This is the question author Elan Mastai poses in his podcast interview with Neil Pasricha. (3 Books with Neil Pasricha.) His theory is that authors have certain themes that obsess them and they address those themes, book after book, finding different ways to explore them. The settings change, the characters and their dilemmas are completely different, but the underlying themes remain the same, probably without the author even being aware of revisiting them. Mastai and Pasricha joke that these themes are like deep wounds or a loose tooth. You keep picking at the wound, or poking the tooth with your tongue, but it never heals, nor does the tooth ever come out. So you write another story – different scenario, different characters, same themes. Poke poke, pick pick.
“And if the wound heals, will I still have anything to say?”
Maybe not, Mastai and Pasricha conclude. Maybe that would be the day when the author quits writing. “I’ve said what I need to say. I’ve solved the problem. Time to move on.”
I believe this is true of my own novels. They all have completely different settings, the characters face dilemmas that have nothing in common with the conflicts faced in all previous books, but perhaps at some level they are each the same story. Certainly my characters have all been unhappy in some deep way. They are each searching to relieve a soulful ache . Their circumstances are entirely different, (one is facing a cancer diagnosis, one is confronting her polygamous upbringing, another is a pregnant teen etc.) but their pain is much the same, their search for answers have a lot in common.
Will I ever tire of exploring these themes? Not likely. Life is too uncertain, too complicated. There will always be another poor (fictional) character with a new set of circumstances and a different setting who has to muddle through their pain with my help.