Dead Men Tell No Tales…But I Do!

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I’ve been AWOL for so long. I don’t have a great excuse except I got home from the Pirate Women book tour and I’ve been flailing around for my next project. Flailing (and its companion activity, Wallowing in Existential Crisis) takes up a lot of time, y’all. But, I am happy to say that I am in deep research/pre-writing mode for my next project! It looks like it’s going to be a YA sci-fi novel, featuring a great female protagonist, and of course some pirates. So stay tuned…it might be coming to a bookstore near you in 3 or so years 🙂

Anyway, I FINALLY managed to beg, borrow, and steal my way to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” yesterday. I hired a babysitter, bought my ticket, realized I had hired a sitter for the wrong day, begged sitter to come a day early, lied and said I had a doctor’s appointment, and slipped out the door in the nick of time to see a movie I have been waiting to see for years.

The POTC franchise is big for me. It emboldened me to come out of the closet about my love of pirates, invigorated my lady pirate research, occupied many, many of my waking hours through daydreaming and reading of fanfiction, and, most importantly, was a huge part of my social circle at college. I lived in a semi-commune in college, and my housemates and I watched these movies over, and over, and over again. We all still talk about them fondly and they are a large part of our identity as a group. Many legendary stories begin with a viewing of Pirates. The second one, in particular, is very dear to me for coming out in a really shitty summer of my life and providing a perfect escape from my miserable job. I think I saw it six times in theaters and I’ve seen it hundreds more on DVD.

So I had high hopes, is what I’m trying to say. I am optimistic enough that I erased the 4th one totally from my memory and I truly believed this movie could live up to its ancestors and bring me joy. I was not disheartened by its 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some people just don’t understand great art 🙂

Caution–spoilers ahoy!! If you want to see it, and you don’t want to know some things about it, wait until you see it and then come back and read this. You’ve been warned.

It felt…the same but different. In the opening sequence, Jack and his crew steal a bank. Yes, not rob a bank, steal a bank. There’s a giddy sequence with galloping horses, ducking bridges, and the trademark silliness that comes with Captain Sparrow et al. I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth right then, but I was worried, because #4 (okay, I lied, I didn’t TOTALLY forget it) started out equally promising and then quickly devolved into incomprehensible self-satisfied madness. Nevertheless, I persisted.

It’s a little weird watching Johnny Depp gamely gnaw on the scenery as Jack again. He’s dirtier, unmistakably older, but the schtick is still strong with him. One wonders why he still agrees to these, although he did make Alice in Wonderland 2 so it’s possible Disney has him under a spell or at least has some really awful kiddie porn blackmail on him and he’s powerless to turn them down. Given the recent allegations of his mistreatment of his wife (ex-wife? I don’t really know) I was especially worried about enjoying the film (and perhaps that explains a bit of its floundering at the box office, although I daresay the target audience of this film either a) doesn’t know about the abuse or b)doesn’t care).

However, you reach a point where you shrug and say “it’s Jack Sparrow. This is what you get,” and you get sucked into his world and forget about everything else for a while. I’m not particularly proud of this–I can’t make excuses for his behavior and I have dropped other artists from my roster of people I enjoy for less, but I was able to put it out of my head for long enough to enjoy the movie. Like Charlemagne, who waits in the hills to come rescue his people when they most need him, Jack Sparrow had arrived to offer me personally an unparalleled diversion from the horrible trainwreck of the political season we’re in, and I wasn’t going to be left ashore when he set sail.

At the beginning of the film, it’s possible that I’m the only one who is still happy to be in Jack’s crew. He’s lost his ship, (Blackbeard put the Pearl in a bottle? I guess? In #4? I don’t remember but that’s the exposition given.) but most importantly, he’s lost his luck. His crewmembers, including his faithful first mate Master Gibbs (but not including  Mr. Cotton [with the parrot] or Pintel and Ragetti [the one with a glass eye and the one who says “poppet” in the first movie] which makes me wonder if they were killed off in the 4th one), all abandon him, and he trades his beloved compass for a bottle of rum–at this point literally covered head to toe in mud and pig poop. Nobody can keep up the buffoon routine forever, the movie shows. We all have to grow up and get on with our respectable lives. It’s very Falstaff at the end of Henry IV, Part 2. He’s gone from a legendary pirate to the butt of a joke, and suddenly I’m worried about where this is going.

