As a writer, there has been no greater support system and constant since I moved to Fairfield County than the writers group (originally named Phoenix Writers) that I helped organize 22 years ago with three continuing-ed students in a creative-writing class I was teaching. While members of the original group have moved on for various reasons, a core of about eight of us continue to provide each other with constructive suggestions, encouragement and wonderful friendship.

I saw how wonderful this group is last weekend when I returned after a six-month hiatus. We met at the home of Millicent, one of our original members, and I was welcomed back warmly, like family, and everyone listened as I explained my combat experiences in the trenches of life.

I decided to take a break from the writers group because we were in the throes of selling our house, eventually packing and moving and unpacking, and had some additional medical and life challenges. I also felt that my stories about indecisive buyers and deal-breaking demands were starting to sound cliched. But I really missed the camaraderie and the chance to get together. It felt so good to be back. Since I'd left, Millicent brought in one more gentleman to balance males and females.

Over the years, our meeting format has worked very well. Each member who has a finished piece -- poetry, essay, story, memoir or other type of work (including chapters of a hoped-for book) -- brings copies for the group, reads the piece aloud and the group offers a critique or suggestions about how to make the piece better.

Generally we get through six or more pieces on a Sunday morning over a two-hour period. Digression reigns supreme and there are always wonderful asides from group members, who may bring up relevant political, social or emotional issues during the various critiques. So our sessions are never dull and are often filled with raucous laughter. We are adults, after all, aren't we?

During our meeting last Sunday, I couldn't help reflecting on how far the group has come. For instance, in 1992, when Phoenix Writers (coined by Millicent) began, we decided to send out a news announcement to attract more writers to a meeting at one of the members' apartments. Bad move. The release attracted more than 40 people to a meeting that was less than calm. We had a potpourri of screen writers, poets with agendas, would-be novelists, magazine writers and creative writers.

Not everyone was comfortable, and by the next meeting, we were down to about 10 people. There were our core members, two screen-play writers who bickered all night, a wonderful poetess with an ego, a short-story writer and two would-be novelists. We decided to find an outside meeting space and were lucky enough to get into a lovely conference room in Cambridge Manor in Fairfield. And that became our home for a number of years.

I ended up leading the group, but always tried to encourage others to step up. I didn't want the position and would have been very content to just be a member. Of course, like any group, we had little issues and tensions. At least I thought they were little tensions. Wrong!

Along the way, we had added new poets, novelists, essay writers and creative writers and not all of them mixed well with some group members. So adjustments had to be made. But I never expected the bombshell that exploded one evening. Two members interrupted our usual critique session and suggested that I step aside as group leader.

At first, I was so stunned I didn't know what to say, but I tried to make light of the request by saying something like, "With pleasure! They don't pay me enough for this volunteer job anyway."

By the end of an evening of bickering and arguing, the dissenting members decided to start their own group. I left.

I was very happy when the phone rang several weeks later and Ardeth, who has become a wonderful friend, called to say she missed the way things used to be and so did others in the group. She asked if we could all grab breakfast some Sunday. And we did, at a wonderful little restaurant on Fairfield Avenue in Black Rock -- Home on the Range.

We agreed to limit the group to around eight people and go back to meeting in homes. While folks have come and gone, our current group has remained solid as a rock. And coming home couldn't have felt better.

Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: