I posted "Desert Muse" to my writer's group, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive!
All of them had good constructive criticism ("if you're traveling for three straight days, and the moon is full on the second day, the moonlight should still be bright for all three days", etc), but not before they told me it was "an enjoyable read, fantastic in fact", "delightful", "sure to be published" , "wonderful"...
Of course, I was inclined to disagree with some of the negative comments, but the rule for my Writer's Group (and I do think it is a wise one) is do not reply to criticism. In this way, writing is like production, and the reader is the customer, and the customer is always right! If the reader didn't understand that the tragic deaths on the desert voyage were not mandatory, and only the result of stupidity, then no amount of explaining it to them will take away their confusion at reading it for the first time.
Also, one should never use the "Well, what do they know? Their stories suck/they're not authors" excuse. It's crap. Who do you write your stories and books for? You don't write them for authors, necessarily. You write them for the average readers! So they should have just as much a say in how your work is doing than the six-figure-advance-flaunting best-selling authors.
Still, it's very vindicating to have my work praised to such an extent by total strangers. And don't take this as my excuse to puff up my chest in front of you. When I write, I have varying periods of deep self-doubt and insane self-confidence. When I read story magazines, or story anthologies, my ego shrinks to the size of peapod, barraged by thoughts that I could never write that well, how will I ever be accepted? I in no way even come close to the heights of their writing, so I should just quit now and take up gardening, instead.
However, when I actually send in my stories, my ego soars on the wings of my accomplishment of actually having the courage to send my work into a magazine that publishes stories that superior. I never expect rejection letters (until they actually appear in mailbox). I always expect a big fat "Oh my God, your story changed my life" letter, with a juicy $1000 check inside. I then expect to be asked to contribute said story to The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and then I'll win a Locus Award and a Hugo, which will lead me off into a stunning career that will make me the youngest person to be named SFWA Grand Master at the age of 25.
But praise really helps my confidence, obviously. It's one thing to have your mother praise your work, because you're always going to suspect her of bias regardless of her promises to remain objective. But to have strangers (like the editor at Challenging Destiny) read your work, without knowing anything about you, and telling you it's good, well, that's something else entirely. It allows me to feel that I could actually pursue writing as a career, and not just as a hobby when I'm slaving away at some dead-end job.
Still, can you imagine the looks I'll get if I can put "Grand Master" on my resume?