With the arrival of Henry Turner (the product of Will and Elizabeth’s doomed union), a sea-lore obsessed lad who seems to have inherited the Turner penchant for getting whacked on the head, and Carina Smyth, an extremely likable plucky astronomer labeled a witch, Jack is saved at the last minute from the guillotine (in a pretty whimsically hilarious sequence that had me in stitches) and back on the sea, hunting for Poseidon’s trident.

There’s a bad guy, of course–Captain Salazar, Butcher of the Seas, played with meaty menace by Javier Bardem. He’s a pirate hunter who was caught in the Bermuda Triangle and is hellbent on revenge against the man who put him there–you guessed it, Capt. Jack Sparrow. There’s also a lot more plot, but it ultimately doesn’t matter, because you’re not here for the plot. You’re here for Jack.


In the ten years since At World’s End premiered, much has changed in my life. I’ve gotten married. I moved to the countryside. I have a child. (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have each had their first child during that time as well, come to think of it.) As the villain of the original three, Cutler Beckett, said, “the world is getting smaller. The edges of the map are being filled in.” So I knew that I could never go back to my all-encompassing love of the original trilogy–and the movie kind of knows that, too. It doesn’t make the mistake of the 4th one and get waterlogged with a Very Serious Plot and a love interest for Jack. It aims to entertain, and that it does.

The set pieces, and the special effects, are really, really terrific. Salazar’s ghost ship kind of turns into a scorpion? And it’s just awesome? Barbossa’s ship is a rococo nightmare of glittering golden skulls and jewel-toned…everything. One thing you can always say about this franchise–it doesn’t do anything by halves. This one is no exception. It must have been so fun working on this film from a technical standpoint. I would have loved to have done set dressing for Barbossa’s ship.

Yes, Barbossa is here. Of course he is. Geoffrey Rush, you shining treasure, we don’t deserve you. He imbues each cheesy line with Shakespearean gusto and desperately tries to give this film some much-needed pathos. He almost succeeds, and that is a credit to him. He is undoubtedly the best part of this (and every) movie.

Henry Turner and Carina Smyth turn in two hugely likeable performances here, which for me added a lot to the movie. They’re no Will and Elizabeth, but they are a far, far cry from the pastor and the mermaid from #4, whose names I cannot recall for the life of me. Carina’s a scientist and all the boys think she’s a witch (or possibly a prostitute), which is played for laughs but in the end, she’s right in the thick of the action. It’s not revolutionary, but it is nice. They both serve as  “wow, is this Jack guy for real? We’re all just nice normal persons who would never behave this way so we shall pearl clutch” people, but then of course they are both more than they seem. Encounters with Jack Sparrow change people–for better or for worse. Maybe that’s his greatest power; he is a lightning rod for people to escape their ordinary lives and become the people they were meant to be.

But there’s some sadness in here, too. In the inevitable sappy reunion scene, Jack views the whole affair from aboard the Pearl through his spyglass. In a movie all about parents and children, Jack has neither. He does, however, have his ship, and his crew. He’s almost a tragic figure, honestly, keeping wildly spinning plates in the air so he’s one step ahead of everyone figuring out he’s terribly lonely. Or maybe he’s not lonely, he’s just not interested in normal stuff–a wife, a home, children. He’s the cool, weird uncle who can get you weed but never brings a date to family functions (although he brags about the girl he had last weekend constantly). Is it pathetic or admirable? The movie doesn’t really make up its mind, and I haven’t either. But it’s all part of the fun, I think. To see Jack find a nice girl and settle down would feel a betrayal, whether it’s a good idea or not.  As he told Elizabeth in Dead Man’s Chest, his only love is the sea. That may have been the truest thing he’s ever said.

The high school audience who loved the first one in theaters are all thirtysomethings now, and the movie is in on it. The jokes are a bit bawdier, the sight gags are fewer. There’s a few things I was laughing out loud at that the teenagers next to me were absolutely not getting. There’s only one really awful sexist part, as opposed to protracted (racist) sequences in 2 and 3, which is nice. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.

Apart from the massively impressive effects, does this movie have a beating heart? For me, that depends on if Jack ever sheds the cartoonish act and shows us a glimpse of the steel-nerved, deadly-accurate shot, secretly brilliant captain. It’s not obvious, but I’ve decided that he does, in two key points. One involves lassoing a shark (just watch it) and the other is at the end (don’t want to spoil it, but you will know it when you see it). As usual, when a tough decision, a life-or-death decision, needs to be made, Jack is there. Jack is in your corner. And that, my friends, makes all the difference.

