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Outlander: Great American Read Features Thru The Stones Founder in Finale

Have you been following PBS’ Great American Read? As I’m writing this, the finale is being taped in New York, with our Diana as one of the co-hosts. The GAR is a joint program between PBS and the American Library Association, spotlighting the 100 books that Americans have indicated are their favorites (you can see the entire list here). This list, through nation-wide voting, has been narrowed down to the top 10 – which includes Outlander – and the #1 book was revealed Sunday night to the finale audience, and will be unveiled to the rest of the country on Tuesday, October 23, when that segment airs.

But beyond the excitement of watching our fave be recognized, at the least, as one of the top 10, one of my favorite people got a chance to participate in the final episode! Deb Ford, creator of the fantastic fan convention Thru the Stones, will be featured in a segment during the finale – at this moment, she doesn’t know how long her appearance will be, or how much of the day-long filming they did with her will be included, but she was absolutely thrilled to be included on Outlander’s behalf. Here’s her story! 

Sandy Belshause, Deb Ford, and Gin Wray (photo courtesy Deb Ford)

I have always loved books and when PBS launched a program last May called the Great American Read, I had to watch it! They had done a survey and 7,200 people had responded to the question, “What is your most-loved novel?” From those responses the top 100 novels were compiled into a list. Then an eight part series began to be aired on PBS with Meredith Vieira as host.

When I watched the program in May, I hoped that my favorite series Outlander would be on the list. Happily, it was! Then a voting process began which would last until October 18. People were asked to vote each day for their favorite book. I voted for the Outlander series nearly every day throughout the summer.

As fall approached the GAR asked on their Facebook page for people to tell them if one of the books on the list had dramatically changed their life. I jotted off a few lines telling them how because of Outlander I had retired from a job and learned to do a completely new one as a convention planner – hosting hundreds of people from all over the world every other year. Because of Outlander I have met celebrities and Emmy Award winners, some of whom I now call friends. I have traveled to Scotland and spent many weeks there learning the country and spending time with delightful people. But the most important dramatic change is that my friendship circle has significantly grown and my convention attendees have become part of my extended family.

A few weeks after that first email I heard back from PBS and they wanted to know more. The asked me to go into detail and answer about a dozen questions which I did. Then they phoned me to do a phone interview and we talked and talked. Finally, after many emails and several phone calls later, they asked me if they could film me for their program. Of course, I agreed and then the real work began!

After much planning and coordinating and instructions for me on Sunday, September 23, five people arrived at my flower shop, Parkside Treasure House in Orion, IL, at 7 am. Now, the nerves really started to kick in! There were two cameramen, a sound man, a gaffer, and a director. All were terribly nice and they got a mic clipped under my shirt and we filmed here in the flower shop for about an hour. I had to have two friends come in and be my customers. Then they filmed me watering plants, and me showing my Outlander work desk and some of the many gifts that have been given to me, and finally they filmed me walking out to my car carrying items that we would be working on for the convention at my sister’s house.

We then proceeded to the next location. the Western District Library. I had made arrangements with the head librarian to film there on a Sunday morning,  and two other friends were there as patrons. They filmed us talking about the books on the GAR list, general library shots and finally me leaving the library. It was funny because everything was shot three times from different angles and some tight shots and some further away. All day long I had to repeat everything and do over everything three times!

Photo courtesy Deb Ford

After the library the filming team left me to film around Orion. The wanted some footage of my hometown and filmed at Central Park across the street from my store, the East Water Tower which is on the National List of Historic Places, a view up our quaint main street, and at the ‘Welcome to Orion” sign coming into town. They may have done more as I was not with them, they just drove around and filmed what they were interested in. When that was complete we met back at my house to drive to the next location, my sister Gin’s house in Taylor Ridge.

One of the cameramen rode with me and my other sister Sandy while we drove to Gin’s house. As we drove along the conversation was light-hearted and fun. We learned he filmed the Moonshiner’s show and several other documentaries that we recognized. He filmed cornfields and bean fields, the airport, and then as we drove past Andalusia, he filmed a lot of the Mississippi River. It was close to the road that day because there was some minor flooding and he was fascinated. I have no idea if any of this will be included in the final airing but he loved it!

When we arrived at Gin’s house we had been blessed with a beautiful sunny day and we filmed a little bit outside of us greeting each other and carrying things into the house to work on later. Again, three times for everything! Lol! My three nieces, Dawn, Mariah, and Tiffany arrived at this point because PBS wanted another generation included in the filming, discussion of Outlander and the convention. We went inside for a hearty Midwestern lunch and all relaxed and enjoyed the down-time and good conversation.

