gun Monkeys was a finalist in this year's Edgar Awards; he made the world rights deal with agent Noah Lukeman, now back on his own after a stint with AMG.... Brendan Cahill at Bill Shinker's Gotham imprint at Penguin Putnam preempted a literary biography that claims to prove (not for the first time) that the author of Shakespeare's plays was actually Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. Author Mark Anderson has been working for nine years on a bio that he feels proves his case; Cahill bought world English rights, plus first serial and audio, from agent Stephanie von Hirschberg.