There are a spree of cameos I won’t mention, but they are all just great and one in particular is about perfect. In the final scenes, there was a moment that almost got me a little teary. I’ve loved this crew for a long time, you see, and even though we’re all getting older and allegedly wiser, sometimes there’s a glimpse of who we once were and the limitless potential we held, and that’s just a bittersweet moment now isn’t it? The whole movie, come to think of it, was bittersweet. A fitting sendoff for the ride of a lifetime–no doubt past its prime, but still undeniably something special. It’s fun, it’s goofy, it’s stupid, it’s delightful, it is totally entertaining.


What did you think, friends? Did you see it? Will you see it? What other summer movies are you jazzed about? I for one can’t WAIT to see WONDER WOMAN, which I am going to see tonight, and I will no doubt blog about it for days and days and days.


Be excellent to each other. Talk soon!




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Hello all!
Short post today–but I finally get to see Hamilton!! Today is the day! Many thanks to my devoted and intrepid husband who braved the online ticket block distribution back in June to get us these seats.
It’s pretty amazing how excited I am about this. It’s crazy that people’s first question is “have you seen it?” As a lifelong musical theater nerd, I love that people across every demographic are getting into it. (Welcome, newbies! We love you!) I truly think Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius and I am delighted to be alive in the same time that he is. I can’t wait to see what his next musical is. 
When I start to despair about the state of the world or any old thing, I remember that Hamilton exists. It’s art like that–big, bold, beautiful multicultural art–that is what makes us America, and it makes me feel “how lucky we are to be alive right now.” Listening to Hamilton makes me want to be a better human being. I want to make art like that.

May we all find things that make us want to be better, and may we all be better. 
Love you all–expect a florid review next week!

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So as you have probably heard, I was on NPR’s On Point yesterday! Link is Here, if you missed it. It was a crazy cool experience and my head is still spinning. 

  Me in the WBUR studio. Like my cool headphones?

It was so cool being on the show! The host, Jane Clayson, was extremely warm and helped me feel comfortable, even though I was pretty terrified at the beginning. Kudos to the producer, Maeve, who picked the incredible music and movie clips, because as soon as I heard the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, I was like, “I can do this!” 

There’s the tweeters, the sound techs, the producers, the on-air talent, and that’s only the people I met! There are so many smart people who make On Point happen, and I was honored to be a part of it for a day.

What I didn’t expect was how fast-paced it all was. Nobody wants dead air on the radio, so as Jane was asking questions, she was gesturing for me to start talking. I was thinking, “I have to hear the whole question first!!!” I had been clinging to my mom’s advice to “take a deep breath, collect yourself before you speak” but I quickly realized that was going out the window. Thankfully, I don’t think I said anything stupid, which I was worried about. In the era of everything being recorded, I know one gaffe can stay with you forever, but I managed to keep it together. 

Something I didn’t realize was how much work is happening while the show is going on. During breaks, people ran in with new questions, viewer questions, and media clips. Decisions and adjustments are happening all the time. I was so impressed with how Jane held it all together during the constant changes. She is clearly super smart and I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to meet and work with her.

Between NPR and Cosmopolitan picking “Pirate Women” as the #1 book of 2017, things have been pretty busy in the Duncombe family! I had my first reading last night at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA. Thanks to everyone who came out and to the incredible staff there, especially Currie, who was in charge of my event. Rest of the tour–the gauntlet has been thrown! Let’s keep the good turnouts going.
A huge THANK YOU to everyone–I have so many friends who have bought the book, reviewed the book on Amazon (Seems stupid but it really helps me out!!) come out to tour, posted about the book, and sent messages of encouragement. It means the world to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Y’all are the best friends and fans a gal could ask for!

What crazy thing will happen next week? Who knows? The sky is the limit! Check back next week. Thanks for reading! Be good to yourself.


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Hi Everyone!!


I am getting ready to leave on my BOOK TOUR (can you tell I’m excited?) and also trying to get a synopsis of my next book into my agent by Friday, so things are super busy around here. However, I have time to offer a quick PSA–Black. Sails.

Are you watching it yet? Probably not. I don’t know too many people who are. Here are a few objections to the show (with my very helpful rebuttals):

O: I don’t like pirates!

R: Sure you do! (But if you don’t, this is also a great history show about the 17th-century British Empire, the slave trade, the Caribbean, and other cool stuff. Not just pirates.)

O: I don’t have Starz!

R: You can get Starz streaming online for $8 a month! That’s less than a coffee and a cookie at Starbucks! And the whole series is there and available to watch. No skipping from itunes to netflix hunting down a complete show!

O: There’s so much good TV, I don’t have time.

R: There’s only 36 eps total! And the last season is happening right now, so you will soon have the whole show under your belt. Doesn’t it feel good to complete something?

O: But I love Game of Thrones!

R: Oh come on, it’s jumped the shark and you know it. Besides, there’s like an infinity until the next season! You can watch this entire series before then! And it’s actually sort of similar to GoT, in that it’s got a sprawling plotline, epic fighting, and lots of gratuitous nudity.

O: I don’t enjoy shows with complex, nuanced portrayals of women!

R: Get out. You are not welcome here.


But seriously y’all, the women on this show! It’s incredible. Okay, the first season has a whore who is a rape victim, and that’s not great for a number of reasons, BUT her storyline gets WAY BETTER! And there are women businesspeople, women pirates, women with agency, women with storylines, women who are more than props! It’s just nuts. I read a great essay called When There Are Enough Women, and although it relates to “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I feel it applies here. Like, not every female character has to represent Womankind because there are so many, they can all be their own actual people! Crazy, no?


Watching this show feels so good. It’s like being handed a tall glass of cool water when you didn’t even realize you were thirsty. I’m honestly surprised it’s not more of a cult hit, given how quietly (and heck, not quietly) subversive it is. At a time when gender roles are such a hot topic, this show is a welcome balm to my suffering heart. Just watching Anne Bonny skulk around in her big hat and not say much feels so good. She’s like, “why do I have to justify my presence? I am menacing and I have a big sword. I deserve to be here.”

We all deserve to be here. And this show reminds me of that. So go check it out!! And then, for more piratical fun, come see me on tour in Boston, Chicago, New York, DC, Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco! Check the “appearances” tab at the top of the page for more info.

Stay cool, my friends. Take care of each other. See you soon! Yar!




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BOOK TOUR and Carrie Fisher

Hey Y’all!!


How have you been? We are buried under snow here in Virginia, as is much of the Eastern Seaboard, but my son is napping so it’s BLOGTIME! (also, I have never been so happy to be renting as I am RIGHT NOW, as I sit inside in my slippers while someone else shovels my walkway and parking spot.)

Business first–I will soon be leaving my home and taking off on a whirlwind tour across the country, and most likely coming to a city near YOU! I am coming to (in order) Boston, Chicago, DC, NYC, Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Fransisco. Check my “appearances” page right here on the blog for the most up-to-date information. I’ll be adding the West Coast stuff later today when it’s all finalized, but I couldn’t wait to tell you!  Please come see me if you can. And bring a friend! It will be a super good time and you will most likely be able to meet my son, who is adorable. If you don’t want to come for me, come for my little guy in tiny pirate clothes.

I will also be appearing on “Hollywood Today Live,” on April 26th. If you are part of the 40% of the country who gets this show, make sure to tune in and watch me talk pirates on national TV!

As you can see, I’ve been pretty busy getting the tour set up, but I have been sneaking in a little reading time, and I’ve just finished “The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher. I listened to it on tape during a series of longish car trips, and it was really soothing to hear Carrie Fisher’s voice tell me her story.

The book was unexpectedly poignant because it was her last. Every time she mentioned offhand “Leia will outlive me” or “I’ll do so and so for the rest of my life,” I couldn’t help but think that the rest of her life was a lot shorter than she envisioned it while writing the book. It made me think about the things I do and the things I put off, thinking there will be time. Sometimes, there just isn’t time. This was a sobering reminder of that.


I am just so, so, so glad that she got to make Episode VII (and apparently VIII too) before she died. Her enduring legacy will not be of the golden bikini, but of the General–leader of the Resistance, powerful and graceful. A woman who, at the end of her life, was still doing what she loved. My son will know her first as the General, then as the Princess. I can’t help but feel that his life will be better for it.

I’d seen headlines on Facebook that this book was where she revealed the surprise nobody was suprised by–she and Harrison Ford slept together during the filming of Star Wars. I’d always assumed that it had happened, given their chemistry. I think honestly the world did not need to know this, but the way she tells it is so compelling and it says so much more about her and women in Hollywood than it does about the affair itself.