Photo courtesy Deb Ford

But quite soon it was time to get busy and back to work. Next on the agenda was filming all six of us together working on a project. This was easy to do since we do these kinds of things together often and very quickly we all donned aprons and were in the kitchen washing, chopping, and bagging fresh green peppers from the garden for the freezer as the director asked us questions and filmed us talking and interacting. We are a chatty bunch but knowing we were being recorded added a whole other element to it and admittedly, made us all just a little nervous!

Next up was interviews with the three nieces. They were asked questions like, “Why do you help with the convention” and “Why do you like the Outlander books?” They all did a fabulous job and it was quite fun for me to not be under the lights for a bit!

Then it was myself, Sandy, and Gin’s turn for a sit down interview. For each interview section we changed places in the house and moved all the lighting boards so that there would be different backgrounds in each shot. Many questions were asked of us and we answered – over and over again! It was starting to get exhausting! One thing I found interesting was they recorded the sound in the room. At every location the crew had us sit perfectly still for one minute and recorded the sound of silence in that particular room. Another thing we had to do was everyone had to sign appearance releases and confidentiality contracts. They even had location releases that had to be signed for each location we filmed inside.

After a short water break and after setting up a new scene, it was time to interview me alone. Those of you who know me know that it is pretty easy for me to talk and talk. But this was different! Knowing that I was being filmed and answering the same questions over and over was hard! Often, I would be asked to say something a certain way and because it may not necessarily be in my words, it was challenging. I certainly learned that day that being an actress was not in the cards for me! But we got through it and moved onto other things.

Photo courtesy Deb Ford

We headed upstairs to Gin’s sewing room to do some “staged work” on the convention. First we worked on name tags and stuffing badges. Then we worked together on a sewing project. The final part of filming was us reading a book and saying that Outlander was the best book series ever! Sometimes we would get to giggling and other times we were too serious and they would do a retake and tell us to relax or be more enthusiastic.

By this time it was 6:30 in the evening and we were all pretty tired. The crew packed up all the various cameras, light bars, sound equipment and other miscellaneous stuff.  The film crew still had to go back to their hotel and download the footage before they went to supper and complete their day. Sandy and Gin and I sat together for a short time and chatted about the day’s experience. It had been a grueling day and I am now very curious what will actually make the television show.

As all stories go, it morphs as it progresses and the original thought of how a book on the list dramatically changed my life changed to more information about my interactions with my family and about the convention Thru The Stones. It will be interesting to see how this all finishes up and what footage is used when it airs on PBS on Tuesday, October 23.

Since filming day there has been more work to do! PBS plans to use images from previous conventions and everyone in the images had to sign releases so I had to track down more than a dozen people and get them to sign an appearance release. Since I don’t know everyone’s name at the convention I had to ask around first to identify and then locate the people. But everyone involved cooperated quickly and I finally got all the releases turned in. Now I wait till Oct. 23!

It has been very hard to keep this a secret! You see, I was not allowed to announce it on social media that this had been filmed because they did not want it to affect the voting in any way. I was allowed to tell my friends but nothing could be announced publicly. Finally now, I am able to tell people and tell everyone my small brush with fame on PBS! It was fun and I am pleased that I was able to experience it!

Thanks, Deb, for sharing that with us – we’re excited to see you on TV, our star friend!


What is Thru The Stones? This is a wonderful, small, intimate fan convention in Davenport, IA. Held every other year, the third event is this year, from Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Guests will be Ed Speleers (our new Steven Bonnet), Ron Moore and Terry Dresbach! Featuring a huge, amazing trivia contest, fun classes and activities, meals, and The Governor’s Ball! Come and join us! Get more info here.

From Paulette Cohn and Parade Magazine: Diana on making the top 10

Some of our Outlander friends attended the taping of the Great American Read finale! They can’t reveal anything about what they saw, but Terri Belzer-Kopishke sent me this photo:

Terri is in blue; Karen Rutledge is in green; Susan Ostrowski Morano is in white. The ladies in costume came from Colorado and New Orleans!

Join the Great American Read Book Club on Facebook

How many have you read? (I’ve read 61!) Check them off! Here‘s the list of all 100.

The final top 10 books:

  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Chronicles of Narnia (series)
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Harry Potter (series)
  • Jane Eyre
  • Little Women
  • Lord of the Rings (series)
  • Outlander (series)
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

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