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Mandy Miles: Sand in Her Veins

By Laura Myers

At age 40, Mandy Miles is still working on her tan lines. By Christmas, she plans to release a third volume of her book, "Tan Lines," showcasing her popular newspaper column of the same name that appears in the Key West Citizen.

She's also the author of "Key West Dos and Don'ts: 100 Ways To Look Like A Local," which rings as true blue as the aquamarine waters that surround the Florida Keys to anyone who's ever lived in — or loved — Key West.

That book, released in February, is cited by Amazon.com as number-one among Florida Keys travel books. It delivers "100 ways to conquer Key West and look like you live here — without getting voted off the island. Don't Just Visit: Live It."

Among insider's tips: "Do: Aim for the window seat in the corner of the Green Parrot Bar. There's always a breeze."

Miles muses about the ordinary, the bittersweet and the oddly Key West with witty simplicity: a 6-year-old's tooth, lugging a sofa up steep stairs through a narrow doorway or comparing her brain to a smartphone.

She's interviewed colorful Keys characters from Captain Eddie Webb, who didn't recognize singer Jimmy Buffett on Big Coppitt Key in 1972, to 99-year-old philanthropist Edward Knight, a real estate mogul and Thompson Island owner-resident.

Miles typically brainstorms her ideas from socializing with friends or chatting up strangers at a local watering hole. Ideas are jotted on napkins or bar coasters. "I write my columns in longhand on a legal pad, either on my couch or out by the pool," she said. "To me, there is nothing more terrifying or intimidating than a blank computer screen and nothing to type."

Among her favorite writers are humorist Dave Barry, Ken Follett, Pat Conroy and part-time Key West residents and novelists Annie Dillard and Alison Lurie.

"First and foremost, I want to make people laugh. And I want them to recognize themselves in the things I write," Miles said.

"I want to come across as genuine. And as anyone who writes in first-person understands about themselves, we all want to be liked," she added.

Living in Key West's rich creative literary atmosphere shapes her writing.

"Everyone who lives here wants to be here. They've stayed because they love it," Miles said. "We have so many different types of people who've found this place at the end of the road. There's so much diversity and history."

She first visited Islamorada at age 16 on spring break with a friend's family. Like so many others, she fell in love with the Keys.

Currently the Citizen's business editor, features writer and columnist, Miles got her job after graduating from North Carolina's Elon College (now Elon University). She landed the cub reporter's job, earning $19,000 a year, in August 1998.

"Somehow I flubbed my way through the interview," she said wryly. "Everything happens for a reason."

Her first celebrity interview was with Jimmy Buffett, who autographed Miles' copy of his book, "A Pirate Looks at Fifty."

"He looked like every other man walking down Duval Street, dressed in khaki shorts and a baseball cap," Miles said. "He could not have been nicer."

Her favorite memories include flying with the Blue Angels in 2006. She also penned an award-winning series about a Key West High School student facing deportation.

The girl's adoption by a local family halted the student's deportation back to Poland. Her mother had died and her father was missing. The girl became a top student, Miles said.

Although Miles worked briefly as the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum's communication director, she suffered a severe case of FOMO, or "Fear Of Missing Out," on news from the so-called Coconut Telegraph.

The quick-witted beach lover who's lived in Key West all her adult life seems to have sand running through her veins.

She first began cleaning sand out of dresser drawers in Ocean City, New Jersey, at age 10. Miles grew up in her family's century-old guest house, filled with visitors.

"I wouldn't have changed it for the world," she said.

Miles turned 40 in May with a beach party organized by husband Stan, a charter fishing captain she dubbed her "catcherman" because of his tenacity in reeling in fish.

The couple bonded during years of Friday night poker games before falling in love.

"Stan's not a reader, but he reads my column," Miles said.

For the future the talented writer dreams of possibly syndicating her column, writing a blog that pays the bills or earning a living from columns and books.

In her typically self-deprecating manner, Miles added, "I don't know if I have the attention span for a novel. I've never been a creative writer. I'm not one of those tortured artistic souls."

Miles signing her book, "Only in Key West."  In her many books, Miles muses about the ordinary, the bittersweet and the oddly Key West with witty simplicity

Miles signing her book, "Only in Key West." In her many books, Miles muses about the ordinary, the bittersweet and the oddly Key West with witty simplicity

Mandy with husband Stan, a charter fishing captain in Key West.

Mandy with husband Stan, a charter fishing captain in Key West.

Quick-witted with a healthy sense of humor and self, Miles' advice for Florida Keys travelers is "Don’t Just Visit: Live It."

Quick-witted with a healthy sense of humor and self, Miles' advice for Florida Keys travelers is "Don’t Just Visit: Live It."

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