As I was listening, I remembered that in 5th grade, frantic for more info about my icon Princess Leia (because Leia and Carrie were the same thing, in my mind) I read “Postcards from the Edge.” (How I got a copy, I don’t know. Probably the library. My mother, bless her, never really censored my reading list but it’s possible I snuck it past her.) I was at the time as straight-edge as a ruler (still am, for the most part) and I was absolutely wrecked to know that someone I idolized had done so many drugs. How could I have so misplaced my adoration? Looking back, that incident stands out as the first time I realized that adults are real, flawed, people, not heroes with all the answers.  Nothing is black and white, I discovered. This may sound trivial now but I was truly despondent. I felt like I’d learned an awful secret–something I shouldn’t have stumbled upon, like accidentally changing the channel to a porno. I desperately wanted to un-see what I’d seen. But I couldn’t–I had to deal with it.


Reconciling Leia, courageous and feisty Leia who so cheered my heart  with Carrie, a former drug addict, was difficult. I had to accept that while drugs were bad, not all people who did drugs were bad. Sometimes good people, people I loved, would do stupid things, make mistakes, and that didn’t make them into different people. They were still the people I cared about, flaws and all. I think that this radically changed the course of my life, in a way. I was on the path to being a fundamentalist zealot, someone who clung so tightly to her beliefs that there was no room for any interpretation. I could have grown up into a lonely, priggish, sniffing spinster who looks down her nose at everyone and everything that doesn’t live up to her standards. (Don’t laugh–and I hate the word spinster–but let’s all admit we know people like this, people who are so caught up in their own worldview that they have no idea why everyone doesn’t see things their way. Most of these people are lonely but won’t admit it, because it is more important to them to be right than to make a friend. I know these people. And I could have been one of them.)

Carrie makes the affair sound like a silly romp, but it’s clear that she felt deeply for him, and it caused a great deal of emotional trauma for her. The whole thing began after the all-male crew coerced her into drinking and Ford “rescued” her drunk self from them (and then proceeded to make out with her). She recounts his anger and disbelief when he discovers that she’s only been with one guy and not the scores of men she’s talked about. The whole thing sounds a little “Fifty Shades of Grey” to me, in terms of the emotional turmoil. It didn’t make me think less of Harrison Ford, maybe because I’ve loved him for so long too or maybe because she is so determined not to make a villian out of him in the story, but maybe I should think less of him. It seems like he took advantage of a young girl far from home while married with two kids. That’s not exactly Boy Scout behavior.


The lynchpin of the book is Carrie’s actual diary from 1976, which is read by her daughter (and oh man, how weird would that have to have been? I don’t think I could have done it. Even though it was 40 years ago. Not when I knew who Harrison Ford was and had to look him in the face afterward.) She is a typical 19 year old, albiet with a bigger vocabulary, and the teen angst that fills her diary would have felt right at home in my own diary (minus sleeping with a film star, of course.) I guess that’s the biggest takeaway from the book–she’s just like us! It’s just sad, to say the least, to learn that she was just like us in terms of being undervalued, taken advantage of, and forced to laugh about it instead of cry. When I mourn Carrie’s death (which this book made me do all over again) I mourn not just the strong woman she was, but the scared, shy, hurt, insecure teenager she still was inside. Even now I guess she’s still teaching me about c ontradictions in people. I owe her so much, and I will miss her so much.


Sorry to end this on a sad note, guys. But I am re-reading “My Teacher Flunked the Planet” by Bruce Coville, and it’s just as great as I remembered from 3rd grade. Come back next week for a brief Cuba travelogue and some more writing life info!










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Short Update

Dear All,


Sorry there was no regular blog post this week! I was in Mexico at a wedding. I learned something very important–




I felt like I was doing that by limiting my facebook checking and tearing myself away from the news for chunks of time, but I wasn’t really. And I was starting to get burned out. And we are only three weeks in! We need to stay engaged for the long haul. BUT! The good news is, there are millions of us ! You don’t have to shoulder the entire Resistance by yourself. You can take an entire day off from FB and the news!! Take two!! Really re-charge your batteries. I didn’t talk about political stuff for three whole days and it was ridiculously glorious. Now I am home and FIRED UP again!!


Also, I am ready for my book tour and book reviews and to really dive deep into research on book #2! So, it’s all happening, folks. You heard it here first 🙂


Remember, you are wonderful, you are loved, you are doing a good job, and I am here for you!!




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Very exciting!

I have been quoted in an article for the Tampa Bay Times! It’s a story on pirate food, and I was considered enough of a pirate expert to drop some pearls of knowledge. Take a look!

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